2023 WBC Prospect Watch

Graphic design by Michael Packard, @CollectingPack on Twitter

The 2023 World Baseball Classic is finally here and it will be the 5th iteration of baseball’s biggest international tournament. The bracket will feature 20 teams squaring off across 4 pools scattered around the globe.

Five heavyweight contenders standout among the field. Each will compete for the gold with rosters that resemble all-star teams. Among these favorites is Team USA. The stars and stripes look to avenge their 2017 title but must face questions around the quality and depth of their pitching staff. Team USA also has an unproven first time manager in Mark DeRosa. Team Japan took home the first two WBC titles and they are among the favorites once again this year with a dominant pitching staff. The Dominican Republic won in 2013 and they are the odds on favorite to do it again in 2023. Also among the favorites are Puerto Rico, who have won silver twice, and Venezuela, who has taken home a bronze. The drama will be thick as national pride is on the line.

If you’re still not sold on reasons to watch, the tournament also features a healthy number of top prospects dotted across international rosters. Eight WBC rostered prospects made Prospects1500’s recent Top 199 Prospects. There are a number of names to watch outside of our list as well.

Let’s profile some top prospects to watch in what will be a highly entertaining stretch of baseball.

There is no better place to start a prospect profile than with Team Canada, who will be squaring off in Pool C in Phoenix. The Canadians roster features a number of top prospects and there is none more exciting than outfielder Denzel Clarke. Clarke did not make our list but he possesses a power and speed blend to dream on. The 2021 4th round pick reached High-A last year where the rawness in his approach was exposed. He struck out at a 36% clip but popped 9 homers while swiping 16 bags. Clarke is in big league camp with the A’s and the early returns have been very positive thus far. Another young outfielder on Team Canada, who also reached High-A last season, is Owen Caissie. Caissie is just 20 years old and has big raw power in his 6’4” frame. Swinging from the left side, Caissie was solid but not spectacular last season with South Bend. He hit 11 homers and stole 11 bases while slashing .254/.349/.402. He’s a popular breakout pick in the minors this year. Bo Naylor will share the catching duties for Canada. He was #73 on our list and figures to take over the starting role in Cleveland soon. He played well in the upper minors last season, earning a cup of coffee with the big league club. Edouard Julien clocked in at #101 on our list. The infielder is in the Twins system and had a breakout Arizona Fall League in 2022 where he posted a .400/.563/.686 slash. He brings elite on base ability and big raw power. Julian is poised to see the big leagues soon after a very strong campaign in the AA in 2022.

Sticking in Pool C, Harry Ford was #54 on our list and he will suit up for Great Britain. He’s an 80 grade athlete who swiped 23 bases to go along with 11 homers in Single-A Modesto last year. The sky’s the limit for the 20 year old Mariners catching prospect. The WBC could be the beginning of Ford’s rapid ascent up prospect lists in 2023. The ever hitterish Jordan Diaz will play for Team Colombia. The 22 year old Diaz has done nothing but produce in the upper minors since the pandemic layover. He should be the starting second baseman in Oakland very soon. Rounding out the prospects of note in the pool is Jonathan Aranda, an infielder for Team Mexico. Aranda ranked in at #176 on our list and brings a plus hit tool along with solid in game power. AAA pitching proved no match for him last season but his success did not translate in a run of 32 games in Tampa. Aranda figures to be relied upon heavily in a Mexican infield that is light on true up the middle talent.

Jumping into Pool D, there are few prospects of note outside of Team Israel. That’s because Pool D, which will take place in Miami, is the pool of death. Latin American heavyweights, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico are set to bludgeon each other in pool play where one of their title hopes will die. Israel will put up a fight under manager Ian Kinsler though. That’s in part because Zack Gelof on their roster. Gelof was the last name on our list at #197 but don’t let that fool you. He’s a winning player who oozes the intangibles you love to see. Each of his last two minor league seasons culminated in stops at AAA. Last season the A’s 2021 second round pick hit 5 homers in 9 games at the level to end his year. Gelof’s time has come to impact the Oakland lineup. Matt Mervis was the #121st name on our list. A first baseman in the Cubs system, Mervis put up strong numbers in AAA last season as a 24 year old. He hit .297/.383/.593 with 15 homers along with a 14.6% K-rate. Mervis was an undrafted free agent in the shortened 2020 COVID draft.

Pool A will take place in Taiwan and while it is not to be confused with the pool of death, two outfield prospects are certainly worth watching. The first is Sal Frelick and he was the highest ranked name on our list at #38. He brings a plus hit tool with great speed to an Italian outfield that may be wanting for impact. The Boston College product is just 22 but he’s poised to play his way into the Brewers outfield sometime this season, if not outright this spring. He slashed .365/.435/.508 while swiping 9 bags in AAA Nashville last season. The WBC could provide the perfect ramp for Frelick on his way to becoming a big league regular. Jose Ramos will play for Team Panama and while he is not the polished product that Frelick is, he brings an enticing set of tools. The 22 year old Ramos has explosive power and a huge arm in the outfield. The swing and miss is a growing concern in his game however as he posted a 32% K-rate in High-A last season to go along with 19 homers. Ramos has the makings of a power hitting right fielder but he might need to make more consistent contact to get there.

Diving into Pool B, the fourth and final pool, is where we find the juggernaut that is Japan. Gunning for their third title, Team Japan is replete with aces in their pitching staff and a dynamic lineup to boot. Only one name qualified for official MLB prospect status on their roster but more of these stars are anticipated to come stateside in the coming years. That one name is outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who clocked in at #94 on our list. The 29 year old Yoshida signed a deal with the Red Sox this offseason. He brings good bat to ball skills coupled with a good eye at the plate. The power output is the polarizing question he faces coming to the big leagues. Regardless of how his tenure in Boston goes, Yoshida will have a big role in the Japan outfield.

Whether you come for the drama of the international stage, the spectacle of it all, or the prospects playing under bright lights, this WBC promises to have something for you. Buckle up for the 5th World Baseball Classic, it’s finally here and it’s going to be fantastic.

Nick covers the Florida State League for Prospects1500. Born and raised in the Bay Area he fell in love with the Oakland A’s at an early age. The A’s have never loved him back but that’s never stopped him from obsessing over all things baseball, especially prospects, the minor leagues, and dynasty baseball. Find him on Twitter @Leobaseball3.

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