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Pirates Stars Shine Bright in WBC

Pirates pitching prospect Jameson Taillon pitches for Team Canada in 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The 2013 World Baseball Classic featured 5 players currently in the Pittsburgh Pirates system.

Five players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization were featured on five different teams in this year's World Baseball Classic.  Standout pitching prospect Jameson Taillon and current Pirate pitcher Chris Leroux were members of Team Canada.  The Dominican Republic team featured Wandy Rodriguez, a Pirates top of the rotation starter.  Pirates closer Jason Grilli played for team Italy, much to the dismay of Team USA.  Finally, rounding out the Buccos in the WBC was Stefan Welch, third basemen for team Australia.

Taillon is the highest drafted Canadian in Major League baseball history after being taken 2nd overall in 2010 behind Bryce Harper.  The Pirates have stated over and over again that even if they had the first spot in the draft, Taillon would still have been their guy.  Pirates' player personnel felt he was by far the best pitcher in the draft, however, the rest of the league didn't see it that way.  Either the rest of the teams knew something the Bucs didn't or the Pirates were right about this guy, only time will tell.

Team Canada saw Taillon as a "wild card" guy for them, who they implemented in the same role as Adam Loewen in a big game against the U.S. in 2006.  Loewen held the United States scoreless in 2006 and they were hoping Taillon would do the same when they gave him the ball to start a crucial game against the Americans to advance to the second round of the WBC last week.  Taillon was on a 65 pitch limit like the rest of the pitchers in the WBC.  Early on his fastball was live, he sat at 95 mph at the beginning of the game.  The final line for Taillon was as follows, 4 innings pitched with only one earned run, while striking out 3 against one base on balls.  34 of Taillon's 52 pitches were strikes and his breaking ball was affective against U.S. hitters, he sat 93-95 mph through the game.  Overall, Taillon's performance was positive and the experience he gained even greater.  "Obviously a great experience for the young man," Huntington said. "He showed poise, he showed composure, he showed quality stuff. He showed up pretty well. He showed the hard velocity. Showed the power breaking balls. Mixed in a few changeups, but more than anything else he showed composure" said Pirates Gm Neal Huntington.  Taillon will likely start the 2013 season with AA Altoona Curve.

Pirates relief pitcher Chris Leroux also played for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Going into the tournament Leroux was excited to be pitching after seeing his fastball climb back to his 2011 form with his velocity at 92-97 mph after a drop down last season due to a pectoral injury.  Nevermind the tenuous national ties, the fact that some of the best players weren't involved, or the 19,581 person attendance at Chase Field on Saturday.  Team Canada participated in a tight matchup with a second round appearance on the line as Leroux got the start against Mexico.  "It was really fun" said Leroux, "Some of the most intense baseball I've ever been a part of, I'm sure that won't happen again till playoff time, it was unbeleivable."  Leroux, one of the right handers competing for a long relief role for the Pirates pitched three innings, allowing one unearned run, striking out four and walking one.  Yes there was actually a game played, regardless of what the higlight reel showed. 

Wandy Rodriguez, left handed Pirates starter and number two in the rotation got the chance to pitch for his native Dominican Republic in the WBC.  Rodriguez got the start in a pivotal game against Puerto Rico.  He pitched six innings, only allowing one hit, retiring all five batters he faced with runners in scoring postiton.  Releivers came on as he departed with a 1-0 lead in a game that the Dominican Republic would win to remain unbeaten in the WBC.

Jason Grilli was the lone Pirates representative on Team Italy in this year's classic, he assumed the role of closer on the team on the team, one in which he didn't see the field much.  Grilli closed the game for the Italians to help his team grab their biggest WBC win against a strong Mexican lineup.  After loading the bases and bringing a pro-Mexican crowd to its feet, Grilli got Jorge Cantu to ground out, securing the win for Italy.  The game against Mexico was the only one in which Grilli appeared as Italy cited the mercy rule defeating Canada in their opener and then being eliminated by Puerto Rico.  In the game against Puerto Rico, Grilli never got the chance to shed his hoodie in the pen, even confusing the minds of WBC commentators.  It was a huge game for the Italians, they used every pitcher in their bullpen...except Grilli, who was arguably their best arm.  Could it have been the signature home organization-WBC controversies that we see each year in the WBC coming into play again as possibly the PIrates didn't want Grilli to pitch? 

Finally, Stefan Welch, an infielder in the Pirates system played third base for Team Australia.  Team Australia's run was short lived as they were defeated in all of their opening games making it a short stay for Welch and the team in the WBC.  There were some bright spots as Welch homered in the team's opener against Chinese Taipei, he was also able to add two base hits in the last game for Australia.

Overall, the Pirates players faired well in the WBC with a small sample size yet room for more success as Wandy Rodriguez could see the mound again before the end of the tournament.  A great deal more enthusiasm surrounded this years World Baseball Classic and that's something that baseball fans hope continue.  The pride of country and drive to win is there, it's not the World Cup but maybe one day...