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A Way-Too-Early Look At Potential WBSC Premier12 Rosters: Korea, Cuba, and Puerto Rico

 Conor Liguori - World Baseball Network  |    Mar 22nd, 2024 2:00pm EDT

Ariel Martinez of Cuba celebrates hitting a single in the second inning during the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal between Australia and Cuba at Tokyo Dome on March 15, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Correction: This article previously listed JC Escarra as a possible player for Puerto Rico. Escarra, who is Cuban American, was replaced on the list with Juan Centeno, as Escarra is not currently eligible to play for Puerto Rico.

The 2024 Premier12 tournament will feature the top 12 nations in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s World Baseball Rankings from Nov. 10-24, 2024.

The 12 nations competing are No. 1 Japan, No. 2 Mexico, No. 3 United States, No. 4 Korea, No. 5 Chinese Taipei, No. 6 Venezuela, No. 7 Netherlands, No. 8 Cuba, No. 9 Dominican Republic, No. 10 Panama, No. 11 Australia, and No. 12 Puerto Rico.

Let’s examine potential players in this year’s Premier12 for Korea, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

No. 4 Korea


Pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim of Korea reacts after the third inning during the World Baseball Classic exhibition game between Korea and Orix Buffaloes at Kyocera Dome Osaka on March 6, 2023 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Kim Kwang-hyun, LHP, SSG Landers – Kim pitched for Korea in the 2019 Premier12 and 2023 World Baseball Classic and for the St. Louis Cardinals in Major League Baseball from 2020-21. The lefty was crowned the 2008 KBO MVP for the SK Wyverns and is a five-time Korean Series champion.

An Woo-jin, RHP, Kiwoom Heroes – The right-handed pitcher underwent Tommy John Surgery this past September, making the Premier12 an option for his return to the mound. In 2023, An finished second among all qualified KBO pitchers in strikeouts with 164, behind 2023 KBO MVP Erick Fedde, who struck out 209.


Catcher Kang Min-Ho of Samsung Lions bats in the top of the ninth inning during the KBO League game between Samsung Lions and SK Wyverns at the Incheon SK Happy Dream Park on June 07, 2020 in Incheon, South Korea. (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)

Kang Min-ho, C, Samsung Lions – At 38 years old, Kang has the experience and pedigree to be Korea’s starting catcher. He has hit 319 career home runs since his rookie year in 2004, including a career-high 35 in 2015 with the Lotte Giants.

Infielders – Potential infielders for Korea include third baseman Choi Jeong, second baseman Kim Hye-seong, first baseman Park Byung-ho, and shortstop Park Chan-ho.

Choi has hit 458 home runs in his 19-year KBO career and has been hit by a pitch 328 times, a KBO record. The 38-year-old has spent his entire career in the SSG Landers organization.

Kim hit .335 with seven home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2023 for the Kiwoom Heroes and became the team’s starting shortstop after former Kiwoom shortstop Ha-Seong Kim signed with MLB’s San Diego Padres in 2020.

Park Byung-ho is a first baseman and designated hitter for the KT Wiz and played one season in MLB with the Minnesota Twins in 2016, hitting .191 with 12 home runs. He was the KBO MVP in 2012 and 2013.

Park Chan-ho is a shortstop for the Kia Tigers. In 2023, he hit .301 with 30 stolen bases and 52 RBI. He struck out just 56 times in 507 plate appearances.

Outfielders – Potential outfielders for Korea include Koo Ja-wook, Park Kun-woo, and Jeon Jun-woo.

Koo Ja-wook, 31, was the KBO Rookie of the Year in 2015 and hit an impressive .336 with a .901 OPS in 2023 for the Samsung Lions.

Park Kun-woo made his KBO debut in 2009 for the Doosan Bears and played the last two seasons for the NC Dinos. As the Dinos’ primary right fielder, he hit 12 home runs with 85 RBI.

Jeon has hit above .300 for the last three seasons with the Lotte Giants and has spent his entire 15-year career with the organization. In 2023, he hit 17 home runs with a .852 OPS.

No. 8 Cuba


Miguel Romero of Team Cuba pitches in the third inning against Team USA during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 19, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Miguel Romero, RHP, Conspiradores de Querétaro – According to Yusseff Diaz of Pelota Cubana USA, Romero will pitch for Cuba in the 2024 Premier12. He threw 10.2 innings in the 2024 Caribbean Series for the Tiburones de La Guaira of Venezuela, posting a 2.53 ERA with four strikeouts.

Vladimir Banos, RHP, Padule Baseball Club – Banos, 41, has represented Cuba at several international tournaments, including the 2007 World Baseball Cup and 2017 World Baseball Classic. On Dec. 23, 2010, he threw a no-hitter against the Cocodrilos de Matanzas of Serie Nacional de Béisbol.


Ariel Martinez and Yariel Rodriguez of Cuba talk in the third inning during the World Baseball Classic quarterfinal between Australia and Cuba at Tokyo Dome on March 15, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Ariel Martinez, C, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters – Martinez was born in Matanzas, Cuba, but has played in Japan in Nippon Professional Baseball since 2019. He hit a career-high 15 home runs for the Fighters in 2023.

Infielders – Potential infielders for Cuba include shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, third baseman Yurisbel Gracial, second baseman Cesar Prieto, and first baseman Yuli Gurriel.

Arruebarrena was the starting shortstop for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and played 22 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. He hit .246 with five home runs during the 2023-24 Serie Nacional de Béisbol season with the Cocodrilos de Matanzas.

Gracial, 38, played five seasons in NPB from 2018-22 with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and has hit 179 home runs in his 15-year professional baseball career. He played third base for Cuba in the 2019 Premier12.

Prieto signed with the Baltimore Orioles as an international free agent in 2022 and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on August 1, 2023. He posted a .581/.606/.646 slash line in the 2017 U-18 Baseball World Cup for Cuba.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel is an MLB free agent and a two-time World Series champion with the Houston Astros in 2017 and 2022. He has hit 98 home runs in his MLB career and has played for Cuba in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and several other international tournaments.

While Prieto and Gurriel are technically eligible, both players defected from Cuba while representing the country at international events. The Federacion Cubana de Beisbol has stated that players who defect while representing the country will not be allowed to play for Cuba. Gurriel left from the 2016 Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic, and Prieto fled from the 2021 Olympic Americas Qualifier in Florida.

Outfielders – Potential outfielders for Cuba include Roel Santos, Alfredo Despaigne, and Rusney Castillo.

Santos will play for the Olmecas de Tabasco during the 2024 Liga Mexicana de Beisbol season and has played for Cuba in multiple international tournaments, including the 2017 and 2023 World Baseball Classic. He hit .310 with four home runs and 30 RBI in 2023 for the Olmecas de Tabasco.

Despaigne played professional baseball for 20 years in Cuba, Mexico, and Japan. He is a four-time Japan Series champion and led the Pacific League in home runs in 2017 with 35 while playing for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Despaigne is a free agent.

Castillo played three seasons with the Boston Red Sox from 2014-16 but never met high expectations as an international prospect from Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Most recently, Castillo played 13 games for the Mariachis de Guadalajara during the 2023 LMB season, hitting .279 with five RBI in 45 plate appearances.

No. 12 Puerto Rico


Adalberto Flores of Puerto Rico delivers a pitch during a game between Aguilas del Zulia of Venezuela and Criollos de Caguas of Puerto Rico as part of the Baseball Caribbean Series Culiacan 2017, at Tomateros Stadium on February 02, 2017 in Culiacan, Mexico. (Photo by Luis Gutierrez/Jam Media/Latin Content/Getty Images)

Adalberto Flores, RHP, Cangrejeros de Santurce – Flores threw 35.1 innings this winter for the Cangrejeros de Santurce in Liga de Besibol Profesional Roberto Clemente and posted a 1.53 ERA. The relief pitcher was on the Puerto Rico 2019 Premier12 roster.

Miguel Mejia, RHP, Free Agent – Like Flores, Mejia pitched for the Cangrejeros de Santurce this winter, allowing just one earned run in 15 innings. He played for the Saitama Seibu Lions during the 2015 NPB season.


Juan Centeno of the Amarillo Sod Poodles walks across the field before the game against the Wichita Wind Surge at HODGETOWN Stadium on July 21, 2023 in Amarillo, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Juan Centeno, C, Saraperos de Saltillo – Centeno played 18 games with the Criollos de Caguas during the 2023-24 LBPRC season, hitting .228 with one home and six RBI. He made his MLB debut for the New York Mets in 2013 and played 22 games in 2017 with the World Series champion Houston Astros. The 34-year-old has hit six home runs in 118 career MLB games.

Infielders – Potential Puerto Rico infielders include shortstop Jack Lopez, third baseman Vimael Machin, second baseman Yahil Melendez, and first baseman Edwin Rios.

Lopez was the starting shortstop for the Criollos de Caguas of Puerto Rico during the 2024 Caribbean Series and is hitting .250 in eight at-bats in spring training with the Los Angeles Angels.

Machin played three seasons with the Oakland Athletics from 2020-22 and struggled, hitting .208 with just one home run in 112 games. The left-handed hitter can play third base, shortstop, and second base.

Melendez, 18, played in the Arizona Complex League for the Chicago Cubs in 2023 and five games with the Criollos de Caguas during the 2023-24 LBPRC winter season. He hit .237 in 10 games with the ACL Cubs.

Rios hit a lowly 0.71 in 18 games with the Chicago Cubs in 2023 but smashed eight home runs in just 32 games in 2020. He was also a World Series champion with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020.

Outfielders – Potential outfielders for Puerto Rico include Bryan Torres, Mario Feliciano, and Danny Ortiz.

Torres hit .371 in 91 games in 2023 for the Milwaukee Milkmen of the American Association of Professional Baseball. He is versatile in the field, with experience at second base and catcher.

Feliciano played three games with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2021-22 and hit .258 for the Indios de Mayaguez this winter. While in high school, he attended the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Florida, Puerto Rico.

Ortiz made his MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017, playing just nine games and recording one hit. However, he helped the Pericos de Puebla of the LMB win the 2023 Serie del Rey over the Algodoneros de Unión Laguna

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Conor Liguori - World Baseball Network