2017 WBC Team Italy players in MLB

Cervelli Italy
Team Italy catcher Francisco Cervelli is showing some pop this year in MLB.

Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) has already belted two home runs and six doubles so far since April 3, 2017. With a career high of seven homers and 17 doubles during his first year with the Bucs in 2015, Cervelli is on pace to set career best stats in home runs and extra-base hits in 2017. Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes pride in his Italian heritage. Born in Valencia, Venezuela to an Italian father and Venezuelan mother, Cervelli left home at 15 to pursue a life in baseball. He signed with the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2003. Prior to playing for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC, Cervelli was not yet an established Major Leaguer as he had only played in three games for the 2008 Yankees. Despite the odds, he managed to guide Team Italy’s pitching staff to an impressive 6-2 victory over host Canada, thereby eliminating the Canadians at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Cervelli spent an additional six years in New York in a limited backup capacity before being traded on November 12, 2014 to Pittsburgh, where he is adored as the Bucs’ full-time catcher. The Pirates recognized Cervelli before their game against the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 2017, when the first 20,000 fans in attendance at PNC Park received Francisco Cervelli “That’s Amore” Singing Bobbleheads. The bobblehead featured Cervelli in his patented Love Doctor robe with rose petals at his feet singing “That’s Amore”. Catching all four games for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, Francisco proved to be an offensive weapon as well with two of his four hits being for extra-bases. 

Having suffered a minor Grade 1 strain of his left oblique after the 2017 WBC and during spring training, Team Italy DH Drew Butera (Kansas City Royals) has played in only eight games and has had 16 at-bats to date. Following in father Sal Butera’s footsteps, Drew aspired to make it professionally in MLB. He was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 48th round of the 2002 MLB draft, but instead chose to play college ball at the University of Central Florida. A fifth-round pick by the Mets in the 2005 MLB draft, Butera listened to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games as a Mets’ Minor Leaguer. After being named 2007 Florida State League All-Star and sent to play Double-A ball, Butera was traded to Minnesota and subsequently added to the Twins 40-man roster in 2008. Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, catcher Drew Butera kept Twins’ lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which resulted in a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues. Drew was traded to the LA Angels on December 9, 2014 and again on May 15, 2015 to the Kansas City Royals. Butera once again made the history book box scores when he caught the game-winning strike from Royals closer Wade Davis to clinch the 2015 World Series Championship for Kansas City. Drew has been a solid contributor to Team Italy since 2013, when he was a big hit for the Azzurri in the WBC. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italy’s victories to earn the Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play. Butera continued his power hitting ways with two home runs in the 2017 WBC while serving as the Team Italy DH. 
Another player nursing an injury with a hamstring strain and a bruised hand is Team Italy center fielder Brandon Nimmo (New York Mets). The Azzurri leadoff hitter is coming off the 10-day DL soon to make his 2017 debut for the Mets. The spiritually driven Brandon Nimmo, selected by the Mets in the first-round of the 2011 MLB draft, has never given up the faith in playing professional baseball at the highest level. The 23-year-old spends time every day praying and reading the bible. It is an essential part of his preparation for the game he loves and his approach to all aspects of his life.
The Wyoming native had a breakout year in 2016 when he was named a Sterling Minor League Organizational Co-Player of the Year after finishing second in the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .352 clip while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. It was the second time Nimmo was awarded a Sterling after winning his first one in 2014 when he played for the St. Lucie Mets. He made his MLB debut for the Mets on June 26, 2016. Prior to injuring his hamstring as the Team Italy center fielder and leadoff hitter in the 2017 WBC, Nimmo demonstrated some power at the plate when he slammed a homer to the deepest part of the field off Venezuela reliever Bruce Rondon. The multi-talented Nimmo is undoubtedly one of MLB’s brightest young stars.  
Team Italy second baseman Daniel Descalso (Arizona Diamondbacks) has been a true blessing since signing a one-year free agent deal with the D-backs on February 7, 2017. “Every good team needs a player like Daniel Descalso,” said Diamondbacks’ first-year manager Torey Lovullo. Utility players like Descalso are invaluable to a manager as they can play multiple positions and be called upon for just about anything at a moment’s notice. In the case of priceless Descalso, he is a clutch hitter, great fielder and excellent baserunner. During this young 2017 season, Descalso has already played first base, second base, third base and left field. “Every team is built around a core group of players,” D-backs skipper Lovullo said. “But with the role players or the situational players such as Daniel Descalso, they give you such a great opportunity to give guys days off that you can just plug them in and your team still can excel. Those are extremely valuable players for me because when he’s in the game, my heart rate is the same as if the starting player was in the game and I know his teammates feel the same way.”The proud Italian American’s ascent to MLB was on a road less traveled. After hitting a team-best .397 during his junior year at UC Davis in 2007 with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI, MLB scouts traveled to this small school in Northern California to see for themselves what a ballplayer Daniel Descalso was. Selected shortly thereafter by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third-round of the 2007 MLB draft, Daniel Descalso remained in the Cards farm system until his MLB debut on September 20, 2010. After five successful seasons–including one he will never forget–he earned a World Series ring in 2011 by bringing a World Series title to St. Louis. Daniel signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. The versatile seven-year Major League veteran hit .264 with a career-best eight home runs and 38 RBI in 99 games for Colorado in 2016, while also posting career bests in slugging and on-base percentages (.424/.329). In the 2017 WBC, Descalso led all Team Italy starters in batting average (.333) and slugging percentage (.842). After making his MLB debut last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rob Segedin started 2017 with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City, where he led the Minor Leagues in slugging percentage (.598) and ranked second in OPS (.989) last season. But you can’t keep a good man down! Segedin hit .324 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI in nine games for the 2017 Oklahoma City Dodgers. After hitting safely in all but two games and recording five multi-hit games, the Los Angeles Dodgers recalled Rob Segedin and started him at first base on April 17, 2017. In his second game after being called up to the big leagues, Segedin was placed on the 10-day DL for a big right toe strain. His long journey to MLB was not an easy one. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the third-round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Tulane University. The New Jersey native worked his way up the ladder in the New York Minor Leagues to play Triple-A ball in 2014 before being traded to the LA Dodgers after the 2015 season.Following 2016 Dodgers’ Spring Training, Segedin was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was selected to both the Pacific Coast League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star rosters after having the best season of his Minor League career. Segedin set a LA Dodgers franchise record four RBI in his MLB debut on August 7, 2016 against the Boston Red Sox. On that magical night at Chavez Ravine, Rob’s bases-loaded double against Boston ace David Price helped the Dodgers win 8-5 over the Red Sox. As the cleanup hitter for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC,  Segedin went 3-for-13 (.231) with a home run, a double and three walks in four games facing MLB pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Torres, Sergio Romo, Martin Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Berrios, Deolis Guerra and Jose Alvarez . “It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m grateful the Dodgers gave me an opportunity to go and play for Team Italy,” Segedin said. “It was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had in all of baseball.”
Meanwhile back east, Team Italy Azzurri left-handed reliever specialist Tommy Layne (New York Yankees) is a significant piece of the Yanks bullpen with stablemates Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. He has already made eight appearances in 2017. The St. Louis, Missouri native graduated in 2007 from nearby Mount Olive College, where he was named an All-American and Carolina-Virginia Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. Selected by the Diamondbacks in the 26th round for the 2007 MLB draft, Layne remained in Arizona’s Minor Leagues until he was acquired by the Padres on May 3, 2012. He made his MLB debut for San Diego on August 14, 2012 in Atlanta by striking out Braves’ Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Tyler Pastornicky. That same season Layne earned his first MLB win in relief, striking out Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez in extra innings at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2012. The Boston Red Sox signed Layne to a Minor League deal on November 10, 2013. He would later emerge as one of the game’s finest lefty-on-lefty matchup relievers out of the Boston bullpen for the next three seasons. Within three days of being released by the Red Sox, the Yankees inked a deal with Layne on August 9, 2016. Pitching out of the Team Italy bullpen in three relief appearances during the 2017 WBC, Layne worked 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out four batters. While WBC Italian-born-and-developed players Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri are doing well in the Mexican Baseball League, WBC Team Italy players Chris Colabello, Drew MaggiGavin Cecchini, John Andreoli, Jordan Romano, Luis Lugo, Nick Fanti, Pat Venditte, Sam Gaviglio and Trey Nielsen are making forward progress in Minor League Baseball so that they can join their fellow Azzurri brothers in MLB. Stand by for more details…   mlb

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UC Davis alums Biagini, Descalso, LaTorre and Grifantini are proud Italian Americans

biaginiThe writing is on the wall just as it was in 2012 when former UC Davis Aggie pitcher Marco Grifantini and catcher Tyler LaTorre helped Team Italia capture its second consecutive European Baseball Championship by defeating a talented Kingdom of the Netherlands squad and again in 2013 when both California natives played in the World Baseball Classic. With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, two additional UC Davis alums–Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini and free agent infielder Daniel Descalso–could potentially give manager Marco Mazzieri a boost if the Italian American players are added to the Team Italia roster. One could make a strong case for Biagini’s participation should fellow Jays bullpen paisan Jason Grilli be playing in his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic for Team Italia. Joseph Carlo Biagini‘s Italian family bloodlines run deep with relatives in Lucca. His Italian great uncle, Carlo Biagini, was a merchant marine there. Joe’s father, Rob Biagini–who spent time playing ball in the Giants organization from 1981 to 1982–also played abroad in Italy with former teammate Chris Colabello’s father, Lou Colabello. However, it might take an executive order from new Canadian-born Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) president Andrea Marcon to get Biagini onboard with Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

After redshirting and playing one year at the College of San Mateo, right-handed pitcher Joe Biagini transferred to UC Davis, where he made 13 appearances out of the Aggies bullpen and went 3-1. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft after his redshirt sophomore season. On December 10, 2015, Biagini was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. On April 8, 2016, Joe made his MLB debut when he pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox and posted his first career strikeout facing David Ortiz. In his six appearances during the 2016 postseason against Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, Biagini threw 7.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year at the recent annual Blue Jays player awards. The 26-year-old reliever was the only Jays rookie to go wire-to-wire with the team, a major accomplishment for a Rule 5 draftee. Starting out the season as a middle-relief fixture for manager John Gibbons, Joe gained the trust of the veteran skipper who later assigned him to late-inning duty. Biagini has since been the center of attention in the media as a result of being in the audience at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the show, Fallon passed Biagini in the audience and attempted to high-five him along with other audience members, but the popular celebrity TV host missed Biagini’s hand. During the November 18th episode, Fallon stated that he had taken criticism on Twitter for botching the high-five and brought Biagini out on stage briefly to complete their high-five.

Daniel Descalso was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft following his junior season at UC Davis. Descalso made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20, 2010.  Despite the 30-year-old Italian American utility man only having a .242 career average, Descalso is much more important on the field as he has played every position but catcher and center field. After five successful seasons–including a 2011 World Series title–in St. Louis,  Descalso signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. Rockies manager Walt Weiss recently said, “Daniel has a great pedigree, he’s played in the postseason, played in the World Series. And that goes a long way in that clubhouse. Guys understand how hard it is to get there. He’s a winning player, he’s got a winning attitude, he’s a leader… so, his value goes way beyond the stat sheet.” When asked if Descalso might make a good coach or manager in the future, Weiss replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s definitely cut from that mold. He’s one of those guys that has obviously been a student of the game. He’s a smart player. He played at a small school, UC Davis, and has probably always had to prove himself and overachieve to some degree but he’s put together a nice Major League career.” Descalso was the second UC Davis Aggie player to ever reach MLB in 2010 and the first to win a World Series ring in 2011. Before becoming the Aggies’ second-highest MLB draft pick, Daniel hit a team-best .397 as a junior in 2007, with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI. With infielder Nick Punto now retired and serving as the Team Italia third base coach, the versatile Daniel Descalso could prove to be a valuable defensive replacement and offensive spark plug in the World Baseball Classic.

For the past two years, Tyler LaTorre has been working as an assistant baseball coach at  San Francisco State University under head coach Tony Schifano–who spent eight years as the assistant coach at UC Davis, his alma mater. Like Schifano, LaTorre is a former Aggies all-star. Tyler played at UC Davis from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors as a senior when he hit a team-high and career-best .363 with 37 runs and 32 RBI. He drew a team-best 28 walks and led the Aggies with a .451 on-base percentage. LaTorre was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants on May 29, 2006 after a five-year UC Davis career. The former catcher played 10 seasons in the minor leagues–including nine of them in the San Francisco Giants organization–when he caught the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong before signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. During his pro ball career, LaTorre played a total of 452 minor league games during which he posted a .241 career average with 60 doubles, 14 home runs, 131 RBI and 155 runs scored. Yet, some of Tyler’s most memorable games included his time playing for Team Italia in the 2012 European Baseball Championship when he nearly won MVP tourney honors after going 14-for-28. Eight of his 14 hits were for extra bases–including six doubles and two home runs. LaTorre absolutely raked at the plate, knocking in nine RBI and scoring nine times during the international tournament. “We had one goal and that was to repeat as European champions,” said LaTorre. “It was awesome.” He also enjoyed serving as backup for Team Italia catcher Drew Butera in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The 33-year-old Italian American started against Team USA and went 1-for-4 with a walk and one run scored. LaTorre’s Italian roots trace back to his great-grandparents in Italy. It took two and a half years for him to become eligible to play for Team Italia as a dual citizen and Italian passport holder after thorough research, documentation and tedious paperwork authenticating his Italian lineage.

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Team Italia’s Luca Panerati, Tyler LaTorre, Marco Grifantini and Pat Venditte at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
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Team Italia reliever Marco Grifantini pitching in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Having spent his 2007-08 seasons as a reliever in his final two years of college at UC Davis, Marco Grifantini did not register on MLB’s radar and was not drafted. Unfazed by pro baseball’s cold shoulder, Marco’s passion for the game grew stronger and he chose a path less traveled. Upon securing dual citizenship and an Italian passport, Grifantini was given the opportunity to pitch for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and Team Italia in the 2009 World Cup. Marco helped his 2010 Parma squad secure its first national title since 1997 after going undefeated all season and pitching four scoreless innings to pick up the save in the decisive game seven of the Italian Baseball League Championship. Later that year pitching for Team Italia, Grifantini notched another important save in relief to allow the Azzurri to dethrone the Dutch and win the 2010 European Baseball Championship. In addition, Marco got the win in games against South Korea and Taiwan in the 2010 IBAF Intercontinental Cup to assure Team Italia a bronze medal. Team Italia won its second consecutive European Baseball Championship in 2012 thanks in part to the relief work of Marco Grifantini. Prior to pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini made 53 appearances over four seasons for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and posted a 19-4 record with a 1.89 ERA. His impressive performance against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2013 pre-WBC exhibition game in Tempe, Arizona led MLB scouts to scratch their heads in disbelief that Grifantini had been undrafted out of UC Davis five years prior. Immediately following the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his only season playing pro ball for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays in 2013, Marco started six games and went 3-2 with a 5.21 ERA. The proud 31-year-old Italian American has since returned to his home in Redding, California. Grifantini said, “I am now starting my career in a local hospital as a pharmacy technician, and I plan on getting married in the summer. As for baseball, I have helped train a few youngsters and plan on coaching  locally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”

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An elated Marco Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays in 2013.