Another World Baseball Classic is in the books. The Dominican Republic, which didn't drop a single game during the tournament, took home the title to end Japan's streak. Puerto Rico was the event's surprise runner-up.
Now the focus shifts back to spring training with less than two weeks until Opening Day. The question surrounding players coming back from the Classic, especially those that played well for their home countries, is whether they can carry that into the new season.
Let's examine the players most capable of maintaining that momentum as they return to their respective teams. Given the important roles all three of them are expected to play, their managers certainly hope the WBC experience served as good preparation.
Joe Mauer (USA and Minnesota Twins)
Mauer was one of the few bright spots for an American squad that underperformed yet again. The Twins' catcher got nine hits in 21 at-bats and had an on-base percentage of .538. Three of his hits were for extra bases, including a triple.
That's always been the way Mauer operates, though. Regardless of what's happening around him, which hasn't been much in Minnesota lately due to a lack of hitting depth, he continues to post solid numbers. He's one of the most consistent players in the game.
It will be interesting if he, along with Justin Morneau, who had a good showing with Canada, can use their early success to get the Twins off to a strong start. If so, they could emerge as a surprise playoff contender out of the AL Central, which is wide open behind the Detroit Tigers.
Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic and New York Yankees)
Cano has watched as the Yankees' lineup crumbled around him. Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are all dealing with long-term injuries while Derek Jeter works his way back to full strength, which means the second baseman will need to carry the offense on his back.
He look prepared to do exactly that in the World Baseball Classic, helping his nation win the title. Hit hit .469 with two home runs, six runs batted in and six runs scored in eight games. His 25 total bases were six more than any other player and his 15 hits also lead the tournament.
Entering a contract year, Cano appears ready for another monster season. He's on a run of four straight seasons with at least 25 home runs and an OPS above .870. Based on his WBC performance, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him break his personal mark of 33 homers.
Andrelton Simmons (Netherlands and Atlanta Braves)
While the first two players on the list are well-known superstars, Simmons is still establishing himself in the majors. He played 49 games with the Atlanta Braves last season, but is expected to take on a more prominent role as the leadoff hitter in 2013.
In the same role for the Netherlands, Simmons hit two home runs, scored 10 and drove home six more in eight games. He was one of the main reasons the underdog squad was able to make it all the way to the semifinals before getting knocked out by the eventual champs.
The most assuring thing about Simmons is that he's terrific in the field, as well. So even if he goes through some slumps at the plate, as most young hitters not named Mike Trout do, he should provide plenty of value to the Braves.
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