The final Olympics baseball tournament could take place in Beijing, and Team USA has plans to make it memorable. "We knew going in that we wanted a veteran club, a team of guys who have been battle-tested, so to speak," said Bob Watson, general manager of USA Baseball, in a news conference. "But we wanted younger prospects as well, guys with the fire to go out and showcase their talents on the international stage." A look at some of those players going for the gold medal in China:
The key component to the trade that sent ace pitcher CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in July, LaPorta is now considered the best prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization. The left fielder for the Double-A Akron Aeros was the seventh overall draft pick in the 2007 draft after a solid three seasons at the University of Florida, where he was a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. LaPorta, from Port Charlotte, Fla., is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and led the Gators to a second-place finish in the College World Series in 2005. Combined with Huntsville (Ala.) and Akron, LaPorta is hitting .290 with 21 homers and 71 RBI as of July 20.
An 22-year-old outfielder for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers (Rockies organization), Fowler was considered one of the best prospects coming out of high school in 2004, but his commitment to the University of Miami scared off teams until the 14th round. He was signed to a $925,000 bonus by the Rockies, and played his first three seasons in the low minors. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound switch hitter from Georgia is having a breakthrough season at Tulsa, hitting .331 with nine homers and 56 RBI in 93 games as of July 20.
The lone college player to make the Olympic team, Strasburg, who turned 20 on July 20, is one of the most dominant pitchers in college baseball and likely will be a top draft pick in 2009. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander went 8-3 with a 1.57 ERA for San Diego State as a sophomore, striking out 133 in 97.1 innings. He's a power pitcher with a fastball that approaches 100 mph.
The 25-year-old Nix started the season as the Colorado Rockies' second baseman, but was sent down to the minors after a slow start. He played on the 2007 International Baseball Federation World Cup in Taiwan and went 12-for-31 with six extra-base hits to lead the U.S. to the gold medal and the earn tournament's most valuable player honors. The native of Dallas, Texas, hit .125 (7-for-56) in two stints with the Rockies this season.
The oldest player on the team at age 32, Knight has bounced around pro baseball for 14 seasons, and played briefly in the majors for the New York Yankees in 2001 and 2002, with no decision and a 10.71 ERA in 11 games. He played in Japan was playing in an independent league this spring, caught the attention of a New York Mets scout and was signed to a contract and sent to Triple-A New Orleans, where he went 4-1.