by Rob Joyce
For the fourth time, teams from around the globe will come together for the World Baseball Classic. Held every four years, there will basically be 24/7 baseball for a few days as pool play begins in Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo, Miami, Mexico and San Diego. It will all lead up to the finals in two weeks at Dodger Stadium.
Of course you have your rosters like the United States and Dominican Republic that are stacked with MLB talent. Then there are some other squads, who will be the lovable underdogs.
Meet those five teams that certainly don’t have the most talent, but might be the most fun to watch:
Relievers Liam Hendricks and Peter Moylan are the only players on an active MLB roster, but the majority of the roster has at least played in the minors. Playing in the Pacific Rim pool, only baseball die-hards will be awake for most of their early games, and they’ll find a couple of former highly-touted prospects among the Australians.
The Asian influence at the Major League level has been steadily increasing over the last two decades, yet the Chinese have as limited a history as humanely possible – Harry Kingman played two innings for the 1914 Yankees. Since then no one has cracked a major league roster. The first person to watch for is Xu Guiyuan, an Orioles prospect who plays the infield. He could set the trend if he cracks the majors. As for the team, they have the second-worst odds of winning the WBC, and they’ve never finished higher than 11th in the 16-team tournament.
Your early clubhouse leader for lovable underdog goes to Israel, who is already 2-0 in pool play. This coming despite being ranked 41st in the world baseball rankings (no one else is outside the top-20). They have exactly zero players on a 40-man major league roster. A full-blown Cinderella story is brewing.
The Italians made a bit of a run in 2013, led in part by a young Anthony Rizzo. Now an NL MVP candidate, the Cubs’ first baseman won’t be playing this time around. Now they’ll be led by Pirates’ catcher Francisco Cervelli, one of six players currently on a 40-man roster.
Taking advantage of the fact that Aruba is Dutch territory, the Netherlands boasts a heck of an infield, including Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius, the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons and the Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop. That’s a lot of middle infielders for one team. Unfortunately, outside of that there isn’t much major league talent. Kenley Jansen is a very good closer, but whether his talents will be needed remains to be seen. And then there’s Loek van Mil, a 7-foot-1 behemoth of a pitcher. Watching him alone is worth the entertainment.