Due to a variety of factors (a new job, Red Wings games, housework, etc.), I’ve constantly had to delay my World Baseball Classic updates, even when I previewed it.
But with the first game of the Regensburg region of the WBC Qualifiers set to start at 7:00 AM eastern on Friday, I say NO MORE! Well… sort of. I’m not doing a full update. But I AM doing a mini-preview.
Alas, due to the time constraints, I cannot do my usual full preview for the Regensburg qualifier. I can, however, do a miniature one. The Regensburg pool is roughly the “European” qualifier, and will take place in Armin-Wolf-Arena in Regensburg, Germany (southeast of Nuremburg, northeast of Munich). The only country not from Europe in the pool is South Africa, which is the lone African contestant. The top two will advance to the WBC proper.
- The homestanding Germans will be without Max Kepler (because he’s busy with the Twins) or Tigers minor-leaguer Markus Solbach (injury), but still will have one of the better teams in the tournament. Former MLB players Aaron Altherr (who’s was born in Germany to a German father and an American mother), Nick Wittgren (of German descent), Bruce Maxwell (born in Germany to American parents), and Brian Flynn (can’t find how he qualifies so I presume he has a Germany parent or grandparent) are perhaps the most notable players to American eyes. In addition, active minor leaguers Niklas Rimmel (1.98 ERA in the Florida State League this season) and Lucas Dunn are also playing. The rest are a hodgepodge of players from various leagues around the globe, including the baseball Bundesliga of Germany. Among the other notables are catcher Simon Guhring (a now-39-year-old who was once one of the first native German players signed to a minor league contract), pitcher Sven Schuller (who reached as high as AAA in the Dodgers stadium but now pitches in his native Germany) and outfielder Daniel Aldrich (a Wurzburg-born player who has been playing in the Indies since 2014 and holds the career HR record in the infamous Pecos League). The Germans are managed by the Belgian-born Steve Janssen.
- The Czechs will also have a fairly strong team and were granted, like Germany, a bye in the first round. Although the Czechs have a team primarily made up of players who’ve never played outside of Europe, they do have some names that you might recognize if you are a baseballholic. Catcher Martin Cervenka probably has a good claim as the greatest Czech player in history, reaching AAA for parts of two seasons with the Orioles and Mets organizations, while infielder Vojtech Mensik reached the College World Series with NC State before playing a bit professionally this season in the Angels organization (he’s since been released). Others with experience in North America include pitcher Jan Novak (parts of two seasons in rookie ball in the Orioles organization), pitcher Marek Minarik (four seasons in the low minors), catcher/first baseman Daniel Vavrusa (a brief stint in the Yankees system), infielder Jakub Hajtmar (one season in the Twins system), and outfielder Marek Chlup (who has played collegiately and with summer league teams). They are managed by Pavel Chadim, who has managed several levels of baseball in the Czech Republic including a team that made the Little League World Series.
- Spain is somewhat infamous for their use of “ringers”, taking advantage of Cuban defectors who’ve taken residence in Spain and players of Spanish descent and only rarely using actual born-and-raised players from Spain. And, not surprisingly, that’s true this time around as well. Their most notable player is pitcher Rhiner Cruz, who has 74 career appearances in MLB. Another player you might recognize is outfielder Engel Beltre, who has been on some of Spain’s previous teams and who played 22 games with the Rangers in 2013. The third player with MLB experience include is Vicente Campos (one game with Arizona in 2016). The rest are a motley group of minor leaguers, former minor leaguers, Mexican Leaguers, players active in Europe, and even one or two actual Spaniards! By far the most notable of this group is Noelvi Marte, a well-regarded shortstop prospect (generally rated as a top 20 prospect by most evaluators) who was part of the Reds’ return in the Luis Castillo trade.
- Great Britain has four players with major league experience. Vance Worley is the most notable (he is, I believe, eligible through his mother, who was born in the then-British Hong Kong). Michael Roth (his mother in English), Chris Reed (born in London), and Akeel Morris (through his parents). The most notable current minor leaguers are catcher Harry Ford and Bahamas-born pitcher Tahnaj Thomas. The remainder are an eclectic mix of current and former minor leaguers, people overseas, and independent leaguers.
- France notably is managed by Bruce Bochy. As far as players? Like many of the teams in the pool, they’ll have some passport players, including Venezuelan-born Mexican League pitcher Yoimer Camacho. There are some legitimately-French players as well, however, including Martinique-born outfielder Jose Paula (who played two years in the Oakland organization), East Tennessee State outfielder Leo Jiminian and current NAIA hitter Paolo Brossier. The roster is further filled out with players from the European leagues. While they can’t be considered a favorite by any means, I wouldn’t be surprised if they prove more competitive than expected.
- South Africa has seen better years and better rosters, but they are not without talent. Justin Erasmus has pitched for years in Australia, for example, while Kieran Lovegrove pitched part of nine seasons in the minors. It appears that Gift Ngoepe has retired from the South African team, although his brother Victor Ngoepe is on the roster.
So, what is my prediction? Personally, I feel like the Germans and Czechs have the best teams, but in the crapshoot that is international baseball I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spanish or even the Brits sneak in. South Africa and France, alas, are probably fighting for fifth place. I guess time will tell if I’m right in my assessments.