Major League Baseball
WBC's biggest winners: Which players impressed us most
Major League Baseball

WBC's biggest winners: Which players impressed us most

Updated Mar. 24, 2023 3:40 p.m. ET

The dream finale of the 2023 World Baseball Classic actually happened, as Shohei Ohtani struck out fellow generational superstar and Angels teammate Mike Trout to help Samurai Japan win a third WBC championship in one of the coolest and most important at-bats in recent memory.

While their epic clash might have been the ultimate climax of each player's ascent in this great game, it wasn't exactly an introduction to two players who were already considered legends in both of their respective home countries. It was simply the best and most entertaining possible outcome. 

But beyond Trout and Ohtani, the WBC elevated countless players to new levels of recognition and stardom to the global baseball audience in the weeks leading up to the dramatic final out. These are players whose games rose to new heights for their countries, and whose performances will endure in vivid memories and viral highlights for years to come. Before we turn the page on this remarkable tournament, let's highlight who shone brightest on the international stage. 

Mexico OF Randy Arozarena


It would seem impossible to fathom that Arozarena could even begin to recapture the high-stakes magic he displayed during the 2020 postseason for Tampa Bay. While he was held to just one homer, his nine RBIs were third-most in the tournament behind only Masataka Yoshida and the next person on this list.

Throughout it all, the theatrics were aplenty, reminding us that Arozarena is truly a one-of-a-kind performer in our sport capable of truly special things when the games mean the most. 

United States SS Trea Turner

Like Arozarena, MLB fans are already plenty familiar with Turner. He has won a World Series with the Nationals, won a batting title and most recently signed a $300 million contract. Still, Turner managed to elevate his status with his tremendous run for Team USA

Not only was his go-ahead grand slam against Venezuela in the quarterfinals one of the best moments of the tournament, it was one of a WBC-best five long balls Turner launched over the course of the six games he appeared in. For context, Turner has only hit five homers in a six-game span one other time in his MLB career. 

Trea Turner cranks a solo homer in the WBC final

Not even the Phillies fans still in celebratory delirium over signing Turner could have imagined such a power surge for the shortstop, but that's exactly what he delivered. As if the Phillies needed more to be excited about coming off last season.

Japan RHP Rōki Sasaki (and basically every pitcher on Samurai Japan)

To focus strictly on Sasaki is arguably a disservice to the unbelievable performance of the entire Japan pitching staff, which posted a 2.29 ERA over the course of the tournament with an outrageous 80-11 K-BB ratio to boot.

From Yoshinobu Yamamoto (who could make the leap to MLB after the 2023 season) to Taisei Ota to Hiroto Takahashi to Shota Imanaga and more, nearly every pitcher that Japan turned to proved they belonged against top-tier competition at every step of the way. 

Sasaki, though, was the only one on the staff slinging triple-digit heat like he was playing catch, not to mention the fact that his splitter was even more ridiculous, and HE'S ONLY 21!!! 

Because he's so young, it's unlikely we will see Sasaki make the transition from NPB to MLB anytime soon — Japanese players do not become full international free agents unrestricted by international bonus pools until they turn 25. He could jump early the way Ohtani did, but would be costing himself tens of millions of dollars in the process at least, and thus will likely wait until the time is right. In the meantime, he'll continue to demonstrate one of the most overpowering arsenals of any pitcher on the planet for the Chiba Lotte Marines. They are lucky to have him. 

Japan 3B Munetaka Murakami

Yoshida was fantastic throughout the Classic and rightfully has Red Sox nation buzzing, but I can't help but keep the spotlight on the lefty masher who saved his best for when Japan needed him the most. After an uncharacteristically quiet first five games, the 2022 NPB home run king and the best hitter on earth not playing in MLB broke out in spectacular fashion in Japan's final two games of the tournament. 

His walk-off double vs. Mexico was a brilliant display of opposite-field slugging, while his titanic second-deck blast in the finals off Merrill Kelly was a more traditional version of the pull-side pop he demonstrated in 2022 when he launched 56 dingers in NPB, a single-season record for a Japan-born player.

MLB fans will likely need to wait until after the 2025 season for Murakami, but consider this tournament a wake-up call to stay locked in on Murakami's continued evolution into an offensive powerhouse for NPB's Tokyo Yakult Swallows. This dude is the real deal, and we can't wait to see what kind of outrageous numbers he puts up in NPB over the next few seasons. 

Colombia RHP Guillermo Zuñiga

While there was some level of mystery surrounding the top arms from the Japanese team, considerable hype also allowed the audience to at least have an idea what to expect.

On the flip side, Zuñiga's outings in the WBC represented the other side of the spectrum, eliciting countless cries of "WHO IS THIS GUY?!" on Twitter as he unleashed fireball after fireball during his two Pool C appearances. 

Zuñiga has been in Double-A with the Dodgers for the last two seasons and was released after last year, but was immediately one of the more coveted minor-league free agents available due to the sheer quality of the stuff he possesses. He latched on with the Cardinals and will likely make his MLB debut at some point this year should he straighten out his control just enough to maximize his otherworldly repertoire. 

Nicaragua RHP Duque Hebbert

There were many moments throughout the tournament that felt almost scripted, or too good to be true. But besides the Trout/Ohtani showdown, perhaps no other moment from the Classic felt more like part of a movie than 21-year-old Hebbert striking out Dominican superstars Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez and Rafael Devers in the same inning and immediately signing a minor-league deal with the Detroit Tigers after the game. Just ridiculously cool stuff, and Hebbert and his eye-popping change-up immediately become a name for me to monitor this minor-league season if only to see what's to come in the next chapter of his improbable story. 

Chinese Taipei INF Yu Chang

A 27-year-old utility infielder who posted a .605 OPS for in 190 plate appearances for four different MLB teams in 2022? Of course, he'd be one of the biggest stars of the World Baseball Classic! Naturally!

The crowd at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium for all the Pool A action was unmatched energy-wise during the Classic — and yes, I am even including what we saw in Miami. The coordinated chants and cheers and nonstop intense support of the Taiwanese team throughout the games was unlike anything else I've ever seen, and it even translated on the broadcast. And no moment brought the Taichung crowd to a fever pitch more than Yu Chang's game-tying blast against Italy

… at least until the very next day when Chang sent the supporters back into a frenzy with a grand slam against the Netherlands:

Add the fascinating backstory surrounding Chang's initial refusal to play for the team before changing his mind and you can understand why Chang's performance will be one not forgotten anytime soon. He's currently in camp with the Red Sox trying to make the team as a bench bat. 

Puerto Rico RHP José De León

Once a top prospect in the Dodgers organization, De León has endured an array of injuries over the past half-decade that have prevented him from fully reaching his big-league potential. Now healthy and coming off an outstanding run in the Puerto Rican winter league (1.51 ERA in 47.2 IP with 60 strikeouts), the 30-year-old De León got to remind everyone how talented he still is in a historic start against Team Israel that ended as a combined perfect game:

De León is currently a non-roster invite in Twins camp looking to make his way back to the majors. 

Great Britain OF Chavez Young

As awesome as Mariners catching prospect Harry Ford was once again for Great Britain after a massive showing in the qualifiers, I'd argue Young stole the show even more so in Pool C. 

Young, one of several Bahamian-born players on the Great Britain squad, was showing off every part of his game. He led the WBC with five stolen bases, made several outstanding grabs in right field, unleashed a laser beam throw to second base for an out against Mexico and delivered one of the biggest hits of the week against Colombia.

The 25-year-old Young reached Triple-A with the Blue Jays in 2022 but was traded to the Pirates in the offseason. We'll see if he can play his way to Pittsburgh in 2023 and demonstrate his exciting skill set on the big-league stage. 

Australia INF Robbie Glendinning

Like Young, Glendinning spent 2022 in affiliated ball as a fairly unremarkable prospect for the Kansas City Royals, launching 19 homers for the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals with an .813 OPS. But there was nothing unremarkable about Glendinning's showing for one of the tournament's more unlikely quarterfinalists in Australia, as his defense and power were on display all throughout Pool B play:

Czech Republic RHP Ondřej Satoria

Gotta save the best for last. Team Czech Republic's World Baseball Classic debut was one of the most delightful stories of the group stage, as the team made up largely of a bunch of athletic dudes with day jobs competed their butts off in Pool B against some of the best players in the world. 

A simple glance at Satoria's line in the box score for Czech Republic's game against eventual champion Japan might not immediately seize your attention, but the context has only aged even more incredibly in the weeks since. Satoria, a 26-year-old technician at an electric company, made LITERALLY SHOHEI OHTANI look goofy in the box with a couple ugly whiffs en route to a strikeout for the ages:

Now, let's not short-change Satoria entirely. Just because he mangles wires for a living doesn't mean the dude can't pitch. In fact, he's got a 2.77 ERA in nearly 700 career innings in the Czech Baseball Extraliga! Still, punching out Ohtani in the World Baseball Classic probably isn't something many Czech baseball players would've dreamed of even a year ago. But it really happened. 

As if the strikeout itself wasn't special enough, everything that came afterward somehow made it even better. Not only did Satoria get to meet up with Ohtani later on, but the legend himself was rocking a Czech baseball hat when he arrived in the U.S. for the knockout round.

Such a simple gesture, but one that perfectly encapsulates what makes this tournament so special. We can't wait for the next one. See you in 2026!

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for, DAZN and The Ringer. He's a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_. 

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