Baseball Continuum Weekly: A look at the rosters

This is Baseball Continuum Weekly- your weekly dose of the Baseball Continuum.

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.

 

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Baseball Continuum Weekly: The Case for the World Baseball Classic

With the 2017 World Baseball Classic coming up, there is some legitimate concern for the future of the event. With the event still having trouble drawing in American players, TV deals coming to an end, a reported decrease in revenue compared to some of the earlier Classics, and baseball (at least for now) back in the Olympics, there is a chance that this coming WBC could be the last- at least as we know it- for awhile.

I’m here to argue for the future of the WBC, however, and why it should stick around with four reasons why. There are more reasons, but they are more “inside baseball” (politics, marketing, funding, etc.) so I won’t go into them.

Here we go:

1. The concept remains a good one.

While the execution has always been a bit wonky due to the event’s placement in March (the result of it being the best option due to there being no perfect time for the event), the concept remains sound: a baseball tournament between national teams. It is a simple but fun idea that provides lots of interesting possibilities and brings exposure to countries and players who normally don’t get seen.

2. It is more popular (and gets better ratings) than people think.

While it is true that ratings dropped greatly from 2009 to 2013, this more had to do with the fact that the games were moved to MLB Network from ESPN (if I remember correctly, it had to do with MLB wanting to further incentivize people having MLB Network). Still, those games still ended up being among the most watched events on MLB Network in history outside of postseason baseball, and the final of the 2013 Classic was the most-watched baseball game in the history of ESPN Deportes at the time.

This doesn’t include ratings from outside the Mainland USA. In Puerto Rico, for example, 74 percent (!!) of TVs turned on there watched the 2013 semi-finals where Puerto Rico upset Japan.

In addition, I anecdotally know that the WBC does well on social media, often getting topics “trending” on Twitter even when NCAA basketball is also going on.

So maybe the WBC isn’t as hated as people think?

3. It is a lot of fun. Definitely a lot more fun than Spring Training.

Even if the WBC cannot be truly considered an accurate determinant of what the best national baseball team in the world is, and even if it is at times a sideshow… what a fun sideshow it is! It certainly is more fun than lazy spring training games or, even worse, nothing at all!

Don’t believe me? Then you’ve probably never watched the WBC. That is the weird thing about the World Baseball Classic: those who have actually watched it seem to love it, while those who have never given it a chance seem to hate it.

Perhaps it is no surprise that some of the WBC’s biggest critics have been beat writers, who by necessity are focused nearly 100% on any given team and thus are likely to be covering a spring training game or doing some other story when the WBC is on, or they are taking a breather from baseball because that is what they had been covering all day. This isn’t their fault. In fact, it is proof they are doing a good job- they are working to get their readers the latest scoop on the Yankees/Mets/Red Sox/whoever just like they are supposed to. It does, however, mean that they have less time to actually watch the WBC and see what is good about it.

But anyway, that leads to my last bit…

4. The WBC is still young, and it can take time for things like this to catch on.

The early modern Olympics could be rated as anywhere from “qualified success” (1896) to “total and utter disaster” (1900 and 1904). It wasn’t until 1908 in London (the fourth Olympiad!) that it became anything close to the big deal it is today. Early World Cups lacked many top European squads, to the extent that in the first World Cup (1930) the United States finished third despite the fact that soccer was about the 19th most popular sport in America at the time, sitting somewhere between jai alai and the competitive beating-up of drifters. Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration. Somewhat.

It’s not just these big international events, though. The World Series was boycotted in 1904 because Jon McGraw considered it beneath him (and the 1903 World Series, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t the first showdown between the champions of two baseball leagues), and the first Super Bowl failed to sell out.

But what I am getting at here is that these things take time. With the exception of super-duper-why-haven’t-we-done-this-already-obvious ideas like the College Football Playoff, few things catch on immediately in sports.

So, the World Baseball Classic is still young. Only three tournaments have taken place. Why end it before it has truly had time to grow?

Next time on Baseball Continuum Weekly: BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE!

 

 

World Baseball Classic Update (9-30-16)

It’s time for a WBC Update!

First off, as you probably saw, Israel won it’s qualifying pool and is headed to the main WBC tournament.

Secondly, White Sox instructor Luis Sierra, who was a first-base coach for Colombia in the WBC Qualifiers, will again coach for Colombia in the main tournament next year.

Adam Jones says he will play for Team USA again if asked. Also in Team USA news, they are said to be looking at Brian Dozier of the Twins as a possible member.

The Seattle Times ran an article on Mariners who may be playing in the WBC. Robinson Cano is all-in for the Dominican, of course, and so is Nelson Cruz. Dae-Ho Lee says he’ll play for Korea is he’s asked, and Felix Hernandez wants to play for Venezuela again (he wasn’t able to in 2013 due to contract stuff). Reliever Edwin Diaz wants to play for his native Puerto Rico. As for Americans, Kyle Seager said he’d love to play, although he admits the depth of American baseball means he could end up staying in Spring Training or sitting on the bench.

While not “news”, per se, you should still read Lindsey Adler’s awesome article on Pakistani baseball.

Until next time, this has been Dan Glickman with your WBC update.

 

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 Update (September 14, 2016): A Minor Update

A small WBC update today, with just two pieces of news:

First off, David Peralta of the Diamondbacks is unlikely to play for Venezuela next year due to wrist surgery.

Secondly, according to the the excellent “Pinceladas del CMB” Twitter feed and Twitter’s translation feature, there is the news that tickets for the Guadalajara pool will go on sale in November.

…And that’s it for this installment. If you have any WBC news, let me know! Thanks!

 

World Baseball Classic Update (Sept. 6, 2016)

Due to my trip and other responsibilities, I’ve been slacking on WBC updates. So, here is one.

The Pools for the 2017 WBC have been revealed:

The biggest piece of WBC news in the past few weeks is probably the reveal of the actual pools and locations for the tournament. They are:

Pool A (Tokyo Dome): Australia, China, Cuba, Japan

Pool B (Geocheok Dome in Seoul, South Korea): Taipei, Korea, Netherlands, winner of Brooklyn Qualifying pool (more on that later)

Pool C (Marlins Park in Miami): Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, USA

Pool D (Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico): Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela

Pool E (Tokyo Dome): Top two of Pool A and Pool B

Pool F (Petco Park in San Diego): Top two of Pool C and Pool D

Semi-Finals and Finals are in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Rosters for the Brooklyn Qualifier have been revealed:

Late in August, the rosters for the final qualifying pool were revealed. Baseball America has a good rundown of them, and I’ll go more in-depth on them when I do my preview of the group later in the month. But my early impressions say that Brazil and Israel will be the main teams to beat in the pool, although the UK could surprise.

Other WBC News:

Kim In-Sik, the manager for Team Korea, is pessimistic about the team’s chances due to a lack of pitching, especially right-handers. He hopes to get Seung-Hwan Oh, but problems with a gambling situation in Macau that led to his suspension from KBO and NPB (it’s complicated and I’m not entirely sure if I fully understand it, but it has to do with rules in Korea and Japan that frown upon gambling even if it’s in a place where it’s legal) make that less than a slam-dunk. On the position player side, Dae-Ho Lee and Byung-Ho Park have been supportive, although Park’s injury makes it unlikely he will take part. Among the KBO players Kim is looking at is Jae-Kuk Ryu, who had some time in the majors from 2006 to 2008. Another article suggests that Hyun-Soo Kim of the Orioles is a certainty to be on the team, but that other MLB players besides him and Dae-Ho Lee are iffy due to the fact they all have had injury problems throughout the year.

Ervin Santana is eager to represent the Dominican at the next WBC, and hopes that Miguel Sano can join him. However, based on conversations that Sano has had with Latin American scouting sources for the Twins, it’s possible he’ll be the odd man and might be better served staying with the Twins, since the DR likely will have players like Adrian Beltre and Edwin Encarnacion filling the roles that Sano would likely would be most fit for.

Noah Syndergaard is likely to receive an invitation from Team USA, although it’s unknown if he would accept.

21-year-old Tyler O’Neill, named the Mariners’ best Minor League player this season by the Seattle Times, is a candidate for Team Canada.

Ken Rosenthal speculates that Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis may have a reunion on Team USA next spring. However, he notes that there are plenty of “ifs” connected to that, especially related to Kershaw’s health and whether Ellis would even be considered for Team USA given America’s depth at the position.

Russell Martin has said he intends to play for Canada if he is healthy. John Axford is also excited to participate.

Omar Vizquel will be scouting the Venezuelan League to keep an eye on people who are on Team Venezuela’s shortlist.

 

WBC Update (May 18, 2016)

It’s time for a WBC update!

Taiwan has abandoned plans to bid for a WBC pool, likely ensuring that Korea will host something.

Aroldis Chapman is now a US Citizen and says he’d play for Team USA if asked.

And if he is going to take part in the WBC, it’s going to have to be on Team USA, since Cuba has announced that, despite some negotiations to make it happen, defectors will not be allowed on the Cuban national team.

Bryce Harper is in so long as some of the other top US players are going to be playing.

Manny Machado is now on record as being on Team Dominican Republic next year.

And, finally, in what I believe is the first appearance of the WBC in a English-language fictional work, Japanese-American author Naomi Hirahara’s latest book involves a amateur detective trying to solve a murder that takes place at the 2009 WBC finals between Japan and Korea.