PITCHERS: 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. 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.
MLB 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.
In 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.
After 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.
Philadelphia 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 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”. In 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.”
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.
Italian-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.
Cesarre 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. He 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.
Opting 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.
Azzurri 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.
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.
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 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.
During 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. Just 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. Brandon 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.
Chicago 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.” Playing 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.
Team 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.” Adapting 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.