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Meet baseball's global power hitters

March 06,2017 17:44

When it comes to home runs, no country has more historical clout than the United States. But it's not the only nation that will bring plenty of pop to this year's World Baseball Classic. ESPN.com. by David Schoenfield and Mark SimonESPN. 03/06/17.


From baseball's humble beginnings when they were rare, home runs have exploded. There were 5,610 hit in 2016, the second most in one season to the 5,693 hit in 2000 and an astonishing 1,424 more than were hit in 2014. In fact, the home run accounted for a higher percentage of runs than ever before, in part because there were fewer runs scored in 2016 than in 2000.
Which means the home run will undoubtedly play a vital role in determining the winner of the fourth World Baseball Classic, which will feature the first appearances for Colombia and Israel.
The defending champion Dominican Republic, which hit seven home runs in winning the tournament in 2013, rates as the pre-tournament favorite thanks to a powerful lineup that includes five players who hit at least 30 home runs in the majors last season: Nelson Cruz (43), Robinson Cano (39), Manny Machado (37), Carlos Santana (34), and Adrian Beltre (32).
The United States, which has never reached the championship game and hit only one home run in six games in 2013, features an imposing lineup, as well, but only one of the 25 U.S.-born players who hit 30 home runs in 2016 is on the roster -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Still, there is plenty of power potential with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Andrew McCutchen and others.
Cuba has hit the most home runs in WBC history, with 30, but the wave of defections has wiped out some of the Cuban talent, so the team brings a largely unknown roster into this tournament. One familiar name is 36-year-old outfielder Frederich Cepeda, who homered in the title game back in the first WBC in 2006, when Cuba lost 10-6 to Japan.
Two-time winner Japan is missing several of its best pitchers -- two-way star Shohei Otani is nursing an injured ankle and won't play, and U.S.-based stars Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda and Hisashi Iwakuma aren't participating -- so it might have to rely on its offense this time. Two sluggers to watch are outfielders Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (44 home runs in 2016) and Tetsuto Yamada (38 home runs).
Enjoy the tournament and our historical guide to the 16 nations. -- David Schoenfield
• En Español: El poder del béisbol global

Australia

Luke Hughes, who is playing in his fourth WBC, hit Australia's first tourney homer in 2009. On Aug. 28, 2011, he was also the last Australian-born player to homer in the majors.Craig Jones/Getty Images

For more than 100 years the lone major leaguer from Australia was Joe Quinn, a popular second baseman who recorded 1,800 hits but whose biggest claim to fame was managing the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134).
Craig Shipley ended that drought when he debuted in 1986. The first highly successful Australian major leaguer was catcher, outfielder and first baseman Dave Nilsson, who hit .331 with 17 home runs in 1996 and finished his career with a .284 batting average in eight seasons. Only eight of the 30 major leaguers born in Australia have hit homers, and three -- Nilsson (105), Quinn (30) and Shipley (20) -- are in double digits for their careers.
Australian baseball participation peaked in 2011 with nine players, the most successful of which was former closer Grant Balfour. The past few seasons, the number of Australian major leaguers has peaked at four, with middle relievers Liam Hendriks and Peter Moylan faring best.-- Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information

Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0.3All-time MLBers born in Australia: 30; with a plate appearance: 23Hall of Famers: NoneHighest single-season HR total: 21, Nilsson (1999, Milwaukee Brewers)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 0; 2009 -- 5; 2013 -- 1; Total -- 6Top active players: Liam Hendriks, Peter Moylan

Canada

Justin Morneau's 247 career home runs is third most by a major league player born in Canada. He went 7-for-11 in three games for Canada in the 2013 WBC. Jon Blacker/WBCI/MLB Photos/Getty Images

The United States' neighbors to the north have not had a particularly large percentage of the major league player pool, but those who have come to the States have fared well. The standard-bearers for Canadian baseball success are Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and outfielder Larry Walker, who many in the sabermetric community think is of Hall of Fame-caliber

Other Canadian success stories include pitcher Ryan Dempster and former 1969 Met Ron Taylor, who went on to become the team doctor for the Blue Jays. There is also former closer Eric Gagne, who recorded at least 45 saves in three straight seasons. He was later named in the Mitchell Report with regard to PED use.

Current Reds first baseman Joey Votto might end up ranked as the best of the best before his career is finished. If Votto were to retire now, his .425 on-base percentage would rank 12th all time. He is also one of five Canadians -- Walker (383), Matt Stairs (265), Justin Morneau (247), Jason Bay (222) and Votto (221) -- to hit more than 200 career home runs.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 1All-time MLBers born in Canada: 246; with a plate appearance: 224Hall of Famers: Ferguson Jenkins Highest single-season HR total: 49, Walker (1997, Colorado Rockies)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 2; 2009 -- 2; 2013 -- 1; Total -- 5Top active players: Joey Votto, Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, Brett Lawrie, James Paxton

China

Orioles prospect Xu Guiyuan is the first native-Chinese player to sign with a major league organization. Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

China's lone major leaguer is Harry Kingman, the son of an American missionary, who appeared in four games for the 1914 Yankees (he played only two innings in the field). There is a baseball league in China: the China Baseball League, which is composed of seven teams and has run from 2002 to 2011 and 2014 to the present. The dominant team is the Tianjin Lions, who have won six championships.
China has three home runs in three WBC appearances, including the first homer in WBC competition. Catcher Wei Wang hit a two-run HR off Japan's Koji Uehara to tie their opening game at 2-2, but Japan went on to win in an 18-2 rout.
Infielder Xu Guiyuan, who is on China's WBC roster, is a member of the Orioles organization. He's trying to become the first Chinese player by birth and ancestry to play in the major leagues.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0All-time MLBers born in China: 1; with a plate appearance: 1Hall of Famers: NoneWBC HRs: 2006 -- 2; 2009 -- 1; 2013 -- 0; Total -- 3Top active players: None

Chinese Taipei

Chinese Taipei hasn't sent many sluggers to the majors, but pitcher Chien-Ming Wang has made an impact in his nine years in the bigs. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The number of major leaguers from Chinese Taipei has ranged from one to four since Chin-Feng Chen became the first in 2002.
The biggest star for a time was Chien-Ming Wang, who became a sensation in his homeland after he won 19 games in 2006 and 19 more in 2007. An injury suffered while running the bases hampered Wang's success, though he found his way back to the major leagues in 2016 as a middle reliever.
Wang has passed the torch to Marlins pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who signed a five-year, $80 million free-agent deal with the team, but he too had injury issues that limited him to 22 starts in his first season with the team.
With the country known more for pitching success, every homer hit by a player born in Chinese Taipei was hit in 2007, and all were hit by Dodgers players: Chin-lung Hu, who has two, and pitcher Hung-Chih Kuo.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0.2All-time MLBers born in Chinese Taipei: 11; with a plate appearance: 7Hall of Famers: None Highest single-season HR total: 2, Hu (2007, Los Angeles Dodgers)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 1; 2009 -- 0; 2013 -- 2; Total -- 3Top active players: Wei-Yin Chen, Chien-Ming Wang

Colombia

Donovan Solano has nine homers in his MLB career. Colombia is making its first World Baseball Classic appearance. EPA/Erik S. Lesser

Colombian players have had a consistent presence in the major leagues since shortstop Edgar Renteria, a future World Series hero, debuted in 1996. Since then, the number of Colombian-born major leaguers has numbered from one to nine (it peaked in 2015). Renteria isn't the only solid shortstop the country has produced. It's also the birthplace of Orlando Cabrera.
Renteria (140) and Cabrera (123) are the only Colombian major leaguers who have more than 100 career homers. Jolbert Cabrera, Orlando's brother, is the only other Colombian with double-digit career homers, with 18.
Most recently, the top Colombian performers have been pitchers, initially closer Ernesto Frieri and most recently top starters Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Julio Teheran of the Braves.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0.4All-time MLBers born in Colombia: 20; with a plate appearance: 16Hall of Famers: None Highest single-season HR total: 17, Cabrera (2003, Montreal Expos)WBC HRs: First appearance, 2017Top active players: Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran

Cuba

Alfredo Despaigne has hit four homers in WBC competition, including three in 2013. Despaigne will be participating in his third tournament. Yohei Osada/AFLO/Icon Sportswire

The influx of Cuban players over the past 10 years has brought the number up to a similar percentage to what existed 60 years ago. It's a percentage that could increase in the future.

Cuban baseball has produced many great players. The most prominent of the 20th century in the majors included Hall of Famer Tony Perez along with Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and pitcher Luis Tiant. With the 1980s came Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom dealt with PED-related issues before their careers were over.
There was a lull in the late 1980s and mid-1990s, but the arrival of Orlando Hernandez in 1998 led to an influx of talented defectors, including current stars Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman. Eleven Cuban-born players have more than 100 career homers in the majors, with the top three being Palmeiro (569), Canseco (462) and Perez (379).-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 2All-time MLBers born in Cuba: 198; with a plate appearance: 181Hall of Famers: Tony Perez, and Negro Leaguers Martin Dihigo and Cristobal TorrienteHighest single-season HR total: 47, Palmeiro (1999, 2001 -- Texas Rangers) WBC HRs: 2006 -- 8; 2009 -- 11; 2013 -- 11; Total -- 30Top active players: Yoenis Cespedes, Kendrys Morales, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, Aledmys Diaz, Aroldis Chapman

Dominican Republic

Robinson Cano was one of three Dominican players who hit two homers apiece for the 2013 tournament champions. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The volume of major leaguers from the Dominican Republic has escalated significantly. Six decades ago, there was only one active Dominican-born major leaguer. By 1987, there were 45. In 2016, there were 134.

Historically, the Dominican Republic is known for producing power hitters who hit their way off the island with their ability to reach any pitch high and far (the best of those was arguably Vladimir Guerrero), slick-fielding middle infielders who honed their skills by handling tricky hops off rocky diamonds (Tony Fernandez) and pitchers who were sharp in their precision and stuff (Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez).

Marichal and Martinez could soon have company in Cooperstown, as they could be joined in the Hall by the likes of Guerrero, who was 15 votes shy of induction in his first time on the ballot, recently retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and longtime superstars Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 10All-time MLBers born in Dominican Republic: 669; with a plate appearance: 541Hall of Famers: Juan Marichal, Pedro MartinezHighest single-season HR total: 66, Sosa (1998, Chicago Cubs)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 9; 2009 -- 4; 2013 -- 7; Total -- 20Top active players: Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion, Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Bartolo Colon, Johnny Cueto

Israel

Ike Davis hit 81 homers in seven seasons in the majors, including a career-high 32 for the New York Mets in 2012. Tomasso DeRosa via AP

Israel has never produced a major leaguer (the country's attempt at its own pro league lasted one season, 2007). The country's best hopes currently rest with 21-year-old Dean Kremer, a 14th-round pick by the Dodgers in 2016, the first Israeli player drafted and the first to sign with a big league team. Kremer went 2-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 31 2/3 innings in his first professional season.
Because of the WBC's flexible eligibility rules, a majority of the players on the Israeli roster were born in the United States, and eight have played in the majors. Seven players on Israel's World Baseball Classic roster have hit home runs in the majors, with Ike Davis clouting the most, with 81. Sam Fuld is the only other player who has double-digit homers with 12. -- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0All-time MLBers born in Israel: 0Hall of Famers: NoneWBC HRs: First appearance, 2017Top active players: None

Italy

Alex Liddi has six career major league homers, and has appeared in the previous two WBCs for Italy. Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports

Italy doesn't currently have any major leaguers, but seven native Italians have made the major leagues. The most recent major leaguer is utility man Alex Liddi, who hit six home runs in 61 games with the Mariners from 2011 to 2013. The door is not closed on Liddi's returning to the majors. He spent last season playing in the Mexican League, where he hit .281 with 23 home runs.
Italy's most successful major leaguer was Reno Bertoia, a utility infielder who hit .244 in a career that spanned 10 seasons, primarily with the Tigers. Bertoia and Liddi are the only Italian-born players who have homered in the major leagues.
Italy does have its own pro league. The Italian Baseball League has eight teams and a 42-game schedule.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0All-time MLBers born in Italy: 7; with a plate appearance: 6Hall of Famers: NoneHighest single-season HR total: 8, Bertoia (1959, Washington Senators)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 2; 2009 -- 0; 2013 -- 3; Total -- 5Top active players: None

Japan

Tetsuto Yamada has hit 38 homers each of the past two seasons for the Yakult Swallows. Craig Jones/Getty Images

Giants pitcher Masanori Murakami paved the way as the first Japanese major leaguer in 1964 and 1965. But it wasn't until 30 years later that a Japanese-born player impacted the game in a significant way. That was Dodgers sensation Hideo Nomo, whose emergence and stardom led to the arrival of others, most notably Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, who has the most HRs of any Japanese-born player, with 175.
Relationships between American teams and their Japanese counterparts have improved greatly. There was a time when it was thought that Japanese baseball was the equivalent of Triple-A, but enough good players have come over to dispel that notion. Japanese representation in the majors peaked at 19 players in 2008 but dropped to nine last season. That's the fewest Japanese-born players in the majors since 1999 (also nine).-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 1All-time MLBers born in Japan: 63; with a plate appearance: 48Hall of Famers: NoneHighest single-season HR total: 31, Matsui (2004, New York Yankees)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 10; 2009 -- 4; 2013 -- 8; Total -- 22Top active players: Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda, Masahiro Tanaka

Korea

Dae-ho Lee hit 14 home runs for the Mariners in 2016, his first season in the major leagues. Lee Jin-man/AP Photo

South Korean representation in the major leagues didn't occur until 1994. The first, pitcher Chan Ho Park, was one of the best until injuries hampered his success. Since then, there have been several success stories.

The top active player is Shin-Soo Choo, whose success netted a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Rangers when he hit free agency after the 2013 season. Choo, who has 146 career HRs, the most by a Korean-born player, has struggled to live up to expectations and will try to bounce back from injury in 2017. Nonetheless, other standouts are emerging, such as Cardinals closer Seung-Hwan Oh, nicknamed "The Final Boss."

Perhaps the best sign for representation being on the rise is this: There were an all-time-high nine South Korean natives in the majors in 2016. There were no more than three in any season from 2009 to 2015.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 1All-time MLBers born in Korea: 22; with a plate appearance: 20Hall of Famers: NoneHighest single-season HR total: 22, Choo (2010, Cleveland), (2015, Texas) WBC HRs: 2006 -- 6; 2009 -- 11; 2013 -- 1; Total -- 18Top active players: Shin-Soo Choo, Jung Ho Kang, Seung-Hwan Oh

Mexico

Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has hit three homers in his three WBC appearances. Barry Gossage/WBCI/MLB Photos/Getty Images

Baseball has flourished in Mexico with its own Triple-A equivalent league, and the country has consistently produced major league talent. The pioneer was batting champ Bobby Avila, who starred for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s.
The country's biggest baseball hero was pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, who became a phenomenon pitching for the Dodgers in the early 1980s. Other stars who made a big impact included Brewers pitcher Teddy Higuera and Rockies third baseman Vinny Castilla, who enjoyed a prosperous career as a home-run hitter, with 320 over 16 seasons. That's the most home runs by any Mexican-born player in MLB history. Although not currently a closer, Joakim Soria's 203 saves are the most by any Mexican-born pitcher (no other has reached 100).

Mexican major league participation peaked in 2003 with 24 players. There were 15 players born in Mexico who played in the major leagues last season. The Blue Jays had success with two pitchers: starter Marco Estrada (3.48 ERA in 29 starts) and closer Roberto Osuna (36 saves). Also, there might be a future Valenzuela in the making in Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, who posted a 3.39 ERA in 77 innings at age 19 last season.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 1All-time MLBers born in Mexico: 121; with a plate appearance: 103Hall of Famers: NoneHighest single-season HR total: 46, Vinny Castilla (1998, Colorado Rockies) WBC HRs: 2006 -- 5; 2009 -- 14; 2013 -- 1; Total -- 20Top active players: Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Roberto Osuna, Jorge De La Rosa

Netherlands

Didi Gregorius has hit 42 homers in his five seasons in the majors, including a career-high 20 for the New York Yankees in 2016. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

The history of baseball in the Kingdom of the Netherlands dates back more than 100 years

Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven's roots are in the Netherlands, and though he grew up in the United States, he is the country's best baseball claim to fame. He won 287 games and struck out 3,701 in a 22-year career. He now works for the Twins as a television broadcaster.

The best hitter to come from the kingdom (including Curaçao and Aruba) is former Braves outfielder Andruw Jones. Jones hit more than 25 home runs 10 times, ranks 46th all time with 434 home runs and won 10 Gold Gloves for his fine play in center field.
Most recently, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has produced an impressive list of young middle infielders: Andrelton Simmons (Angels), Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Didi Gregorius (Yankees) and Jonathan Schoop (Orioles), who have impressed with both their bats and their gloves. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, a Curaçao native, has dominated since making the transition from catcher to pitcher and is arguably the best closer in the NL.
-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 0.4All-time MLBers born in the Kingdom of the Netherlands: 31; with a plate appearance: 29Hall of Famers: Bert BlylevenHighest single-season HR total: 51, Jones (2005, Atlanta Braves)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 0; 2009 -- 1; 2013 -- 5; Total -- 6Top active players: Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Kenley Jansen

Puerto Rico

Javy Baez, fresh off his World Series championship with the Cubs, will make his WBC debut. Baez smacked a career-high 14 homers in 2016. Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports

Puerto Rico has always been a great producer of baseball talent, with four enshrinees in Cooperstown and a few more likely to come. The hero of the homeland is Roberto Clemente, who totaled 3,000 hits with the Pirates before dying in a plane crash during a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua on New Year's Eve 1972.

The great Puerto Rican baseball tradition lives on in the long and productive careers of Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran (421 career homers), who can pass Juan Gonzalez (434) for second on the Puerto Rican all-time homers list if he hits 14 homers this season. The all-time home run king from Puerto Rico is Beltran's former teammate with the Mets, Carlos Delgado, who hit 473. The futures of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez also look bright.

It should be noted that Puerto Rican representation in baseball has dipped. In 2001, there were 53 major leaguers who were Puerto Rico natives. In 2016, there were 26. Still, the talent is there. Under general manager (and ex-ESPN analyst) Alex Cora's leadership, Puerto Rico won the Caribbean Series this winter. -- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 2All-time MLBers born in Puerto Rico: 257; with a plate appearance: 238Hall of Famers: Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez Highest single-season HR total: 47, Juan Gonzalez (1996, Texas Rangers)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 8; 2009 -- 7; 2013 -- 2; Total -- 17Top active players: Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez

United States

Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has 208 career homers and won the 2016 Home Run Derby, but didn't hit a HR in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Sixty years ago, 94 percent of major leaguers were from the United States, but the game has become more global and diverse, and that number has gradually come down -- to 87 percent 30 years ago and 72 percent in 2016. The number has held close to steady over the past decade; it was 73 percent in 2007.
The national pastime is still thriving, despite some talent-development issues (priority has been put on growing the game in inner cities). Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw both have the potential to be remembered among baseball's legends and currently represent the best of the best within the game.
As for home runs, players born in four states -- California (49,602), Pennsylvania (14,421), Texas (14,365) and New York (14,166) -- have more homers total than those from every other country represented in the WBC.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 72All-time MLBers born in United States: 16,368; with a plate appearance: 14,748Hall of Famers: 196, most notably Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young and Walter JohnsonHighest single-season HR total: 73, Bonds (2001, San Francisco Giants)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 9; 2009 -- 12; 2013 -- 1; Total -- 22Top active players: Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, Buster Posey, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer

Venezuela

Jose Altuve, who will be making his WBC debut, has hit 60 homers in six MLB seasons, with a career-high 24 in 2016. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

Forty years ago, less than 1 percent of major leaguers were Venezuelan natives. But the number of Venezuelan major leaguers in 1987 was double what it was in 1977, and the number in 1997 was double what it was in 1987. Last season, nearly 8 percent of major leaguers hailed from Venezuela.

The best hitters to come from Venezuela have arrived in the past 35 years, including Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Andres Galarraga. The best of the best is still going strong: Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera.
There were also six Venezuelans with more than 100 career homers who were active in 2016: Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Miguel Montero and Pablo Sandoval.-- Simon
Percentage of players in MLB (2016): 8All-time MLBers born in Venezuela: 358; with a plate appearance: 305Hall of Famers: Luis AparicioHighest single-season HR total: 47, Galarraga (1996, Colorado Rockies)WBC HRs: 2006 -- 7; 2009 -- 13; 2013 -- 2; Total -- 22Top active players: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Carlos Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Salvador Perez, Felix Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez

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