|Unsung Heroes Bound to Emerge|
Lesser-known players will share WBC spotlight with stars
By Jim Street / MLB.com
The baseball world knows all about Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Johnny Damon, Michael Young, Ichiro Suzuki and a bunch of other Major League All-Stars who have signed on to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
But there will be times during the 17-day tournament when a scintillating defensive play, or a crucial hit, makes a virtual unknown an international hero.
That is one of the best things about the 16-team event that runs from March 3-20. You just never know when a player with a modest history in this kind of competition rises to the occasion and shares the spotlight with players with more impressive credentials.
While teams representing the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States could be loaded with big-league players, other teams, such as Canada, Australia and Mexico, could have a significant number of MLB players on their 30-man rosters. And teams from China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Japan, Korea, Panama, South Africa and The Netherlands might have a few -- or zero -- Major League players on its rosters.
Regardless of the makeup of any roster, some "unknown" players going into the tournament surely will make a name for themselves.
Here are some of the under-the-radar players to watch during the WBC:
Brendan Kingman, Australia: Kingman, 32, has been one of the premier hitters in Australian baseball over the last 15 years. He began in the Australian Baseball League as a teenager, playing with the Sydney Wave and Sydney Blues and was the ABL Most Valuable Player in 1998, batting .487 -- 100 points higher than the nearest rival -- and hitting 27 home runs.
During his nine-year ABL career, he had a .303 average and ranked second in career home runs and RBIs. He spent four years in the Florida Marlins farm system and three years in Seattle Mariners organization, reaching the Double-A level. In recent years has played for New South Wales and been an integral member of the club that won the Claxton Shield, the prized baseball competition in Australia.
Kingman was a member of the Australian team that won the 1999 Intercontinental Cup in Sydney and represented Australia at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympics. He provided the RBI single that saw Australia defeat Japan in the semifinals and advance to gold medal round. He also has also represented his country in the past two World Cups.
Francisco Campos, Mexico: Campos led the Mexican League with a 2.84 earned run average, three complete games, 152 innings, and 170 strikeouts in 2005 for Class AAA Campeche and was selected as the league's Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season.
He became the first pitcher in 48 years to finish first in wins (12), ERA (1.69) and strikeouts (99) in '04 and was selected as the Mexican League Most Valuable Player. He also led the league in strikeouts (125) in '02 and ranked first in complete games (8) and shutouts (3) in 2000.
All but 17 of his 243 professional appearances have been with Campeche. Campos originally was signed as a catcher by the Houston Astros in April 1991. He missed all of 1992 and '93 with injuries before signing with Campeche as a third baseman in 1994 and became a pitcher the following year.
Campos was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002 and drafted by the Chicago White Sox in '03 and currently is the property of the Florida Marlins while on loan to Campeche.
Tai-Shan Chang, Chinese Taipei: Batted .305 last season for the Sinon Bulls and is a .302 career hitter in the Chinese Baseball League with 154 home runs. He led the league in home runs in 2003 and '04. He is a six-time All-Star.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com.