Last month, I speculated as to who would be on the Team USA World Baseball Classic roster next year. We’re now over a month later, so based on how the season is going, how much has changed?
Again, this is not the most likely (that will happen when I begin doing projections). Instead, it is what the best possible team would be if I could wave a magic wand and ensure that every player we’d want would be playing regardless of any injuries, off-season concerns, or spring training routine.
In other words, think of this as a sort-of rough draft or best-case-scenario. It will likely provide a bit of a skeleton for more-serious projections, but it’s unlikely to come to pass as it currently exists.
That said, even with this being a pie-in-the-sky exercise, there are two rules I have in place while making this:
- Teams are made up of 28 players, of which 13 of them must be pitchers and two of them catchers.
- The pitch count rules make relievers extremely important.
Go below the jump for more:
Manager: Mike Scioscia
Last month, I wrote the following:
“Scioscia was the skipper of the 2020/21 Olympic team, and given the habit Team USA has had of using retired-but-respected managers in previous WBCs (such as Jim Leyland in 2017), it feels like he’ll be the pick for 2023.“
Every bit of that remains true. The only way I will change it from Scioscia is if USA Baseball literally announces someone else.
Tyler Stephenson of the Reds was going to be on this list before he went on the IL. While normally with the “pie-in-the-sky” nature of this that wouldn’t be an issue, I’m taking him off until it’s clear if he’ll come back hitting as well as he has this season. Jonah Heim is the newcomer to this list, replacing Will Smith, who may be back next month.
This is the same as last month, and with good reason: they are the best 1B in MLB this season thus far.
Second Baseman (1): Tommy Edman
Also unchanged from last time, the Cardinals 2B has statistically been the best at the position this year. Should another 2B also be chosen (perhaps Trevor Story or Gavin Lux), then Edman can also serve as a SS.
Ke’Bryan Hayes makes his debut on the list, taking over from Alex Bregman. Bregman loses the spot because, well, there are other 3B who are doing better than him this year. I also have to wonder if MLB and USA Baseball may be a bit hesitant to have someone who was involved in the Astros scandal on the team. However, that isn’t the reason I’ve moved him (Hayes and others legitimately have done better than him this season). Austin Riley also has a good case for being on the team, but I went with the better defensive player here. I again note that Manny Machado has played for the Dominican in the WBC in the past, so he isn’t included here.
Swanson takes over for J.P. Crawford, although either would make for an excellent addition to any Team USA. Tim Anderson would probably also be a candidate, but much like Tyler Stephenson, I’m going to wait to see how well he comes back from his trip to the IL.
Utility (1): Jeff McNeil
Unchanged from last time. Primarily playing 2B and OF (but also with experience at 3B), he’s probably the best utilityman in baseball right now.
Betts overtakes Bryce Harper, but as I mentioned last time there is an embarrassment of riches in the outfield for Team USA, to the point where all four of the above could opt out of the tournament and the USA would still probably have one of the best outfields in the tournament.
This has some changes from last month, with Musgrove and Cortes replacing Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon. Team USA has a ton of depth at starting pitching. Even if the top 10 American pitchers were to all take themselves out of the running, it’s still likely that the USA would have a shot at being the best rotation in the tournament.
Perhaps even more than starting pitching, Team USA has a ton of depth in the bullpen. Every single person I mentioned above could back out of the tournament and Team USA still would probably have the most depth or close to it when it comes to the bullpen. Given the importance of the bullpen in the pitch-counted WBC, is a very big deal.
So, there you have it — the second version of the “ideal” 2023 World Baseball Classic roster for Team USA. Next month I’ll like have yet another update. I will also likely have “ideal” rosters for the Dominican Republic and perhaps Venezuela. Once the tournament starts coming into focus and announcements begin getting made (likely around the All-Star Break), I’ll be shifting into more “reality-based” projections. Those projections will consider things like whether injuries or being on new teams might prevent someone from taking part, as well as the fact that MLB doubtless may want the big names in the tournament even if they may not be as good as some other choices.
So stay tuned!