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Olympic Ballplayers To Watch

Trevor CahillThe Olympics are getting underway, and as it stands now this will be the last time baseball is a part of the games. It seems odd, given the game's international prominence, but interest at the Olympic level is hampered significantly by the Major League Baseball season. Teams are not willing to let any of their players (much less their best) leave for two weeks in the middle of a pennant chase, and that is understandable.

That does not mean that the Olympics will not feature a host of baseball players worth watching though. The minor league seasons do not stop, but teams do allow players who are not in line for an immediate call-up to participate. So, to a certain extent, the Olympics are somewhere between the All-Star Futures game and the World Baseball Classic. Here are some notable players that have made the trek to Beijing:

CANADA

Stubby Clapp, INF, Astros - Clapp made a little bit of a name for himself several years ago when he first made the majors because of his awesome name. He has since retired from Major League Baseball, and is actually a hitting instructor in the Astros minor-league system. But, at least for the duration of the Olympics, he has come out of retirement.

Brett Lawrie, INF, Brewers - Lawrie is Milwaukee's first-round draft pick this year, and rose up draft boards after hitting well on the Canadian national team. He is yet to appear in a minor league game, and he is one of the youngest baseball players at the Olympics. Obviously, Lawrie is highly regarded, but still rather raw and unexperienced.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners - Yes, the Mariners do have an Olympian! Saunders has been rising fast through the system, and is one of the M's best prospects. He was promoted to Tacoma midway through the season, and he has experienced some ups and downs in AAA. Still, Saunders is likely one of the best players at the Olympics, and he also has a promising future ahead of him.

NETHERLANDS

Loek Van Mil, RHP, Twins - While Van Mil has nice numbers in A-ball this year, one thing makes him extraordinary: his size. He is listed at 7'1", so it should be fairly easy to tell if he is on the mound.

CHINESE TAIPEI (Taiwan)

Kuo Hi Lo, OF, Mariners - In fact, the Mariners have two Olympians! Luo is not as highly regarded as Saunders though. Lo is actually older and only in advanced A ball. Still, he is a Mariner, and this will be the only time to possible catch him on television this year.

Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP, Royals - Tsao was a pretty big prospect when he was coming up with the Rockies, but injuries derailed his career. Last year he made it back to the majors with the Dodgers. Tsao is yet to crack the majors and stick, but I think he still has something to offer. Perhaps a sparkling performance in the Olympics would be noticed.

UNITED STATES

Brett Anderson, LHP, Athletics - Anderson was one of several talented players the A's acquired in the Dan Haren trade, and he has been deceptively good this year. He started the year in advanced A ball, but received a recent promotion to AA despite a 4.14 ERA. That's because his WHIP was barely over 1.00 and he was striking out well over a batter an inning, with only 5 home runs allowed in 74 innings pitched. He has looked good in AA so far too.

Jake Arrieta, RHP, Orioles - Jake already got some exposure as a futures game selection this year, and now he will get a little more in China. All he has done is go out and handle AA with relative ease, as a 2.87 ERA, .199 opponents batting average, and 120 strikeouts in 113 innings attest to. His 51 walks say he is not a polished product, but the talent is there.

Matt Brown, 3B, Angels - A local product from Bellevue, Brown has received brief cups of coffee in the majors both in 2007 and this year. His AAA numbers are quite good, though he also plays his home games in a very offense-friendly ballpark. Still, he definitely has some power, and he has local ties.

Trevor Cahill, RHP, Athletics - If you want to know why the A's are going to be really good in a few years, watch the Olympics. Cahill was a futures game selection this year, and is rocketing through the A's farm system right now. He is only 20 years old, but has already advanced to AA and is succeeding. Back in 2000, Ben Sheets first made a name for himself when he dominated the Cuban national team in the Olympics. If I had to pick a player on the USA roster to deliver a similar performance this year, it would be Cahill.

Matt LaPorta, OF, Indians - LaPorta is probably the best hitter at the Olympics. He was the centerpiece in the package that Cleveland received for CC Sabathia, and he has a ton of power. Between being selected for the futures game this year and a major piece in a blockbuster trade, LaPorta already is about as high-profile as a AA ballplayer can get.

Jayson Nix, 2B, Rockies - Nix was the opening day second baseman for the Rockies this year, so he hardly had Olympic dreams just a few months ago. However, he got off to a horribly slow start, and was sent down to AAA. Nix has rebounding extremely well, but Colorado apparently likes the other players that have emerged to the point that they felt comfortable letting him go to Beijing.

Nate Schierholtz, OF, Giants - Nate had real good numbers in AAA last year, and is having another real good season. Given San Francisco's weak offense, it seems that he should be up in the majors. But, a chance to compete in the Olympics is not a bad consolation prize at all.

Casey Weathers, RHP, Rockies - A first-round pick just a year ago, Weathers is already producing in AA. He was a closer in college, and is working through the minors as a closer too. Weathers features an overpowering fastball in the upper-90s, and a slider that sits around 90. It is the same combination that makes Brad Lidge dominant, and that made Robb Nen such a great closer. Casey does not have great command of his stuff quite yet, but it is more than good enough with his stuff to make a good showing at the Olympics.

Baseball is not one of the feature sports at the Olympics, but it should not be overlooked. There is more talent in the Olympic baseball tournament than many realize. The United States did not qualify in 2004, but it is back with a strong squad, particularly in the pitching department. Hopefully, Olympic baseball will go out in glory.