The Panama City Qualifier World Baseball Classic Preview

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.

World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Brooklyn (Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, Pakistan)

The final spot in next year’s main WBC tournament is up for grabs this week in Brooklyn, in an eclectic pool of four countries that lack major baseball facilities and thus sort of have been thrown into Brooklyn in hopes that New York’s diverse population will come out to see the games. While Brazil and the American-heavy Israeli team should be considered the favorites, GB shouldn’t be totally counted out. The biggest mystery (and likely last-place finisher) is Pakistan, a newcomer to the WBC that has rarely participated outside of the regional level. You can see the rosters (which have since changed slightly due to call-ups and injuries) here.

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World Baseball Classic News for 9-17-2015: Qualifier Pools Announced!

Well, I told you that more news was probably coming, and today it was confirmed, as the World Baseball Classic qualifying pools have been announced! They are (all qualifiers in 2016):

 

Qualifier 1 (Sydney, Australia on February 11-14th):

Australia

New Zealand

Philippines

South Africa

Qualifier 2 (Mexicali, Mexico on March 17-20th):

Mexico

Czech Republic

Germany

Nicaragua

Qualifier 3 (Panama City on March 17-20th):

Colombia

France

Panama

Spain

Qualifier 4 (Brooklyn on Sept. 22-25th):

Brazil

Great Britain

Israel

Pakistan

As you can see, they’ve mixed up the locations (only Panama is a return qualifying host), the pools (no pool has more than two teams that were in the same individual pool last time), and also teams (Pakistan has replaced Thailand). Some things to note here:

  • MLB players will be able to participate in Qualifiers 1-3, but not Qualifier 4.
  • It is again a modified double-elimination, meaning it’s double elimination until there are only two, at which point it’s a winner-take-all championship game. I’ve always had a problem with this format and feel a straight-up double-elimination would be better, but I understand how the organizers would like the drama of a winner-take-all game.
  • Qualifier 4, in Brooklyn, is clearly meant to be a pool of teams that don’t have pro-worthy stadiums in their countries. It’s likely Brooklyn was picked due to New York’s diverse nature, with MLB and the other WBC organizers no doubt hoping that the city’s large Jewish population will turn up for Israel games.
  • Looking at this right now, I’d say that Qualifier 2 will probably have the highest level of talent, Qualifier 3 will be the hardest for any one team to get out of, and Qualifier 4 will be the hardest to predict. Qualifier 1, by contrast, looks like it should be a fairly easy draw for Australia.
  • I’m somewhat surprised that the Philippines is in Qualifier 1. I had a feeling they might make it an All-Commonwealth pool and have the Philippines be in New York City. At least, that’s what I thought after reading Jon Paul Morosi’s original post before it was official.

 

So, look in the coming days and no doubt more news will come out and I’ll take a look at some of the teams and other aspects of the qualifying tournament- like Pakistan’s baseball program.

 

On Day 1 of the WBC

Some thoughts on Day 1 of the WBC….

…The Brazilians aren’t screwing around. They very easily could have won that game against Japan had a few plays turned out different, perhaps even had a single play gone differently. This is Brazil’s big coming out party for baseball, and based on the fact that words like “Japao” (Japan) were trending in Brazil, I’d say that they baseball could be seeing the emergence of a new market.

…Korea is in trouble. The Netherlands is good, and may have won their game against Korea even if the Koreans could hit a lick or didn’t have four errors. But the fact that Korea was so impotent at the plate and inept in the field made it a game that was far more of a blowout than the score suggested. So now, Korea is a loss away from near-certain elimination and due to face two tough teams: Taipei and Australia. Neither are close to a guaranteed win, especially if Korea plays like they did against the Honkballers.

Chien-Ming Wang still has it. Well, not the speed on his pitches, but certainly the sinker and it’s patented ability to get a double-play at the right time. Whatever rallies that Australia was able to have against the Taiwanese starter were quickly destroyed by the twin killings. While I don’t think Wang has the stuff for a MLB starter anymore, he could probably find a good niche as a reliever and spot-starter.

World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A (Fukuoka, Japan)

Pool A of the World Baseball Classic has two traditional powerhouses, Japan and Cuba, and two countries where baseball is a niche sport, Brazil and China.

Go below the jump for the preview:

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World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Panama City (Panama, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia)

It’s time for more qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic, as pools in Taipei and Panama are about to get started on November 15 (although, technically, the first game of the Taipei bracket will be on November 14 on the East Coast of the USA, thanks to time differences). These pools will be different from the two earlier brackets in Florida and Germany for a major reason: there will be MLB players in these qualifiers. They won’t be a majority of them (after all, there is a reason why these teams have to qualify to begin with), but there will be some, particularly at the plate (some pitchers won’t be available because, well, their arms hurt after a season of throwing).

The more interesting of the two, and the most interesting of the four qualifiers period, will be the one in Panama City. Go below the jump for my preview of that one:

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Early Look at the Panama City and Taipei pools of the WBC

Okay, now the other two qualifying pools for the WBC don’t get started until November (as opposed to the first two, which are coming up THIS VERY WEEK), but I think it’s a good idea to do an early look at them:

The PANAMA CITY pool features Panama, Brazil, Nicaragua and Colombia. This is, by far, the best qualifying group. All four of these countries had at least one MLB player active this season, three of them have professional leagues (although admittedly the Panamanian, Nicaraguan and Colombian leagues are often in a financially fragile position), and the fact the group is in November means MLB players will be able to take part. It is also, in international sports parlance, a “group of death”. A “group of death” is a group that is so talented or evenly-matched that there is almost no margin for error. This is the group that has the best worst team (Brazil, which has produced more minor leaguers than you’d think) and a best team (Panama) that, while the favorite, is definitely beatable. I did projections for Panama earlier this year, so you can look there to get an idea of who they will be sending in. Colombia will likely have the Solano brothers of Donovan (a 2B/Utility with the Marlins this season) and Jhonathan (a catcher with the Nationals, although injuries may sideline him), as well as pitchers like Ernesto Frieri, Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran and perhaps a coming-out-of-retirement-for-his-country Edgar Renteria. Nicaragua could have young Mariners organization pitcher Erasmo Ramirez joined by the Padres’ 25-year-old SS Everth Cabrera and veteran pitchers Wilton Lopez and Vicente Padilla. Even Brazil could have a MLB-experienced player in Yan Gomes, who became the first Brazil-born MLB player earlier this year when he made his debut with the Blue Jays. It should be a highly competitive and entertaining pool, and although I think either Panama or Colombia will emerge from it, there are plenty of question marks around it and I wouldn’t be that surprised if any of the teams involved got through (okay, I would be pretty surprised if Brazil got through, but it wouldn’t be as surprising as, say, France or the Czech Republic getting through).

On the other hand, though, the TAIPEI pool of Taipei, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines will be the most lopsided of all of the pool. Chinese Taipei (not called Taiwan in international competition due to political considerations) will win this group. Even if New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines were to pool their resources and throw out a combined team against Taipei, Taipei would win. The only reason Taipei is even having to qualify is because in 2009 they had a game against China in which they played their worst game and China played it’s best. However, Taipei shouldn’t have that problem against their pool, even if the other three get substantial help from passport players.

More detailed previews will be in the future.