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Chicago Cubs: John Andreoli leads Team Italy to walk-off win

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Mar 18, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder John Andreoli (72) reacts to striking out during the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder John Andreoli (72) reacts to striking out during the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /
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The 2017 World Baseball Classic is underway and several surprises have played out. One included a walk-off win from a Chicago Cubs’ minor league outfielder.

Still in its infancy as a major sporting event, the 2017 World Baseball Classic is proving why the event exists. For example, Team Israel, in its first appearance ever, went undefeated in Pool A play. That included a win over two-time medalist South Korea. The Dominican Republic dismantled Canada with stellar defense by Manny Machado and power from Jose Bautista.

Only a few current and former members of the Chicago Cubs elected to play in the WBC. Pitcher Ryan Dempster, who serves as an assistant in the Cubs’ front office, was shelled by Dominican batters last night. Current Cubs infielder Javier Baez takes the field tonight for Puerto Rico. However, one member of the organization made his impact known already.

The Legend of Andreoli

Selected in the 17th round of the 2011 amateur draft, John Andreoli garnered little acclaim. A solid batting average, high on-base percentage and the ability to steal a base while attending the University of Connecticut drew scouts to the outfielder.

The son of a former New England Patriots linebacker, the hope of potential turning into performance was high. After five seasons in the minors and two invitations to Spring Training in Mesa, that hope dropped. Until 2016.

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During the Chicago Cubs’ spring training in 2016, Andreoli showed what he could do. While hitting for a .270 average, he nailed four home runs and knocked in 10 runs. While half of his hits were singles, the other half included a triple and those homers. His final OPS was .990.

Then came March 9, 2017. Playing for Italy in the WBC, Andreoli led the team to a comeback win.

In his first at-bat, the right fielder launched a 423-foot home run to center in the bottom of the first against Mexico. The teams would trade runs over the next several innings. After plating two more runs in the seventh, Mexico took a commanding 9-5 lead. That lasted until the ninth.

The comeback

In the bottom of the ninth, Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna took the mound for Mexico. Francisco Cervelli, catcher from the Pittsburgh Pirates, led off with a double to center, and was lifted for a pinch-runner. Two more hits scored another pair of runs. Then, an error and a walk loaded the bases for Team Italy. Without recording an out, Osuna was removed from the game.

Veteran reliever Oliver Perez was called upon to stop the bleeding. The score now 9-7, and still no outs, the momentum was clearly on the side of Italy. Yet another single scored another run. Down one run, Andreoli came to the plate. This was the result:

Bottom of the ninth, down four. Italy scores five runs, Mexico records no outs. Andreoli finished the night 2-for-5, with three RBI.

Next: Team must find balance with young superstars, prospects

The Next Chapter

In all likelihood, Andreoli will start where he finished in 2016 – with the Iowa Cubs. His power numbers have improved, but he strikes out about one out of every three at-bats. But, he also steals bases well, recording at least 28 in each of the last five seasons. That includes 55 with Advanced-A Dayton (2012) and 42 with Iowa last year. Should this continue, Andreoli may hear his named called in Chicago later this year.

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