What, did you expect me to do the Dominican Republic first after I did Team USA? Well, sorry to disappoint, as I’m focusing on the Dutch today.
The Netherlands may seem, on the surface, to be a country unlikely to be a baseball power, but that is only when one assumes that “The Netherlands” is just the country in Europe. In reality, “The Netherlands” in baseball competition (and certain other forums) is the “Kingdom of the Netherlands“, a sovereign state that includes not only the Netherlands but also it’s Caribbean holdings, most notably Curacao and Aruba.
Face of the team: The face of the Netherlands is hard to pick out. No doubt some will focus on how Bert Blyleven is pitching coach again, for example, and Giants fans will be focused on Hensley Meulens managing. But in the field, the most notable player will probably be either Andruw Jones (the first big Curacaoian star, now heading to Japan) or one of the young infielders, such as Andrelton Simmons.
Strengths: The strength of the Netherlands team lies in it’s nice mix of youth and experience. There are some seasoned veterans (Jones, Wladimir Balentien, Dutch Leaguer Rob Cordemans– who for some reason is listed as being a Nationals farmhand when to the best of my knowledge he is not), but also young players like Jurickson Profar (who may one day became an All-Star), Xander Bogaerts (one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system) and Andrelton Simmons.
Weaknesses: However, those strengths are also something of the team’s weakness. The reason that Andruw Jones is in Japan, after all, is because he no longer was hitting well in MLB. And while Profar, Bogaerts, Simmons, etc. could one day become MLB stars, they aren’t yet. In addition, the pitching is far below the level of play of the position players, especially since Jair Jurrjens is barely a shadow of the Cy Young contender he once was and the rest of the staff is made up of minor leaguers and Dutch leaguers.
Who to watch: Profar. He’s regarded as perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball, and while his brief cup of coffee late in the year with Texas last season was an underwhelming .176 batting average, he still was able to create a moment by homering in his first at-bat. The WBC could be his big coming out party to the baseball world.
Outlook: The Dutch could go either way. On one hand, they could get through their pool with an upset or two, or they could just as easily end up going 0-3, falling in a slight upset to Australia. The answer will rest upon their pitching. If the pitchers do well, the Dutch will do well. If the pitchers don’t do well, the Dutch are in trouble. Maybe Blyleven can teach all of them that curveball of his.