With the World Cup going on amidst a particularly busy period in the sporting world (Baseball, World Cup, Wimbledon, Tour de France, etc) we (I) thought it’d be fun to play on a topical matter and look at an intersection of baseball and soccer. So without further ado…
The best prospects from each of the remaining world cup countries:
Brazil: Luiz Gohara, SP, Seattle Mariners
The host country of the world cup is developing into a gold mine when it comes to baseball talent. Yan Gomes (moved to the US as a child) was the first Brazilian player in the big leagues, but Andre Rienzo has joined him, and the young hurler Gohara should join them in due time. He’s yet to reach full-season ball though, so despite his relatively advanced nature given his age, he’s not much of a fantasy prospect for the timebeing, as his occupation of a roster spot likely won’t see a payoff until at least four years from now.
Still, he’s whiffing over 11 batters per nine innings thus far this season, and walking under two per nine, though the sample size is admittedly microscopic (12.2 IP). He’s pitching in complex league ball at the moment, but since he reached short-season ball last year and was similarly effective at missing bats, I’d expect him to return to that level shortly. Gohara doesn’t have the upside to warrant holding onto given his distance to the majors, but in a year or so, his projection as a mid-rotation starter will be well worth monitoring.
Colombia: Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers
While Colombia has a history of producing memorable baseballers, most notably Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, Alfaro is far and away the best product of the coffee-producing nation in the minor leagues today. While he’s still a bucket of tools, Alfaro is working on converting them into skills. He’s one of the fastest catchers in the game, regularly clocking in the 4.2s from home to first. He’s got one of the best arms behind the plate, though his footwork and receiving can betray him from time to time. Alfaro has the possibility of being a middle of the order hitter in the major leagues, something few catchers can deservingly boast. He’s always going to have swing and miss in his game, but the power is real, and his work ethic is second to none, so while there may be things to work on, there’s little doubt that he’ll put in the effort to correct them.
Like in soccer/football, Colombia has a young star it can hang it’s hat on.
France: Phillipe Aumont, RP, Philadelphia Phillies
Let’s be real, there’s no one from France American enough to play baseball. Aumont though, is from Quebec, a French part of Canada and was drafted out of Ecole Du Versant, so I think he’s close enough. The former first round pick has gone from a raw teenager with an explosive fastball who needed to work on his secondaries to a 25-year old reliever with an explosive fastball who has abandoned his secondaries. It’s not working either, as Aumont has seen parts of three seasons with the Phillies and has gotten progressively worse. It turns out, that big league hitters can hit a good fastball.
It’s not surprising this was the best France could muster.
Germany: Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins
Kepler was once the hope of the European baseball community, signing for significant money out of Germany and then performing well his first several years. He hit a speed bump in 2013 in his introduction to full season ball, but still produced a .237/.312/.424 slash line in 61 games. The Twins have remained aggressive with Kepler, pushing him to High-A this year, with similar results as last season, as he is slashing .231/.314/.354. It’s a troubling trend for Kepler, who in his fifth professional season has yet to play more than 61 games in a year.
Germany may well be the best team left in the World Cup, but their ability to produce legitimate baseball talent is sorely lacking.
Netherlands: Spencer Kieboom, C, Washington Nationals
You might think there are more notable prospects eligible for the Netherlands what with their rich history of tapping talent from Curacao, and producing the likes of the Andruw Jones, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop and more. However, they’re in something of a dry spell, with a boatload of talent in the majors, Kieboom is likely their best prospect, unless you really dig Loek Van Mil.
At 23 years old, Kieboom is quite old for his level of Low-A, but the Clemson product is at least performing well offensively. He’s slashing .316/.337/.477 through 45 games, though he doesn’t have much over the fence power at present with only three home runs. Based on their history, it’s reasonable to think there’s a more talented product coming down the pipeline, be it from Netherlands proper or Curacao, but at present, their hopes rest on the likes of Kieboom, or relief arm JC Sulbaran.
Costa Rica: Cheslor Cuthbert
Ok this is cheating, because Cuthbert is from Nicaragua, but he’s from Big Corn Island, which is close to Costa Rica, and this is a stupid idea anyway so just roll with it.
Argentina: Lucas Nakandakare
Welp, it’s more than Costa Rica had. Nakandakare hasn’t played in 2014, but was in the Rays/Reds system when he was 17 in 2007. He last played in Indy Ball last year. MLB.com would have you believe that Argentina is an up-and-coming resource for baseball talent, but the infrastructure has year to bear any fruit.
Belgium: No, eff this, we’re doing the US of A here because we goddang deserve it. Also because looking up Belgian prospects was giving me a migraine. USA! USA! USA!
Pick Buxton, Correa, Bryant, Russell, Syndergaard, whoever. The US wipes the floor compared to their competition on this front, aided by sheer numbers and a better overall infrastructure as well as the lack of proclivity for soccer from places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. We may not be as good as we want on the soccer pitch, but we’re damn good at producing power bats and power arms.
So, as it turns out, when the right countries aren’t involved, baseball talent isn’t as diverse as it seems. If nothing else though, you learned about Spencer Kieboom, which means it wasn’t a totally wasted 15 minutes. If you think I missed someone, get at me in the comments.