The first qualifier for the World Baseball Classic will feature an eclectic group of three “Commonwealth” nations in addition to the Philippines, and while it’s likely that the host Australians will come out on top, it will be interesting to see how the others do, especially New Zealand, which arguably has the fastest-growing baseball program in the world.
Qualifier 1 (Sydney, Australia on February 11-14th):
Qualifier 2 (Mexicali, Mexico on March 17-20th):
Qualifier 3 (Panama City on March 17-20th):
Qualifier 4 (Brooklyn on Sept. 22-25th):
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.