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The World Baseball Classic’s 2017 installment is less than a month away from beginning, and rosters have just been announced. So, here is a quick look at each team in the WBC.
Chinese Taipei: We’ll start in Pool A, where Chinese Taipei is in with Israel, the Netherlands and South Korea with games in Seoul. The Taiwanese roster lacks active MLB players due to injuries and late pullouts, and is a mashup of minor leaguers, NPB players, NPB minor leaguers, and CPBL players. There are, however, some names that MLB fans will recognize, most notable Chien-Ming Wang, who will be part of Taipei’s pitching pool. Other players on the roster with MLB experience include Fu-Te Ni, Chin-Lung Hu and Che-Hsuan Lin. Some notable players who have not played in the Majors who fans should keep an eye on include Chih-Sheng Lin, Chih-Hsien Chang and Kuo-Hui Kao, all good hitters in the CPBL. Pitching is iffier especially outside those with MLB or MiLB experience, but keep an eye on Chia-Hao Sung, who has done well in the Japanese minors. I don’t think they’ll go as far as they did in 2013, but getting out of Pool A certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Israel: As expected, Team Israel is primarily Jewish Americans, although it does have the immortal Shlomo Lipetz (born in Tel Aviv) and Dean Kremer (who spent his summers in Israel growing up and is the first Israel citizen drafted in MLB). Notable names include Craig Breslow, Scott Feldman, Jason Marquis, Ike Davis, Ryan Lavarnaway, Cody Decker, Nate Freiman, and Sam Fuld. While not a serious contender for the title, they will be good enough to have a shot in any single game if they catch a few breaks.
The Netherlands: Always a fun team to watch in the WBC, the Dutch should again be a major threat this year thanks to the Curacaoian and Aruban players mixed with Holland’s own honkballers. The team will be led by Xander Bogaerts, Kenley Jansen, Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop and Didi Gregorius, as well as Wladimir Balentien, who now holds the NPB record for HRs in a season (60 in 2013). Other notable names include Jair Jurrjens, Rick VandenHurk, Jurickson Profar and Hoofdklasse pitching legend Rob Cordemans. They are one of my favorites to get out of Pool A.
South Korea: The Koreans have been hit by a cavalcade of injuries and Jung-Ho Kang’s DUI arrest, but will have home-field and Seung-Hwan Oh of the Cardinals on their side. Their roster beyond Oh is entirely made up of KBO players, although Dae-Ho Lee played with the Mariners last season. Notable KBO players on the roster include 2016 batting champ Hyoung-Woo Choi and pitcher Won-Jun Chang. Will probably fight with Taiwan for the second spot out of Pool A.
Australia: A team with a chance to advance out of Pool B (Tokyo) if they can pull off an upset or two, the Australians are made up primarily of players with at least MiLB experience and in many cases MLB experience. Notable players include Liam Hendriks, Travis Blackley, Peter Moylan, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brad Harman, Luke Hughes, Trent Oeltjen, James Beresford, and Chris Oxspring.
China: Almost certain to come in last in Pool B, China will get a boost from Bruce Chen and Ray Chang, who both have Chinese ancestry. Other players to keep an eye on are Kwon Ju (who is in the KBO) and Gui Yuan Xu, who is in the Orioles organization.
Cuba: Cuba was rumored to be considering allowing defectors to play, but that never happened. Instead, it is the best that the Forbidden Isle still has to offer- which isn’t as good as it used to be, but which still is a threat to win the whole thing if stuff goes right. Players to watch include Victor Mesa (son of the longtime manager), Yoelkis Cespedes (Yoennis’ half-brother), and veterans like Freddy Garcia, Alfredo Despaigne, and Frederich Cepeda.
Japan: Only Nori Aoki will be making it from MLB, but the best of NPB will be there. Well, almost. Shohei Otani, the famed two-way player who many were looking forward to seeing, was injured in early workouts and won’t be able to make it. Still, with NPB stars like Tomoyuki Sugano, Tetsuo Yamada, Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh and Sho Nakata (among many others), the Japanese still must be considered as one of the favorites in the tournament.
Canada: Heading to Pool C (Miami), Canada is a threat any given day, even though they do not have the depth of the USA and DR. Leading the way this time will be Freddie Freeman, who is the son of two Canadians. Besides him and the usual suspects like Justin Morneau and Russell Martin (who is still somewhat iffy), Ryan Dempster and Eric Gagne are coming out of retirement to shore up the pitching.
Colombia: One of the two newcomers to the main tournament (the other being Israel), Colombia is a threat to ruin anybody’s day and honestly I was surprised that they were placed in the same pool as the US and DR instead of a more “guaranteed win” team like China. Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran are one of the top 1-2s in the tournament, while Dilson Herrera, Giovanny Urshela, and the Solano brothers are other notable names.
Dominican Republic: The defending champs and a team that have to be considered one of the top favorites in the tournament, the DR’s embarrassment of riches is further aided by having American-born Dominicans like Manny Machado and Dellin Betances. I won’t go through the whole list because honestly I don’t have all day, but rest assured that the Dominican is stacked. Their only possible weakness may lay in pitching depth.
United States: First, the no-shows: No Trout, no Harper, and most of the top aces have stayed at home. Still, it is arguably the best Team USA yet, at least at the plate (where Andrew McCutchen will likely be riding the bench, an absurd statement even if he had an off-year last season), and while many of them had had off-years last year I’d imagine that every GM in baseball would kill for a starting rotation featuring some combination of Marcus Stroman, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, and Tanner Roark. Like the DR, I’m not going to list everyone, because I’d be here all day. On paper, they should win the tournament or at least get to the finals, but that was true the other times too and yet here we are.
Italy: Pool D takes place in Jalisco, Mexico. Italy surprised in 2013 thanks to good performances by Italian-Americans, and several of them- such as Chris Colabello and the immortal Drew Butera- are returning again. Among the actual born-and-raised Italians, keep an eye on Alex Maestri (who has bounced around Asia the last few years), Alex Liddi (who now is in Mexico), and Italian Leaguer Luca Panerati (who at one point was in the Reds system). They probably will finish last again, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they shock their way through again.
Mexico: The home team in Pool D, the Mexicans figure to have good pitching, as most of their Major League pitchers will be taking part (names like Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, and Joakim Soria). And, yes, Adrian Gonzalez is back as well, which is always a good sign for any team.
Puerto Rico: The runner-ups in 2013, their team this year includes both mainstays like Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina as well as the new wave of Puerto Rican infielders like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez. One thing that may hurt them is starting pitching: while they have many players with MLB experience, most of them are either too young, too old, or just haven’t been that great. Still, this is baseball, you never know.
Venezuela: Finally, there is Venezuela. Arguably the favorite in Pool D, they are behind only the Dominican and US as far as pure MLB star power. Felix Hernandez! Jose Altuve! Miguel Cabrera! Salvador Perez! Carlos Gonzalez! While not quite as deep as the US or Dominican, they must also be considered one of the favorites in the tournament.