Official WBC rosters came out last week and a handful of N.L. Central players made their country’s respective cut. Midwest Swing takes a deeper look into the lives of N.L. Central players battling for world supremacy.
By Danny Mehigan
The Reds were a chic pick in 2008 to do some damage in the N.L. Central (I’m looking at you, Sports Illustrated), but they never got off the ground and finished a disappointing fifth. After the club deposed of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn, amongst others, these nine guys will look to light up international competition before making a real run at things in 2009.
Alexander Smit (Netherlands): Smit went 8-7 with a 3.87 ERA for high-A Sarasota Reds in 2008 after the Twins let him go after the ’07 season. The youngster from Geldrop, Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands pitched one inning in the 2006 WBC, giving up two hits and one run. Smit’s been in the minors since 2003 but has not advanced above high-A ball, so this might be his chance for baseball glory. Interestingly enough, he was rated higher than Matt Capps (the successful Pirates closer) as recently as 2004. Scouting fail.
Juan Carlos Sulbaran (Netherlands): Likely one of the youngest players in the tournament, Sulbaran just finished high school at American Heritage in Plantation, Fla. He went 11-0 with a 1.40 ERA last year and led Heritage to the state title, no small feat in Florida. Even though he’s from Willemstad in the Netherlands Antilles (you’ve heard of Willemstad before… like every year at the Little League World Series), you can’t go to a school called American Heritage without the US making a claim for you. He didn’t play in the first WBC, but did only give up one run in 7 IP against Cuba in 2008 Olympics. But that one run – a steal of home. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez would own this guy.
Joey Votto (Canada): A highly respected young player in major league circles, Votto had a great rookie year in 2008 for the Reds. He hit .297 with 24 HR and quickly laid claim to the starting spot at first base. He was nowhere to be found at the 2006 WBC. Votto came to the Reds from high school in Toronto, so he’s as Canadian as they come. Even though his high school didn’t have a baseball team, Votto was still picked 44th overall in the 2002 Draft, so somebody ought to give his agent a raise.
Yen-Wen Kuo (Chinese Taipei): A spry youngster, Kuo signed with the Reds as an 18-year old shortstop in early 2007. He doesn’t have much experience anywhere, with his only stats of note a mere 1-for-3 as a reserve in 2008 Olympics. He played his first game in the US on June 20, 2008 for the Gulf Coast League Reds, going 3 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI against the GCL Red Sox. Another performance like that and the Yankees will surely give him 10 million a year, no questions asked.
Johnny Cueto (Dominican Republic): Cueto is a particularly well-known commodity considering he’s only had one season in the majors. He started out the 2008 season with a bang, tossing 8 one-hit innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks in his first start. Alas, he cooled off throughout the year and finished 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA in 31 starts. This will be his first WBC appearance. Cueto was born and raised in San Pedro de Macrois, D.R. and still has that look like he has no idea where he is, so I’ll consider him a true Dominican. It turns out his name is actually Johnny Cueto Ortiz. Midwest Swing minions are still trying to verify if he is Big Papi’s son. Hey, you never know.
Edinson Volquez (Dominican Republic): After three mostly quiet seasons with the Rangers, Volquez exploded in 2008 after being traded for Josh Hamilton, he who loves dingers and tats. Volquez made the N.L. All-Star team and finished the year with a 17-6 record, 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts. He hails from Santo Domingo, D.R. – they simply don’t need to steal natives from other countries. And how about this? He’s the only player in the majors with either of the names Edinson or Volquez, so what’s up with that, Carlos Lee(s) – get creative.
Willy Taveras (Dominican Republic): Taveras joins the Reds after stints in Houston and Colorado, and is known for his speed. He ripped off a career high 68 stolen bases last year, but hit a career low .251 – way to keep expectations low, buddy. While he played in the 2006 WBC, he went 3-for-22 as the primary centerfielder so you might not want to remind him about it. He’s from Tenares, D.R. and has been to two World Series (with Houston in 2005 and Colorado in 2007). His teams are a combined 0-8. Chances are strong his favorite football team is the Buffalo Bills.
Jerry Hairston, Jr. (Mexico): The first Reds representative with any tenure, the 11-year vet Hairston is the definition of a utility player. He played six positions last year (while hitting .326 with 20 doubles), and has done all but pitch and catch during his major league career. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa and attended Southern Illinois, but you could probably blame that on his father’s MLB career rather than him trying to be a fake Mexican. He didn’t appear in the 2006 WBC, but he should play a prominent role this time around. His dad (Jerry), brother (Scott) and grandfather (Sammy) all had long and successful careers in the majors, but I suggest they get out of town and give the rest of us a shot.
Ramón Hernández (Venezuela): Picked up this winter in a trade for Ryan Freel, the catcher comes to Cincy from Baltimore, where he hit .257 in 2008. A good defensive catcher, he should bring stability to the revolving door that is the Reds’ backstop. He hit .273 (6-for-22) in the 2006 WBC while splitting time with Victor Martinez. Hernández comes from Caracas, and I believe only Venezuelans have that many accents in their name, so I hereby accept his Venezuelan-ness. Hernández is also the inspiration behind the website Ramon Hernandez Put Down The Gun Because We Pinch Hit For Our Catcher And We Don’t Have Any Position Players Left On The Bench. I have no idea if there was actually a gun brandished that fateful day, but it’d be much cooler that way, so let’s go with that.