Team Italy players in Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball

Team Italy rosterPITCHERS: Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who has proved himself worthy of playing in Major League Baseball after stints with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late November with an invite to 2018 Spring Training.20140909 IBW finale VENDITTE Pat LH (Ratti FIBS).jpg The 32-year-old fan favorite was lights out in Arizona, where he appeared in more games than any Dodger pitcher (nine), threw more innings than any other Dodger reliever (10.1), and posted the lowest ERA (1.74) of any reliever who pitched more than eight innings this spring. The Omaha, Nebraska native allowed only two earned runs on seven hits, while walking three and striking out 13. Despite his remarkable statistics and stellar performance, Pat Venditte will have to wait patiently and pitch for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers before he makes his debut at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.

2017 World Baseball Classic Pool D: Game 1 - Italy v. MexicoMLB veteran Tommy Layne made 19 appearances out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2017. The lefty reliever specialist signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox in February and appeared in eight 2018 Spring Training games. He pitched seven inning in relief and picked up one save with a 2.57 ERA and six strikeouts. The 33-year-old seasoned professional will start out the 2018 season playing for Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox with hopes of being brought back to Boston, where he spent most of his MLB career from 2014-2016.

GaviglioIn 2017 Sam Gaviglio made 12 appearances (11 starts) with the Seattle Mariners before being claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals, where he made another four appearances which included two starts. Overall, he went 4-5 with a 4.36 ERA. The Pacific Northwest right-hander was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and assigned to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. It won’t be long before Sam Gaviglio makes his debut at Rogers Centre to give the Blue Jays added pitching depth.
Blue Jays prospect Jordan Romano was named 2017 MiLB Organizational All-Star after pitching for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and playing with future MLB stars Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He amassed 138 strikeouts in 138 innings of pitching during the 2017 season, which included 26 starts (7-5, 3.39 ERA). Jordan Romano was invited to 2018 Blue Jays Spring Training, where he appeared in three games and pitched 2.2 inning of relief with a 3.38 ERA. Although he was assigned to Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Jordan Romano join fellow Team Italy pitcher Sam Gaviglio in Buffalo en route to Toronto in 2018.

LugoAfter spending seven years in the Cleveland Indians organization and pitching for Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks in 2017,  Luis Lugo signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles in December. The crafty 24-year-old Team Italy left-hander, who was born in Venezuela, went 8-7 in 25 starts with a 4.35 ERA in 2017. He will be forwardly placed in the Orioles minor league system in anticipation of a breakout season to catapult him into MLB.

fanti-on-tvPhiladelphia Phillies pitching prospect Nick Fanti was outstanding during his 2017 season with Single-A affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws, where he was involved in two no-hitters. The former 31st-round 2015 Phillies draft pick threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts on July 17, 2017, just two months after he pitched 8.2 hitless innings with nine strikeouts on May 6, 2017.The 21-year-old Baseball America Low Class A All-Star ended his 2017 campaign with an outstanding 9-2 record with 2.54 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 120.1 innings of work. In 2018 expect Nick Fanti to make his way from the Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers up the ladder to MLB.

CATCHERS: Team Italy is led by a dynamic duo of MLB veteran catchers, Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Drew Butera of the Kansas City Royals, both known for being winners after calling quality games and coming through in the clutch. Francisco Cervelli nel box contro il Venezuela (MG Oldmanagency)Francisco Cervelli was the hero on Pirates opening day at Detroit’s Comerica Park on March 30, 2018. Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos safe in a close play at the plate for a walk-off win in the 10th inning. While his fellow Pirates headed straight to dugout with their heads down conceding defeat in extra-innings, Francisco Cervelli knew he had tagged the runner out before Castellanos had touched the plate so he appealed to the umpires for a “courtesy review”. cervelliIn what became MLB’s first controversial ruling of the 2018 regular season, the call was reversed and the game resumed. Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire went nuts, kicking dirt and getting ejected from his first game as Tigers skipper. Cervelli kept his cool and said, “In the past, we used to celebrate. Now, you’ve got to wait, especially on plays like that. It’s tough because they were celebrating. But I won, again.” The marathon contest lasted a Pirates opening day-record 5 hours and 27 minutes before Pittsburgh eventually beat the Tigers 13-10 in 13 innings. Francisco Cervelli orchestrated the barrage of pitchers from behind the plate while going 2-for-6 with 3 RBI. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised the Italian-Venezuelan catcher and said, “We’re a better team with Cervelli in the lineup and behind the plate. Truthfully, you have a pitching coach on the field. He and Yadier Molina are the two best I’ve seen. They have a good touch and feel for the pitchers, and they also have a Plan B or Plan C they can go to when Plan A doesn’t show up.”

Lo swing del fuoricampo di Drew Butera (Miguel Tovar Getty Images)With MLB All-Star Salvador Perez on the disabled list for four-to-six weeks, Drew Butera was in the 2018 opening day lineup as the primary catcher for the Kansas City Royals. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the Royals 14-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox on March 29. 2018. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals is a believer in Team Italy catcher Drew Butera. He said, “I think he is great. I am a big Butera fan. I think he helps us win on a nightly basis.” A proven winner with a 2015 World Series ring to his credit, 34-year-old Drew Butera has caught two no-hitters in his career so far. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, catcher Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter while playing for the Minnesota Twins against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later as the Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25, 2014. As a result of the monumental accomplishments, he became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.

alberto mineoItalian-born and developed catcher Alberto Mineo was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays (Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons) in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs (Single-A affiliate South Bend Cubs) on December 14, 2017. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy graduate played in a Chicago Cubs Spring Training game against Team Italy at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona on March 7, 2017. He entered the contest in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for Kyle Schwarber and made one plate appearance later in the game for the Cubs. Alberto Mineo was assigned to Single-A Advanced affiliate Dunedin Blue Jays on April 1, 2018.

SONY DSCCesarre Astorri, a 19-year-old FIBS Academy graduate, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics on January 8, 2018. The Italian catcher from Parma was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League Athletics. With two MLB veteran catchers and two up-and-coming MLB prospects on the horizon prepared to go to battle for Team Italy in the 2020 Olympics, the Azzurri have the potential to make an impact in Tokyo. Let’s wish Francisco Cervelli, Drew Butera, Alberto Mineo and Cesarre Astorri the best so that they remain healthy and committed to the future of the game abroad.

INFIELDERS: Sending a pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw over the swimming pool in right field at Chase Field in Phoenix, Team Italy infielder Daniel Descalso gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an early 1-0 lead with his homer in the second inning on April 3, 2018. The D-backs went on to beat the 2017 National League Champions 6-1, and 31-year-old second baseman Daniel Descalso could not have been happier to have taken the three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher deep. “I think lefties are still allowed to get hits off him,” said Descalso. Last year in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, infielder Daniel Descalso was also an early catalyst for the Team Italy offense as he drove in each of the Italians’ first three runs against Venezuela on March 11, 2017. Two days later in the WBC tiebreaker rematch game against Venezuela, Daniel Descalso was once again responsible for Team Italy‘s go-ahead run with his RBI single in the first inning. Having been on the same 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team that Team Italy coach Nick Punto played on under the leadership of Italian American manager Tony La Russa, Daniel Descalso is a proven winner and a consistent run producer. Punto and DescalsoHe can be effective off the bench as a pinch-hitter under pressure and come through in the clutch. In 35 pinch-hit plate appearances during the 2017 season, Daniel Descalso hit .231 (6-for-26)/.429 OBP/.462 SLG with two home runs and nine RBI, ranking fifth in the National League in on-base percentage and sixth in OPS (.890). At Chase Field, he hit .271 (49-for-181)/.371 OBP/.453 SLG with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 69 games. Daniel Descalso had 2 walk-off hits, including his first career game-ending homer against his former team the Colorado Rockies on April 30, 2017. He also logged his first career inside-the-park home run against eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros on August 17, 2017. The nine-year MLB veteran is a tough out for pitchers in do-or-die situations because he is able to keep his at-bats alive by being patient at the plate until he gets a pitch he can do some damage with. As a dependable utility position player with versatility, Daniel Descalso can be put in the starting lineup as a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, or left fielder. He can even be called upon for mop-up duty as a relief pitcher when a game is out of reach, and the team wants to rest its bullpen. During the course of his three career appearances on the mound, Daniel Descalso has retired all seven MLB hitters he has faced. In fact, he is about to set the record for the most career batters faced without allowing a baserunner. Only four other pitchers in major league history have faced more batters without allowing a hit or walk than Daniel Descalso. With a career 0.000 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), he needs one more out to tie the record and two more outs to become the most perfect pitcher in baseball history.

Colabello and TewksbaryOpting to get a major league baseball contract instead of returning to the minor leagues, Team Italy first baseman Chris Colabello remains an unsigned free agent. After being invited by the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers for pro ball try outs, 34-year-old slugger Chris Colabello joined the 2018 Major League Baseball Players Association Free Agent Spring Training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The proud Italian American has since authored a new book with hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary entitled Be A Hitter. Should Chris Colabello not sign a major league contract in the near future, he will reunite with Team Italy pitcher Alessandro Maestri and play for T&A San Marino. Both players spent their formative years competing against each other in the Emilia-Romagna region. While Chris Colabello returned to his native Massachusetts to play high school baseball,  Alessandro Maestri remained in Italy to attend the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy and later became the first Italian-born and developed pitcher to sign a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. Although Alessandro Maestri never pitched in the major leagues, Chris Colabello made his MLB debut (Minnesota Twins, 2013) and two years later led the Toronto Blue Jays to the 2015 American League postseason.

LiddiAzzurri third baseman Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. With the opportunity to spur the growth of the game in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, he has inspired young Italian players including Marten Gasparini, who begins 2018 with Kansas City Royals Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends. Alex Liddi traveled to New England during the offseason to work with Bobby Tewksbary on his swing, and it paid off as the first Italian-born and developed player to play in MLB (Seattle Mariners, 2011). The 29-year-old Italian hero was recently offered a minor league contact with the Kansas City Royals. In five 2018 Royals Spring Training games in Arizona, he hit .333 (2-for-6) with one home run. Alex Liddi will begin at Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals with hopes of returning to the Big Leagues in September when the 40-man roster kicks in.

Rob Segedin festeggia il fuoricampo (Edward Mailliard)Versatile Team Italy utility player Rob Segedin can handle first and third base as well as left and right field. Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the New York Yankees in 2016, Rob Segedin performed well for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC. He displayed excellent defense in right field and hit .375 with a double, home run and two RBI in the international competition. Due to injuries which plagued him in 2017, Rob Segedin played in only 27 games between his short time for a quick espresso in Los Angeles and his limited stint with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. He and Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will both wear Oklahoma City Dodgers uniforms at the start of the 2018 season as they patiently await for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to call them up to the major league level.

Cecchini, Gavin001(Cuni)Team Italy shortstop Gavin Cecchini played second base for the New York Mets during 2018 Mets Spring Training. He also learned how to become a third baseman so that he would be more valuable to the team while working to improve his swing. Based on his two home runs and two extra-base hits at 2018 Spring Training, it appears Gavin Cecchini has added some pop to his stroke. He will continue to make progress under the guidance and supervision of Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Joel Chimelis at the start of the 2018 season. There is no doubt Gavin Cecchini will make his way back into MLB soon and join Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo on the New York Mets roster.

Drew MaggiDrew Maggi signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians last November and never looked back. Hitting at a remarkable .342 clip (13-for-38) with 11 runs and four RBI during 2018 Indians Spring Training in Arizona, the 28-year-old Team Italy utility player with eight seasons under his belt in the minor leagues made a favorable impression on manager Terry Francona. With a stacked lineup and an all-star cast infield, the Tribe’s skipper has no room on his Big League roster for third baseman Drew Maggi at this time. He was placed on the restricted list for the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers on April 4, 2018.

SeminatiDuring a Spring Training minor league game against the Chicago White Sox at the Cincinnati Reds minor league training facility in Goodyear, Arizona on March 17, 2018, Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, “Grande Leo” Seminati lived up to his name. “He’s going to be big,” said Billy Hamilton when asked about the promising 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds prospect. Fast forward from the moment FIBS Academy graduate Leo Seminati signed a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds on July 2, 2017, and most would agree that “Grande Leo” has traveled light years ahead of expectations. Seminati 2017Just ask MLBPipeline.com reporter Jonathan Mayo, who wrote “Italy’s Seminati exceeding expectations at Reds instructs”.  MLB scouts scratched their heads in disbelief when Team Italy first baseman Leonardo Seminati stole the show by hitting several bombs over the Marlins Park wall in the 2016 Power Showcase Home Run Derby. It was not long after his command performance in Miami that scout Sal Varriale made the call to the Cincinnati Reds front office. Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who served as MLB International Ambassador and currently works in player development for the Cincinnati Reds, was well aware of Seminati’s power potential and approved of the signing of “Grande Leo”. Working with Cincinnati Reds minor league coach and former MLB first baseman Donald Lutz, Team Italy slugger Leo Seminati looks to become the complete ballplayer offensively and defensively in the 2018 Arizona Rookie League.

OUTFIELDERS: When New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway pulled Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo aside and told him he would be the leadoff man for the Mets on 2018 Opening Day, the 25-year-old Wyoming native could not have been afforded a better opportunity to make a name for himself in Major League Baseball. ”He’s a worker. He’s so prepared, and he works,” said NY Mets skipper Mickey Callaway. ”You get a player like that and the results are going to come. I’m really proud of him for the way he goes about his business. Very impressive. He’s locked in every pitch. Those are the type of players you need to win.” Brandon Nimmo has certainly paid his dues to gain entry to compete with the game’s elite in MLB. Last year he hit .260 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 177 at-bats for the New York Mets. During 2018 Mets Spring Training in Florida, Brandon Nimmo auditioned for the leadoff hitter position and made the strong case for an Opening Day roster spot. Batting .306 with 11 extra-base hits, three home runs and 11 RBI in Grapefruit League play, he earned the right to be the first name listed on the New York Mets lineup card. NimmoBrandon Nimmo has not disappointed so far this young 2018 regular season. He is currently htting .375 (3-for-8) with one double, three walks and four runs scored. Brandon Nimmo was a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets in 2011. Scouts admired him for being a very patient hitter at the plate and for rarely swinging outside the strike zone. His selective approach to hitting continues to this day in MLB as witnessed by his 15.3% walk rate and .379 OBP in 2017. The Team Italy outfielder fits the mold of a perfect leadoff hitter candidate, and he should relish in that spot should he be given the chance to play every day.

John AndreoliChicago Cubs Italian American manager Joe Maddon knows how special a player Team Italy outfielder John Andreoli truly is. Despite successful campaigns at the upper level of the Chicago Cubs minor leagues from 2013-2017, he was always cut short of making the Big League club as a result of being overshadowed by a star-studded Cubbie outfield and eclipsed by up-and-coming prospects. John Andreoli spent his final three years playing for Triple-A affiliate Iowa, where he hit .258 with 65 doubles, 21 triples, 31 homers, 142 RBI and an incredible 101 stolen bases. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon praised John Andreoli in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) after Team Italy scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat host Mexico, 10-9, at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco. John Andreoli was the difference in the game as he drove in the winning run with a walk-off single and hit a home run earlier in the first inning. Maddon said, “I’m so happy for him, he’s such a good kid. He works so hard, he cares so much. A few days before the WBC I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in the tournament. So I give him a lot of credit. It’s absolutely great.” AndreoliPlaying for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, John Andreoli went 6-for-16 with five runs, seven RBI and three home runs. With little chance of making the MLB roster in the Cubs organization, the 2011 Chicago Cubs 17th-round draft pick elected free agency on November 6, 2017. Despite having to leave the team that drafted him out of the University of Connecticut, John Andreoli enjoyed his time talking with veterans Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo about hitting with two strikes and playing with the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the team’s TV broadcasters that John Andreoli “plays with his hair on fire.” No doubt the Chicago skipper hated to see him leave the organization, but in the end it was the best thing for the Italian American grinder. In January the Seattle Mariners signed John Andreoli to a minor league contract with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. He played in 19 Cactus League games before being assigned to Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers. John Andreoli was the leadoff hitter in his first game playing for the Tacoma Rainiers on April 5, 2018. The 27-year-old prospect stands to have a chance for a promotion to the Seattle Mariners for his MLB debut when the 40-man roster takes effect on September 1, 2018.

Marten GaspariniTeam Italy switch-hitter Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the key player baseball insiders believe will follow in Alex Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. He is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in the minor leagues. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten Gasparini. Leto said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten’s ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.” gasparini kcAdapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, Marten Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends in 2017. He got a taste of the Big Leagues when he made two appearances in 2018 Royals Spring Training games alongside Team Italy slugger Alex Liddi, who homered against the San Francisco Giants on March 23, 2018. Marten Gasparini began the 2018 season playing Single-A ball in Lexington, where he was sandwiched between Kansas City Royals top prospects Michael Gigliotti and Nick Pratto in the lineup on April 5, 2018. As the team’s designated hitter in the two-hole, Marten Gasparini went 1-for-4 with a triple. Look for big things to come for the talented and promising Team Italy outfielder. Team Italy

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Kansas City Royals reunite Team Italy’s Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini

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Team Italy’s Marten Gasparini and Alex Liddi at 2015 Kansas City Royals Spring Training Camp in Surprise, Arizona (Photo by Roberto Angotti)

It appears that the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals want to return to their winning ways by bringing Italy’s finest exports, Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini, back together again. Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born and developed player to make to it to Major League Baseball (Seattle Mariners, 2011), recently re-signed with the Kansas City Royals organization after spending the last two years playing in Mexico. Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the player insiders believe will follow in Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. Gasparini is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in Minor League Baseball. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, said, “We’re very happy to be reuniting the Italians again.”

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Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 Italy/Mexico World Baseball Classic game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.

After being signed the first time by the Kansas City Royals on December 28, 2014, Liddi was named 2015 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star while playing for Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas but never got the opportunity to join fellow Team Italy comrade Drew Butera on the 2015 World Champion Royals. Later he signed with 2015 Mexican Baseball League Champion Tigres de Quintana Roo in 2016. Hitting a respectable .281 in 110 games played, Alex led the Tigres in doubles (28), triples (4), home runs (23), RBI (91), total bases (220) and slugging percentage (.538). He was crowned 2016 Mexican All-Star Home Run Derby Champion by launching 12 homers that cleared the outfield fences with ease.

The Mexican baseball accolades continued for Alex as he later became the first Italian to play in the Caribbean Series when joining 2016 Mexican Champion Venados de Mazatlán. Better known as Serie del Caribe or the Caribbean World Series, it is Latin America’s highest competitive baseball tournament at the club level featuring the respective champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. In his final four games playing for Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlán, Liddi went 4-for-17 with a triple and a double to help the Mexicans become 2016 Caribbean Series Champion. After playing for Team Italy in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Alex underwent left knee surgery. He rebounded triumphantly and returned to his winning form by powering Toros de Tijuana to the 2017 Mexican League Championship with 17 home runs during the regular season.

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Team Italy third baseman Alex Liddi

The great American author Charles Dickens once wrote: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” The old adage is appropriate in the case of Alex Liddi and his recent re-signing by the Kansas City Royals. Leto said, “Alex made a great impression on the Royals when we had him. We have scouts that keep up with the league in Mexico. He’s someone that we checked on from time to time, and he almost came back into the organization last summer. The draw to Alex is his power, professionalism and makeup. He’s a winner. Experience isn’t everything, but Alex has played in a lot professional minor league games. He has major league experience, big time world tourney experience and foreign league experience. Alex has been through a lot of ups and downs while being around a lot of players. He knows what success and failure look like. Alex is a people person, who likes to be in the clubhouse. He is a run producer and an excellent teammate. Alex has been invited to minor league mini-camp so he’ll be in position to play in some major league spring training games.”

Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. The first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954, Liddi was honored by World Baseball Softball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari, who called him “a real ambassador of Italian baseball.” With the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, Alex Liddi has inspired young Italian athletes like Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini to believe that playing Major League Baseball is a reality.

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KC Royals prospect Marten Gasparini

Gasparini is still a work-in-progress, and according to MLB.com, the 20-year-old is the Royals 19th-ranked prospect. Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, the switch-hitting Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington in 2017. Leto, who was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten, spoke confidently about Gasparini. He said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.”

Slugger+Minnesota+Twins+v+Kansas+City+Royals+Nkp9WTMdt8wlWith the support of the Kansas City Royals organization, both Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini are destined for success. Despite a nine-year age difference between them, both players share the same intensity, tenacity and desire to play Major League Baseball. With a plethora of adoring fans from Europe, North America and south of the border cheering him on, international baseball ambassador Alex Liddi believes he is ready for his return to MLB. Marten Gasparini would like nothing more to join his mentor on the Kansas City Royals. Nick Leto would also like that very much. He said, “Who knows, maybe they’ll both get to Kansas City together…”

Kansas City Royals double down with Italian amore for Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini

In his three 2015 Royals Spring Training game appearances, Alex Liddi hit .500 with a double,  two RBI and a stolen base.
Prior to being assigned to the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Alex Liddi hit .500 with a double, two RBI and a stolen base in his three 2015 KC Royals Spring Training game appearances.
Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and Nick Leto
Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and Arizona operations manager Nick Leto

Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.

Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona?
Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now.
Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution?
Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too.
Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.

Having made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2012, Alex Liddi can play both first and third base.
After making his MLB debut with the Mariners in 2011, Alex Liddi has played first and third base.

Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism.
Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally.  He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure.
Roberto: He is a consummate professional.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that.
Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals?
Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort.  You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up.  He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels.  So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him.  And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp.  We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system.
Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp?
Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.

Infielder Alex Liddi possesses all the mental and physical attributes to become successful in MLB.
Infielder Alex Liddi possesses all the mental and physical attributes to become successful in MLB.

Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year.
Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered.  There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun.  It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful.
Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago?
Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball.  Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.

Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run.  That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels.
Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt.
Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations.
Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life.
Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future.
Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs!
Roberto: Thank you Nick!

Roberto Angotti interviews Kansas City Royals’ Italian Ambassador and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini

kansas-city-royals-logo-11-wall-poster-rp1377 Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.

Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasaparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals
Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals.

Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete. marten-transport-ltd-logo
Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.

Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?

Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.

Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?

Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.

Marten Gasparini in 2012 at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul
Marten Gasparini in 2012 photo at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul.

Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.

Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.

Roberto: The spotlights were on you.

Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.

Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?

Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.

Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?

Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.

Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?

Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.

Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.

Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.

Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.

Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.

Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.

Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?

Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.

2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini, center, is tended to by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after he was struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose.
2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini is examined by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after being struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose and put him on the disabled list.

Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?

Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.

Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.

Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?

Roberto: Or more like by design..

Marten Gasparini: Yes!

Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.

Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.

Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to MLB, is currently competing for a Kansas City Royals organization.
Alex Liddi recently played for Team Italia in the 2014 European Baseball Championship and is competing for a Kansas City Royals roster spot.

Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?

Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.

Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.

Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.

Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?

Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.

Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.

Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.

Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.

Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.

Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?

Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.

Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, with my mother’s mother and her brothers and sisters.
291603__bob-marley_tRoberto: So you must have had some Jamaican reggae music influence?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.

Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.

Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.

Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?

Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.

Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?

Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.

Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.

Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.

Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?

Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.

Marten Gasparini went 3-for-3 with a three-run homer in the Rookie League Idaho Falls Chukars' 2014 finale.
Marten Gasparini slides safely into third base after going 3-for-3 with a three-run homer
for the Kansas City Royals Rookie League affiliate Idaho Falls Chukars in their 2014 finale.

Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.

Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.

Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.

Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?

Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…

Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?

Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.