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Spring Training: International Players to Watch in MLB’s National League Central

 Leif Skodnick  |    Feb 24th, 2024 4:05pm EST

Thyago Vieira of the Milwaukee Brewers in action against the New York Yankees during a game at Yankee Stadium on September 8, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network

Spring training is underway, and in every Major League camp, players from around the world are trying to make their mark.

Here are two international players from each National League Central team to watch out for during spring training in Major League Baseball.

Milwaukee Brewers (2023 Record: 92-70, 1st in NL Central)

Thyago Vieira, RHP, Brazil – At the time of his signing with the Seattle Mariners in 2010, Vieira became just the second Brazilian-born pitcher to sign with an MLB franchise. Vieira has made just 25 appearances across four MLB seasons but struck out 51 in 37.2 innings in 2023 for Triple-A Nashville. After making his MLB debut in 2017, the 31-year-old pitched three seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball with the Yomiuri Giants from 2020-22. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Gary Sanchez, C, Dominican Republic – Sanchez burst onto the scene with the New York Yankees in 2016, blasting 23 home runs in just 53 games, but the Brewers will be his fifth organization in the last two years. Sanchez has had his fair share of defensive troubles behind the plate and does not hit for average, but can hit home runs with the best of them. This spring, he will compete with Eric Haase as Milwaukee’s backup catcher behind William Contreras. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Chicago Cubs (2023 Record: 83-79, 2nd in NL Central)

Shota Imanaga, LHP, Japan – Imanaga was the second-most coveted Nippon Professional Baseball pitcher this winter behind Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The lefty posted a 2.80 ERA last NPB season with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars and replaced Marcus Stroman as the Cubs’ No. 2 starter behind left-handed pitcher Justin Steele. According to Sportsinfosolutions.com, Imanaga’s 68% strike rate would have been in the top 10 in MLB-qualified starters in 2023. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Christopher Morel, OF, DH, Dominican Republic – The power-hitting 24-year-old kept his body active this winter, playing 24 games with the Aguilas Cibaenas in LIDOM. Morel takes massive cuts with the bat, leading to 133 strikeouts in 2023 with the Cubs, but he hit 26 home runs, a trade-off Chicago will certainly take. If Chicago is to return to the postseason for the first time since 2020, Morel will have to be one of the most significant contributors. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Reds (2023 Record: 82-80, 3rd in NL Central)

Noelvi Marte, 3B, SS, Dominican Republic – Marte is often overlooked due to the exciting play of shortstop Elly De La Cruz, although he hit .316 in a small sample size of 35 games with Cincinnati. The Reds were among the more vibrant teams in MLB last season, and the 22-year-old was the primary reason. Marte hits the ball to all parts of the yard and often uses his speed to take the extra base or get a solid jump on a steal. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Alexis Diaz, RHP, Puerto Rico – Diaz was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2023, striking out 86 batters in 67.1 innings with a 95th percentile whiff rate, measuring the amount of swings and misses he generates. Remarkably, Diaz has incredible results despite throwing only four-seam fastballs and sliders. There must be more reason to believe any other Reds reliever can compete with him this spring as the full-time closer. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Cincinnati Reds/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Pirates (2023 Record: 76-86, 4th in NL Central)

Ji Hwan Bae, 2B, CF, South Korea – Bae is one of the fastest players in MLB, finishing the 2023 season in the 97th percentile in sprint speed (per Baseball Savant) and 24 stolen bases. He’s versatile and can play second base and center field, where he might be best suited because of his quickness. Now 24 years old, he looks to improve in the power department during spring training after hitting two home runs in 371 plate appearances last year. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Oneil Cruz, SS, Dominican Republic – After having his 2023 campaign cut to just nine games due to a fractured left ankle in April, Cruz looks to have a bounce-back season for the Buccos. The talent is there, and he hits the ball hard, producing an average exit velocity of 91.9 mph in 2022. Cruz also throws incredibly hard from shortstop, but it contributed to 17 errors at the position in 79 games in 2022. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

St. Louis Cardinals (2023 Record: 71-91, 5th in NL Central)

Ivan Herrera, C, Panama – Herrera was one of the top performers in the 2023 Caribbean Series for the Federales de Chiriquí of Panama, hitting .357 with three home runs and 10 RBI in eight games. Since Yadier Molina retired, St. Louis has struggled to find a catcher that works well with the pitching staff, even with the acquisition of Willson Contreras. The 2024 season will be Herrera’s first entire season in MLB, and he could be one of the best-hitting catchers in the National League, perhaps MLB, this year. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Giovanny Gallegos, RHP, Mexico – Gallegos experienced his worst year in MLB last season, posting a 4.42 ERA in 55 innings pitched out of the Cardinals bullpen. A team that underperformed enormously the previous season will need reliable arms to turn to when holding the lead late in the game. Gallegos’s track record shows he deserves a chance to remain one of the top options, and his 11.1 strikeouts per nine in 2022 are realistic expectations. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)