A rarity on team Italy

30 Gennaio 2009

A large part of Team Italy’s roster in the World Baseball Classic will be comprised of players who are there because of the loose rules for the Classic.

Most, that means, will be Italian-Americans who have a parent, or more likely a grandparent, who comes from Italy. In 2006, the roster was dotted with the likes of Frank Catalanotto and Mike Piazza, and 2009 figures to be more of the same. Of the 45 players on the provisional roster, 14 play in the Italian League.

Then there’s pitching prospect Alessandro Maestri, who, get this, is with a Major League organization — the Cubs — and is actually from Italy. Back in 2006, Maestri was signed by Bill Holmberg, who works for the Cubs and is the Italian National Team’s pitching coach. Maestri was on the Italian team for the first rendition of the Classic, appearing in two games. He is the first Italian-born pitcher to be signed by a Major League team.

After he’d started out as a reliever, the Cubs moved the right-hander into the rotation last year for multiple purposes, to have him work on all of his pitches as well as to see exactly what they had in the 23-year-old. He went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA over 89 innings, getting shut down conservatively when he experienced some shoulder soreness.

“We put him in the rotation last year to get his command better,” Cubs vice president of player personnel, Oneri Fleita, said. “When he’s out of the ‘pen, he throws harder and has more velocity on his slider. We wanted more pitchability.

“It’s so hard to develop 200-plus-inning pitchers, so we really went back and tried to determine who they’re going to be.”

And they’ve determined that Maestri is best suited to be a reliever. Aside from the shoulder soreness, the role seems to fit him well from a stuff and temperament standpoint. That’s likely to be his job on Team Italy and, if all goes well, perhaps in Chicago sooner than you may think.

“He’s had a good winter from what we’ve heard. He’s healthy and we look for him to move quickly out of the ‘pen,” Fleita added. “His experience as a starter has been great. But he’s fearless. For a guy from a country where they don’t play [that high of a level of baseball], he doesn’t show it. Clearly, he’s a reliever. He likes pitching out of the ‘pen.”