The 2013 World Baseball Classic will feature some of the best players in the world representing their home countries as they fight international fame and glory. The world’s baseball powerhouses, such as Japan, Cuba, the Dominan Republic, and the United States, will take center stage in what looks to be an exciting tournament. Not among those “baseball powerhouses” is Brazil, which shocked Panama to qualify for the World Baseball Classic back in November. Who in their right mind would possibly think of Brazil as a baseball country? But thanks to the effort of their country’s first-ever big leaguer, the Indians’ Yan Gomes, and a host of other players stepping up, the Brazilians did qualify for the Classic. But to have any hope of winning games, Brazil is going to rely heavily on minor league players, including seven players who played last year at Rookie ball.
One of the aces of Brazil’s staff could be 24 year old right-hander and Chicago White Sox top prospect Andre Rienzo, coming off a season that started in High-A and ended at Triple-A, managing a 2.53 ERA and a 113-42 strikeout to walk ratio in 18 starts and 103.1 innings pitched between the three levels. Armed with a mid-90′s fastball, a big curveball, and a cutter that’s beginning to become a weapon, WBC hitters better not underestimate Rienzo just because he’s coming from a non-traditional baseball country.
Batting towards the top of the Brazil lineup will be speedy 27 year old outfielder Paulo Orlando. Orlando, who spent 2012 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Kansas City Royals organization, managed a .279/.324/.374 line with 6 homers and 21 stolen bases in 116 games. Orlando uses his great speed to swipe bags and cover a lot of ground in the outfield, and combining that with a strong throwing arm and solid hitting ability could make him a major contributor for Brazil.
Leonardo Reginatto, 22, may have spent 2012 at the Tampa Bay Rays‘ Short Season-A Hudson Valley team, but he has already developed a reputation as a clutch player after delivering big hits for the Renegades to help them win the New York-Penn League championship and for Brazil in qualifying, including a 3-hit game versus Columbia. Reginatto, who can handle shortstop and third base, hit .276 with 1 homer and 8 stolen bases for Hudson Valley in 2012.
Felipe Burin, who will turn 21 next month, spent 2012 at the Mariners’ Rookie Pulaski affiliate. A lean, athletic infielder who can handle second base, third base, and even shortstop or left field, Burin hit just .214 but stood out for his plate discipline at Pulaski, managing a 29-23 strikeout to walk ratio and a .320 on-base percentage.
On the mound to nail down the save in a tight 1-0 game with a World Baseball Classic berth on the line, right-hander Thyago Vieira, who turned 20 earlier this month, could close one again for Brazil in the WBC. Vieira managed just a 6.05 ERA for the Seattle Mariners‘ Venezuelan Summer League affiliate, but did post a 35-17 strikeout to walk ratio and flashes a lively low-90′s fastball that was overpowering to hitters as he struck out free agent outfielder Carlos Lee and former big league Ruben Rivero to clinch Brazil’s WBC berth.
Also joining Brazil’s WBC effort are two players also currently on the VSL Mariners’ roster, 22 year old second baseman Pedro Okuda and lefty Luiz Gohara, just 16 years old. Okuda had a nice 2012 season for the VSL M’s, managing a .274/.381/.374 line with 11 doubles and 4 stolen bases in 55 games, while Gohara has not yet made his pro debut but already has a pitcher’s frame at 6’3″, 210.
Also among the youngest members of Brazil’s team is right-hander Rafael Moreno, who will turn 18 next month. Moreno could make his US debut next season after a strong season with the Orioles’ Dominican Summer League team, managing a 3.86 ERA and a great 59-22 strikeout to walk ratio in 65.1 innings pitched.
The Brazilians better get hot hitting once they arrive at the World Baseball Classic, and one player who did that in 2012 was infielder Lucas Rojo. Rojo, who will turn 19 in April, is listed at just 5’6″, 135 but had a big pro debut for the VSL Phillies, managing a .354/.456/.521 line with 5 doubles, 1 homer, and 10 RBI in 18 games.
And we’ll finish with a player who could wind up seeing time for Brazil at first base, big 6’6″, 205 Iago Januario, who celebrates his 20th birthday today. Januario hit just .232 for the VSL Rays, but he led the Venezuelan Summer League with 11 home runs.
The Brazilian World Baseball Classic team forces long odds, especially considering they’ll be playing in a group with the Dominican Republic, Japan, and China with only the top two teams advancing. They don’t feature the major leaguers and proven veterans that those teams have and are going to be relying on inexperienced and raw young players. But the Brazilians also feature several talented players, and as they showed by simply qualifying for the World Baseball Classic, you can’t overlook them just yet.