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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 20: The United States wins the World Baseball Classic

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

The World Baseball Classic — the international baseball tournament which dates back to 2006 — has never been a particularly popular or compelling event for Americans. Yes, it has its devotees, but it doesn’t dominate the news or the television ratings when it takes place. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the top American players have never taken it all that seriously. This was summed up pretty succinctly by Noah Syndergaard last spring when he noted that U.S. players have rarely considered patriotic pride the greatest motivator in the sport:

Reporter: You have some teammates going to the WBC pretty soon. Does any part of you wish you could be there as well?

Syndergaard: Nope. Not one bit.

Reporter: Why not?

Syndergaard: Because I’m a Met. And ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win the World Series playing in the WBC.

With superstars like him, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper giving the WBC a pass, it’s been a much harder sell for American fans as well. And that’s before you acknowledge that in United States failed to win any of the first three WBCs, held in 2006, 2009 and 2013. We Americans like our superstars and we don’t much like not being good at something, so the WBC just didn’t rate for many of us.

The Americans won it in 2017, though, with Marcus Stroman pitching the U.S. team to victory over Puerto Rico in the final at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. To get there, the U.S. team had to get through a powerhouse, defending champion Dominican Republic team, avenging an earlier round loss, and then defeat two-time champion Japan in the semifinals. It was no easy task, but they pulled it off all the same.

Is it important for the Americans to have won it? Yes and no.

Contrary to popular belief in this country, the world does not always revolve around the United States. Baseball thrives in Asia, the Caribbean, Mexico and Venezuela  and it is growing in Europe, Australia and other parts of South America. Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but an international competition can do just fine without the U.S. winning it, even in a quintessentially American sport. The 2006 and 2009 WBC finals, for example, were two of the most highly-rated sporting events in Japanese television history.

It’s a fact, however, that Major League Baseball is a big driver and financier of the WBC and that its interest in continuing to do so would only persist to the extent the tournament remained well-viewed, well-attended and profitable. The fact of the matter is that the United States constitutes the biggest market for baseball in the world so to that end, yeah, it was kind of significant that the U.S. took the title. Both for its own sake and for the future, as it now gives American fans some bigger emotional stakes — we have a title to defend! — and may inspire some bigger American stars to come out and play next time around. At least one has suggested that he may very well do so.

That could make the next World Baseball Classic — in 2021 — a much, much bigger deal in the United States than it has been in the past. If it is, the powers that be can thank the 2017 U.S. team.

Ronald Acuna tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

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ESPN’s Keith Law has released his annual top-100 prospects list. According to Law, Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is the number one prospect in baseball.

After blazing through High-A and Double-A ball last season, Acuna was the youngest player in Triple-A in 2017. He was 19 years-old all season long and put up a fantastic line of .335/.384/.534 in 486 plate appearances at Double and Triple-A. He then went on to star in the Arizona Fall League, leading that circuit in homers. Law, who is not one to throw hyperbolic comps around, says, “if Acuna stays in center and maxes out his power, he’s going to be among the best players in baseball, with a Mike Trout-ish profile.”

Acuna, who is 20 now, is likely play the bulk of the season in Atlanta, even if he’s kept down at Triple-A for the first couple of weeks of the season to manipulate his service time, er, I mean to allow him to develop his skills more fully. Or something. Given the presence of reigning Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte, Acuna is not likely to man center for the Braves this year, but Law says he’d be a plus right field defender, which could make the Braves outfield Death to Flying Things in 2018. At least when Nick Markakis is not playing.

Number two on the list: Blue Jays third base prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. As law notes, the name may be familiar but he’s not very much like his old man. Mostly because young Vlad can take a walk. Which is better, even if it’s nowhere near as fun as swinging at balls that bounce in the dirt first.

For the other 98, you’ll have to click through.