I'm into international baseball. I live for international baseball. I'm all about international baseball. I'm going to play it, I'm going to coach it and I'm going to umpire in it. I think I've made my point. but Major League baseball is first and foremost. That's why I'm always interested in European players who are making it in the states.
From 'My World of Baseball' comes a list of the top-10 Europeans playing minor league ball right now:
1. Greg Halman, Mariners (Netherlands) OF - The one true legitimate prospect who may become the first European player to play in a major league All star game. He is the top prospect of the Mariners according to Baseball America. As a 17 year old in the Dutch Professional League he won the MVP award, almost winning the Triple Crown. The Mariners swooped in after that and signed him for $130,000. He advanced to AA this year, hitting .268 with 10 homeruns. As he develops, he has the potential to be a 30-30 player in the major leagues (29 homeruns and 31 stolen bases in 2008).
2. Shairon Martis, Nationals (Curacao) RHP - The talent level for real prospects drops off after Halman. Martis claim to fame was the no hitter he threw for the Netherlands against Panama in the 2006 WBC. He played for the Giants then, but the Nationals acquired him in a trade for left handed pitcher Mike Stanton. Martis does not have overpowering stuff so he is better suited for the back end of the rotation. He made his major league debut with the Nationals in 2008, getting five appearances and four starts and finishing with an unimpressive 5.66 ERA. Command was a big issue for him when he reached the majors.
3. Juan Carlos Sulbaran, Reds (Curacao) RHP - He got on the road map when he shut down the powerful Cuban team in the Honkball tournament in 2008, almost giving the Netherland Antilles an opening day upset. He went to high school in Florida so the Reds drafted him in the 30th round in 2008. He signed too late to play in any minor league games, but he will be starting for the Netherlands team in the WBC. The Reds paid him a $500,000 bonus to sign him so they must like what they see.
4. Roger Bernadina, Nationals (Netherlands) OF - He also made his debut with the Nationals and struggled with the 4-3 groundout, hitting only .211. He covers a lot of ground in centerfield, so if he can hit .351 like he did in AAA he will start in centerfield. He covers a lot of ground so any kind of offense from him would be a bonus. He’s got a good arm and excellent speed. All he needs to do is adjust to major league pitching and not try to pull everything.
5. Loek Van Mil, Twins (Netherlands) RHP - Loek was supposed to be the closer for the Netherlands Olympic team but a partial ligament tear led to thoughts of Tommy John surgery if rehab was not effective. He will probably miss all of 2009 if surgery is needed. At 7 feet one inch, he is the tallest pitcher in baseball. Loek throws a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider, which are both plus pitches and a changeup which is still in a developmental stage.
6. Hainley Statia, Angels (Curacao) SS - Another player from Curacao who went to high school in Florida and was drafted by the Angels in the ninth round of 2004. It has been a slow climb for Statia. He saw AA for his first time last year and only hit .242 in 59 games. His career minor league average is .281. With so many middle infielders already in the Angels system, the odds of him sticking is not good.
7. Alex Maestri, Cubs (Italy) RHP - The first player outside the Netherlands or Curacao to make this list. At 6′0″ with mediocre stuff the odds of him advancing are slim. Righthanders without good velocity standing at 6 feet or less do not traditionally have a lot of success in the major leagues. He does throw strikes, is athletic and has a good slider to complement his fastball so he does have a shot to fit at the back of the bullpen. In 2007 he had 12 saves with a 2.26 ERA, but he did not repeat that success in 2008, moved to the starting rotation where the velocity of his fastball drops to the high 80’s. He finished with a 3.69 ERA in 2008 after 14 starts and a 6.55 ERA in AA after two starts.
8. Curt Smith, Cardinals (Curacao) 1B - Curt Smith went to the University of Maine and was drafted by the Cardinals in the 39th round in 2008. He appeared in 58 games between between Rookie ball and Low A finishing with a combined .353 average and eight homeruns. Those are impressive numbers for a first year player, but at 22 those are numbers are not a surprise for a college level player. At 5′10″ he is not a big man for first base so if he can move to an outfield position it may increase his chances of success.
9. Sven Huijer, Red Sox (Netherlands) RHP - At 6′9″ he is another tall pitcher in the mold of Loek Van Mil. He made his debut with the Red Sox Gulf Coast League team, making eight appearances and finishing with a 2.81 ERA. In 16 innings he didn’t walk a hitter, remarkable for a pitcher of that height. On the downside, he only struck out four. The Red Sox must like him since they signed him to a seven year contract.
10. Kai Gronauer, Mets (Germany) C - You have to like the way he ran the German pitching staff in the pre-Olympic qualifier in Taiwan. And though the Germans did not qualify for the Olympics, Kai was one of the better players in the tournament. The Mets were impressed and signed him after the tournament and after his first minor league season he hit .356. Those are impressive numbers, but he was a 22 year old competing in the rookie league, so like Curt Smith, the key will be how his numbers evolve as he advances. He also threw out six of the 10 runners that attempted to steal off him. Kai has been playing for the German national team since he was 18 years old.
Of the 10, 4 are Dutch and 4 are from Curacao, home of Andruw Jones. I've already predicted the Dutch will make the 2nd round of the WBC, and the semi's of the World Cup. I am a betting man, so let me know if you want some action. The filed is rounded out by 1 Italian and 1 German.
Just as importantly, among the prospects are a catcher and a shortstop, what I consider to be the skill positions in baseball. Good stuff, guys.