Baseball is an international sport, aside from being an American pastime. But, who are the world’s elite players and top prospects?
From the bright lights of the Bull League to the sandlots of franchise international complexes, we look at each of the 20 clubs and find the current top international players and the top international prospects, aside from Canadian and American talent.
With over 500 players either in the Bull League or its minor system, on free agency, or in a college or high school league, the Dominican Republic has produced some of the top baseball talent around. So who is #1?
Without a doubt it is Jose Soto, the dominant right-hander for the St. Petersburg Admirals. The 23-year-old had an incredible debut season last year, going 15-0 with an ERA of 2.00. While he has managed to finally record a loss this season he currently has just 3. Soto, who throws a wicked curve, and a plus changeup, along with a 97 mph sinker, won both a Sandy Koufax Award and a Rookie of the Year Award in his first season, and should be the top name mentioned when it comes to Dominican players for years to come.
Raul Vasquez could be the top Dominican prospect in baseball right now. A 19-year-old right fielder at Short Season A’s Troy Titans, a California Tidals farm club, he is profiled as a flyball power hitter, who put up solid rookie level numbers earlier this year. He needs to work on patience, and improve his defensive skills, but OSA ranks him head and shoulders above the rest.
Nevada’s 29-year-old Chitoji Yamada is regarded as the top Japanese talent, and it’s easy to see why. He debuted only this year, an international free agent like Jose Soto, and has been hot since he started. The power batter has Zen-like discipline at the plate, and enough defensive talent to make him an all-around package. This year he has hit 25 home runs, and has hit consistently around the .300 mark all season. His numbers got him named to the All-Star Game, and he has picked up two player of the week awards, and a Batter of the Month back in June.
An honorable mention goes to Katai Kitigawa, the star center fielder for the Admirals. Kitigawa leads the Bull League in batting average over the past 2+ seasons, with a .343 average since 2016. He also has the top slot in hits (371) and is 2nd in stolen bases (42) over the same period.
Among the Japanese prospects, OSA scouts generally concur that Hikoo Inoue is the top young player who will emerge as a star in the Bull League. Inoue plays for New York’s AAA-level affiliate, the Hartford Judges, where he is the top slot of the rotation. A dominant power fastball pitcher, he has struggled with control issues but has excellent movement and is projecting plus plus stuff on his 98 mph fastball and big league quality curve.
So far this year he is just 4-4, with a 2.55 ERA, but he made rapid progress going from winter rookie to AAA through 2017, and was named to the Cow League All-Star game this season.
With 12 feeder league teams and over 350 players either playing in those leagues, or already in pro system, Mexico has produced some amazingly talented ballplayers. But among them, Danny “Golden Boy” Sanchez rises above the rest.
The Norfolk Sharks shortstop is regarded as one of the elite contact hitters in the game, with a career batting average in the .330’s. With an amazingly talented approach and swing, he has leveraged his great speed as well to maximize his hitting. A solid defensive asset, he can even go yard enough to make outfielders respect him. Sanchez has already won two Bull Cups and a Carl Simms MVP Award. How many more will he collect before his career is finally over?
The top Mexican prospect could be considered Raul Acevedo, the closer for the A-level El Paso Lawmen, in the Dallas Deputies organization. Acevedo has been itching for a crack at the majors for several seasons now, after honing his considerable skills in the minors system since being discovered by Dallas in 2012. Acevedo is a hard-throwing groundball pitcher who owns the bottom of the strike zone, and his repertoire is small but includes a 99 mph fastball, and a hard-breaking slider that he seems to have pinpoint control over.
The top South American baseball country for producing talent, Evandro Cerigo has exploded to the top of the top this year, muscling his way on raw power and speed, while at the same time showing elite level fielding. The Minneapolis Ravens right fielder signed just at the start of the season as an international free agent for over $9.4 million, and has shown he was worth the price of admission. Other elite Venezuelans talk about Cerigo’s pure talent, and he regularly gets compliments from the likes of Seattle’s Jorge Garzes, Sluggers shortstop Ivan Aguilar, and Boston veteran slugger Bruce Aberto.
The Ravens are indeed blessed with Venezuelan talent at the prospect level as well, as they boast 16-year-old international scouting discovery Jeremy “Pogo” Pessotto, a high-potential for becoming an elite contact hitter with his graceful natural swing.The right-handed batter has raw defensive skills, and some power that could develop later on as well. OSA scouts have called him an “extraordinary contact hitter.”
Another hotbed of talent, the former host country of the Bull Oceanic League gave the Bull League it’s #1 talent from that independent baseball circuit, Les Groves, who landed with the Louisville Sluggers in the 2017 draft. The 6’0″, 215 lbs catcher has been hitting north of .350 all year, and flirted with .400 early on. He is already in double-digit home runs, utilizing his ability to spray flyballs to all parts of the field to drive doubles and homers with men on base and score RBIs. He has drawn comparisons to Mike Lapi and Eric Tessier.
The best of the Aussie prospects seems to be closer Ju-ao Liu, in the Ohio Oxen organization. Liu is a bona fide power pitcher with a small but effective fastball/slider repertoire, who so far has racked up 7 saves at A-level Fort Wayne Lightning. Ohio picked him up in a July trade with Toronto, and he has serviced well up to AAA-level earlier this season, but expects to be able to break into the bigs by 2019.