All Aboard for Beijing
The 2008 United States Olympic Baseball Team is, not surprisingly, loaded with prospects. The team, which also has its fair share of talented Triple-A veterans, will be one of the favorites to win gold when the Olympic Games get underway in August although the squad did not even qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.
The winners of the 2004 Games were Cuba (Gold), Australia (Silver) and Japan (Bronze). The Cuban team featured Chicago White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez. The Australian team included Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith. The Japanese team had a number of familiar names, including Kosuke Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Masa Kobayashi.
Let's take a look at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Squad:
Brett Anderson, LHP | Oakland Athletics (Double-A)
Jake Arrieta, RHP | Baltimore Orioles (High-A)
Trevor Cahill, RHP | Oakland Athletics (Double-A)
Brian Duensing, LHP | Minnesota Twins (Triple-A)
Kevin Jepsen, RHP | Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A)
Brandon Knight, RHP | New York Mets (Triple-A)
Mike Koplove, RHP | Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A)
Blaine Neal, RHP | Detroit Tigers (Triple-A)
Jeremy Cummings, RHP | Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A)
Jeff Stevens, RHP | Cleveland Indians (Triple-A)
Stephen Strasburg, RHP | San Diego State University (entering junior year)
Casey Weathers, RHP | Colorado Rockies (Double-A)
The first three names on the list are the ones to really watch out for in terms of future big league potential. Brett Anderson, a former Arizona second round draft pick, was picked up by Oakland this past winter in the Dan Haren trade and has risen to Double-A in just his second season after being drafted out of high school. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he knows how to pitch like a veteran. The 20-year-old currently has allowed 18 hits in 25 Double-A innings with eight walks and 29 strikeouts.
Jake Arrieta, 22, has been dealing in his first pro season after sitting out the second half of last season due to contract negotiations after being drafted out of Texas Christian in fifth round. He currently has allowed 77 hits in 106 innings with 48 walks and 112 strikeouts.
Oakland does not dip into the prep ranks as often as some other teams, but when it does the organization seems to make those picks count, with Trevor Cahill being a perfect example. The 20-year-old has been pitching at Double-A and has allowed 24 hits in 37 innings with 19 walks and 33 strikeouts. He also has a 3-1 ratio of ground ball outs to fly ball outs.
Other interesting players on the pitching staff include Colorado's 2007 No. 1 draft pick Casey Weathers, who will help solidify the bullpen and soon-to-be college junior Stephen Strasburg, the only non-professional player on the squad, who is in the mix to go No. 1 overall in the 2009 amateur baseball draft.
Lou Marson, C | Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A)
Taylor Teagarden, C | Texas Rangers (Triple-A)
Brian Barden, IF | St. Louis Cardinals (Triple-A)
Matthew Brown, IF | Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A)
Jason Donald, IF | Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A)
Mike Hessman, IF | Detroit Tigers (Triple-A)
Terry Tiffee, IF | Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A)
Jayson Nix, IF | Colorado Rockies (Triple-A)
Dexter Fowler, OF | Colorado Rockies (Double-A)
John Gall, OF | Florida Marlins (Triple-A)
Matt LaPorta, OF | Cleveland Indians (Double-A)
Nate Schierholtz, OF | San Francisco (Triple-A)
There are not many prospects who have improved more in the last two years than Lou Marson. In 2006, he hit .243/.343/.351 in 350 A-ball at-bats. In 2008, Marson is currently hitting .319/.434/.423 in 317 Double-A at-bats. He also has 65 walks and 69 strikeouts. Battery mate Taylor Teagarden may have the slight edge defensively and with his home run stroke, but he will not hit for as high of an average or get on-base as often. At the very least Teagarden is headed for a long-term Major League career as a platoon player. If he can gain a little more consistency with the bat, he could be a regular not unlike Jason Varitek.
The infield consists mostly of veteran players, including Mike Hessman, who currently leads the International League with 32 homers, four more than Brad Eldred. Terry Tiffee was a feel-good story in the first half as the vet batted more than .400 for much of the first two months of the season and currently sits at .375/.415/.559 and had a brief Major League cup of coffee with the Dodgers.
Jason Donald is the biggest prospect name in the infield and he has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors as of late. He is currently hitting .308/.388/.509 in 338 Double-A at-bats.
Matt LaPorta is probably the brightest star on the entire squad and many predict that he could hit 40 homers in the Majors one day. He was recently traded from Milwaukee to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal. LaPorta is really best-suited for first base or designated hitter but he won't embarrass himself too badly in the outfield for the U.S. squad. He has struggled since coming over in the trade with a .212 average and just one homer in 14 games, but he was hitting .288/.402/.576 with 20 homers in 302 at-bats for Huntsville (Milwaukee).
When the Rockies drafted Dexter Fowler, the organization had to lure the raw athlete away from a basketball scholarship at Harvard and it's a good thing as the outfielder has come into his own this season. At Double-A, Fowler is currently hitting .337/.430/.514 with nine homers and 20 stolen bases in 395 Double-A at-bats. He also has 61 walks and 82 strikeouts.
The U.S. team is certainly looking to put the disappoint of 2004 behind it and re-establish itself as one of the most talented countries in the world when it comes to stepping onto the baseball diamond.