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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Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.