Cubs' Maestri a rarity on Team Italy

Cubs' Maestri a rarity on Team Italy

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."

Other Cubs on Classic rosters
C Chris Robinson is no stranger to international competition. The 24-year-old Canadian spent considerable time behind the plate for the Olympic team in Beijing, where he hit .313 (5-for-16). He also was on the Canadian Classic roster in 2006, though he got just one at-bat in that competition.

RHP Hung-Wen Chen, from Chinese Taipei, has been pitching in the United States for just over a year. He made his Cubs debut in 2007 and will pitch this season at age 23 after splitting the '08 campaign between Peoria and Daytona and finishing with a 3.38 ERA over 128 innings. A real bulldog and strike-thrower, the Cubs expect him to make the Chinese Taipei final roster.

2B Dwyane Kemp was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and made his pro debut last summer, seeing time with the Rookie-level Arizona League Cubs and the short-season Boise Hawks. The diminutive (he's listed at 5-foot-8) second baseman got in 88 at-bats and hit .227 for those clubs. He'll be just 21 this season and is the kind of scrappy gamer teams love to have.

Once a prospect in the Blue Jays system, Canadian RHP Vince Perkins is new to the Cubs organization. He pitched for the Brewers most recently, in 2007, before spending time in two independent leagues last season. The 27-year-old has a career 3.81 ERA in affiliated ball and was fifth in the Puerto Rican Winter League with a 2.74 ERA over 49 1/3 innings.

RHP Ryan Searle is a 19-year-old Aussie who made his debut with the Cubs last summer. He made stops in the Rookie-level Arizona League and the short-season Northwest League and had a nice debut. Over 34 1/3 combined innings, Searle had a 1.05 ERA and held opponents to a .171 batting average, really coming on the scene as a sinker-slider guy who throws in the low- to mid-90s.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.