Much like with Regensburg, I don’t have the time for a full-on preview of the WBC qualifier in Panama City. However, like with Regensburg, I can do a mini-preview.
If the Regensburg pool was roughly the “European” qualifier, this is something of the “South American” one. Four of the involved teams are from South or Central America, with only Pakistan and New Zealand coming from elsewhere. All games will take place at Rod Carew Stadium. Like in Germany, the top two will advance from the double-elimination tournament.
Here we go:
- The homestanding Panamanian team brings several players with MLB experience. The most notable, perhaps, is Randall Delgado, who pitched parts of eight years in the big leagues and who spent 2022 in the Atlantic League. The player I’m most familiar with is left-handed reliever Alberto Baldonado, who I’ve seen with the Rochester Red Wings and who had a 14-game stint with the Nationals in 2021. Starter Ariel Jurado has 45 career appearances in the big leagues and was active as high as AAA in the Twins organization this season. Righty Enrique Burgos, meanwhile, had 73 MLB appearances with the Diamondbacks in the mid-2010s and has spent the last few years in the Mexican league and winter leagues. Other pitchers with MLB experience include Severino Gonzalez, Humberto Mejia, and the 39-year-old Davis Romero.
Position-player wise, the most notable name is definitely Ruben Tejada. The infielder has nearly 2,400 MLB plate appearances under his belt. Joining him in the infield will be Jonathan Arauz, who has played in the big leagues as recently this year. Another player with MLB experience is Allen Cordoba, who played in 100 games with the Padres back in 2017 and split this season between AAA and the Mexican league. The most notable prospect on the team is likely outfielder Jose Ramos, rated the eighth-best prospect in the Dodgers system by MLB.com. Panama definitely has the best roster on paper here as far as experience and current players, but that has arguably been true in the last two WBC qualifiers as well, and they didn’t make it. Perhaps third time will be the charm for them to return?
- New Zealand is one of the fastest growing sources of baseball talent in the world (seriously!) and now hosts an Australian Baseball League team. Their roster includes three players currently under minor league contract: pitcher Elliot Johnstone plus infielders Jason Matthews, and Nikau Pouaka-Grego. There are also six other players who had MiLB time, most of whom are still active in the Australian Baseball League.and one of whom- Ben Thompson- was playing in affiliated ball as recently as earlier this season.
- Nicaragua is one of the biggest baseball countries not to make an appearance in the main WBC as of yet. In their latest attempt to qualify, they are bringing a mix of former big leaguers, current minor leaguers, and players from winter leagues (most of whom have played in the minors in the past). The former big leaguers are six-year MLB veteran pitcher JC Ramirez (who most recently was in the Twins system) and former Royals corner infielder Cheslor Cuthbert. The most notable current minor leaguer is probably third baseman Milkar Perez, the 19th top prospect in the Mariners organization.
- Brazil is managed by Steve Finley of all people and like in previous WBCs they will have an eclectic team with players from all around, including from Brazil’s sizable Japanese population. The former big leaguers are pitcher Andre Rienzo, infielder Christian Lopes (one of the comparatively few “passport players” on the Latin America teams), his brother Tim Lopes, and outfielder Paulo Orlando. They also have at least two players with experience in Japan’s NPB: pitcher Oscar Nakaoshi and right-handed hitter Luciano Fernando. Another notable player is Leonardo Reginatto, an infielder who made it as high as AAA who has torn up the Mexican League the last two seasons. They and Nicaragua probably will be fighting for the other qualification spot.
- Argentina is the newest addition to the WBC- they never appeared in any WBC competition before, not even a qualifier. The team will largely be made up of players from Argentina’s semi-pro league, but they do have some players with affiliated minor league experience in pitcher Diego Echeverria and infielder Jacinto Cipriota, as well as a Division I college player in Boston College’s Lucas Stalman (the lone “passport player”).
- Finally, there is Pakistan. Probably the youngest team in the tournament, they looked far and wide for players both in-country and among the Pakistani diaspora, and who they’ve gotten is quite the collection. They have college players like West Virginia’s Alex Khan, high schoolers as young as 16 in Amaan Khan, various former collegiates who have never played professionally, representatives from Pakistan’s amateur league, and various. They even hoped to have former NFL quarterback (and former Indiana University baseball player) Gibran Hamdan on their team, but a last-minute COVID issue forced him to drop out. I don’t know if Pakistan will win a game or not, but they certainly will be an interesting team to watch.
So, what are my predictions? Personally, I think it’ll be Panama and Nicaragua, but I wouldn’t put it past Brazil to sneak in past Nicaragua. The other teams are likely fighting for fourth, but in baseball you never know.
The WBC qualifiers start on Friday.