This article will be showcasing my top 10 teams to watch in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The WBC kicks off March 6 at four sites across the globe and wraps up March 22 at Dodger Stadium.
1. Dominican Republic (defending champions)
I don’t see why they can’t repeat. With the likes of 2013 Tournament MVP Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Beltre, among others, the Dominicans will have a potent offense. Johnny Cueto and Ivan Nova headline the rotation with names like Colome, Betances and Rodney in the bullpen. And it never hurts to have Bartolo on your squad. Ultimately what sets this team apart from other powerful teams like the U.S. is the role that baseball plays in this country. To the Dominican Republic, this is their World Cup.
2. United States
This is the best roster the U.S. has ever brought into this tournament. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Adam Jones roam the outfield with Ian Kinsler, Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Crawford, and Nolan Arenado in the infield. Other hitters like McCutchen and Hosmer lurk on the bench. My only concern is the starting pitching, with Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, who have seen highs, but are coming off a low. But Andrew Miller, David Robertson, and Jake McGee will lead a closer-laden bullpen. This team is built to win, but they have to face the Dominicans twice just to get to the semifinals at Chavez Ravine.
This team is loaded with MLB talent. Felix Hernandez will head the rotation while our favorite thumbnail subject, Jose Altuve, will handle the offense alongside Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez. Francisco Rodriguez and Hector Rondon make a scary one-two punch in the back end of the bullpen. Salvador Perez will handle catching duties and also contribute to the lineup. The Venezuelans are in the group of death (in my opinion), Pool D, which includes Mexico, Puerto, Rico, and Italy. But this team can catch fire and could challenge the Americans and the Dominicans in the second round in San Diego.
You can never count the Japanese out of this competition with them having won the first two editions in 2006 and 2009. Though Norichoka Aoki is the only major leaguer on the roster, the stars from the Nippon Baseball Organization are no slouches. The loss of two-way star Shohei Otani to ankle surgery is a blow to their chances and the abstention of pitchers Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka doesn't help either. But, like the D.R., this is the Japanese’s World Cup.
5. Puerto Rico
The American commonwealth has a wealth of talent. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa will be fun to watch up the middle. Mix in Javier Baez’s bat and the Puerto Ricans will have a solid lineup. Along with these youngsters comes some very good veteran leadership in Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. Molina will be especially important in handling an inexperienced rotation that include Rays prospect Jose De Leon, who they got from the Dodgers in the Logan Forsythe trade. Though this team is strong, they will have to do well to reach Los Angeles.
The Mexicans have home field advantage in their pool, Pool D. Adrian Gonzalez looks to rekindle his power stroke to lead the offense for Team Mexico. A’s slugger Khris Davis will complement A-Gon from the other side of the plate. The starting rotation sports some familiar names like Jorge de la Rosa, Marco Estrada, and Yovanni Gallardo. Julio Urias is a question mark to pitch, but if he does, look out. In the bullpen, Sergio Romo will likely setup Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. As with any team on the North American side of the bracket, any lapse in play will likely mean elimination.
This team might as well be called Curacao and Aruba. The stars, like Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, and Jonathan Schoop, all hail from the Caribbean holdings of the Netherlands. The middle infield will certainly be good with their young stars, but the other positions and starting pitching, headlined by former All-Star Jair Jurrjens, are cause for concern. If they can get a lead into the late innings though, Kenley Jansen could help them get back to the final round from the weaker side of the bracket.
Like Japan, Team Korea only has one current MLB player, Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh. But their secret weapon will once again be domestic talent. The offense boasts some huge power with KBO stars Hyun-Wook Choi and Tae-Gyun Kim. With a reliable closer in Oh, the Koreans should make it out of the opening round and could potentially make it to the championship round at Dodger Stadium.
If the Cuban national team allowed defectors to play, this team would easily be one of the favorites. But instead all the names on the roster are unknown to American fans. Yoenis Cespedes’ younger brother is on the team, but that’s about as close to a familiar name you're gonna see. There’s no question the Cubans have talent, but the best of the best are ineligible.
This team can surprise. The first things that come to kind when one thinks of Colombia is drug cartels and soccer. But the Colombians outlasted Panama in a qualifier and looked damn good doing it. Their rotation is headed by upper-tier Major Leaguers Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran. Having watched them qualify, the Colombian lineup boasts a lot of speed and enough power to upset some teams in Pool C, where the U.S. and the Dominican Republic are slotted.