The final four teams in the World Baseball Classic will be coming to San Francisco on Sunday, with games being played through Tuesday to decide the tournament's champion. With three teams already guaranteed a spot (Japan, the Netherlands, Dominican Republic), the fourth will be determined in a do-or-die game between the U.S. and Puerto Rico today at 4:00 p.m. You know about the established Big Leaguers, like Robinson Cano of the Dominican Republic and Andruw Jones of the Netherlands, but what about the next crop of international stars? We've compiled a shortlist—one player from each remaining team—of names you could be hearing a lot more about soon.
The Buster Posey of Japan: Shinnosuke Abe
So, get this. In Japan, there is this MVP catcher who plays for this championship winning team called the Giants. Sound familiar? Aside from the fact that Abe (Ah-BAY) is about a decade older than Posey, they otherwise have much in common. Abe is the brightest star on Team Japan in this World Baseball Classic, and he’s definitely lived up to the legend, hitting .316 with a pair of home runs in six games.
The Tallest Pitcher Alive: The Netherlands's Loek Van Mil
You can’t miss him: he’s 7’1”, throws 97 MPH, is virtually lights-out everytime he emerges from the bullpen. The closer, signed in December by the Cincinnati Reds, is the prime reason the hashtag #Honkbal (aka, the Dutch baseball league) has been trending on Twitter during the tourney. If the underdog Dutch team is going to continue its Cinderella run, they will need to rely heavily on Van Mil in the ninth inning.
The Other Giancarlo: Puerto Rico's Giancarlo Alvarado
You know of the Giancarlo on Team USA who crushes baseballs very far for the Miami Marlins (last name: Stanton). But there is another, more unknown Giancarlo who's been starring for Team Puerto Rico: Giancarlo Alvarado. In two starts in the WBC, the pitcher has put up stellar numbers, and would be the go-to guy if Puerto Rico advances to the WBC Championship. That is, if the Puerto Ricans have to get by Team USA and San Francisco's fan-favorite Ryan Vogelsong tonight in Miami.
The Next Pedro Martinez: Dominican Republic's Samuel Deduno
The ace of Team Dominica may be even better than Alvarado. A pitcher in the Minnesota Twins’ organization, Deduno hasn’t yet broken out in the big leagues, but he’s put on quite a show in the World Baseball Classic. In eight innings pitched over two games, Deduno has allowed just one earned run and struck out 12 batters. We don't know if he's as flamboyant as his countryman Pedro, but he sure sends batters hiking at the same rate.
The American You've Never Heard Of: Team USA's Ben Zobrist
It’s hard to find a player on Team USA that most fans don’t know, but if there's anyone who deserves more attention it's Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays. One of the most underrated players in the Majors, The Zorilla, as he's known in Tampa, has been killing it in the WBC: he’s batted .333 and been a defensive star. Look for him to break out in San Francisco—if Team USA takes care of business against Puerto Rico tonight.