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Big League Stew

Four players to watch during the World Baseball Classic’s championship round

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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Japan's Kenta Maeda. (Getty)

With Team USA on the outside looking in at the World Baseball Classic's championship round, it may be difficult for some of you to get motivated to watch these final three games.

Actually, I shouldn't say it like that. It's possibly you were having trouble getting motivated before the U.S.'s exit against Puerto Rico, and it's also possible you were rooting for another country or player from your favorite team that didn't make it to this point.

Whatever your reason, I'll attempt to remedy it by highlighting four remaining players who may not be household names (at least two will be soon) but are important to their teams and are certainly worth watching as they put their skills on display on a worldwide stage beginning Sunday evening.

Kenta Maeda, Japan: Despite missing a number of major leaguers, the two-time defending champions from Japan remain loaded with talent. One guy you want to pay particular attention to is Sunday's starting pitcher Kenta Maeda. Through two dominant starts, the 24-year-old right-hander has allowed only three base runners over ten innings while striking out 15. And those impressive numbers come with scouts pointing out that he was operating without his best stuff.

Of course he benefited from a matchup with China, but a more locked in Maeda during the championship round could make for entertaining viewing.

Andy Gonzalez, Puerto Rico: Heidi Watney may not know who Gonzalez is, but Team USA sure does. His two-run double in the sixth inning on Friday night essentially sent the Americans packing for a return to their respective major league camps.

He's far from a superstar, having played only 91 major league games over a nine-year professional career. He's also not the flashiest player on the field, but he's an important part of Puerto Rico's offense behind the likes of Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Mike Aviles and Alex Rios. That's a good, solid core, but for Puerto Rico to advance again it will likely require another key hit from another unheralded source such as Gonzalez.

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Andrelton Simmons (left) and Jurickson Profar (right). (AP)

Andrelton Simmons , Netherlands: A name familiar to MLB fans after playing 49 games with the Braves in 2012, Simmons has looked like a star in the making so far during the WBC. His nine runs scored are the most in the tournament, his 19 total bases rank second and his ten hits rank third.

That's not to mention his defense, which has been solid here, and also saved 19 runs for Atlanta last season. That was the second best number for shortstops in all of MLB. And again, he did that in 49 games.

You'll like him.

Jurickson Profar, Netherlands: A late addition to the roster for the championship round, it will be a treat for all of us to get a look at the highly regarded Texas Rangers prospect in this type of environment. A shortstop by trade, Profar will slide over to second because, well, Simmons has things well under control there. That adjustment may take a few innings to get used to, but the combination could be dynamic.

Oh, and yes, Profar can hit too. And run. And do just about everything else.

Bonus Pick: The Dominican Republic: All of them. From Robinson Cano down to Juan Cedeno. The Dominicans are 6-0 in the tournament, they're rolling right along, and they're having a lot of fun in the process. They're the one team that really seems to be embracing the tournament for what it is, they have a great following, and as a result that has made their games excellent viewing even if you don't have a rooting interest.

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