World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool A
As a baseball fanatic, this time of year can be a little tough. Spring Training is just around the corner, but real competitive baseball is still more than two months away. If this sounds like you, don’t worry my friend.
The World Baseball Classic, a competition held every four years between the top national teams around the world, begins on March 6. Let’s dive in head first and take a good look at the teams in Pool A and predict who will emerge victorious.
After advancing from Qualifier A in 2016, the Israeli team will be participating in it’s first World Baseball Classic. Manager Pete Kurz will have plenty of good players to rely on. Many of them have major league experience.
Slugging first baseman Ike Davis is one of the more notable position players on the team, having hit 81 bombs in his major league career. He will be joined by fellow position players Ty Kelly and defensive specialist Sam Fuld, who also have major league experience.
On the mound, team Israel will be led by journeyman pitcher Jason Marquis. While pitching 15 years in the majors, Marquis garnered a 4.61 ERA. He will lead a pitching staff devoid of major league talent, with the only other pitcher with major league experience being Josh Zeid.
Other names being reported as potential additions include Joc Pederson, Jason Kipnis and Danny Valencia. If skipper Pete Kurz can confirm their additions, he will have a deep roster that could make a surprise run.
With a pronounced influence in the majors, it is surprising to see Korea so sorely lacking in terms of major league talent. The only current major league player that manager Kim In-Sik will be able to call on is Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh. The 33-year-old broke out in 2016, posting a 1.92 ERA. Oh won’t be the only player with major league experience on the roster.
First baseman Dae-Ho Lee will join Oh to play for Korea. Lee played 104 games with the Mariners in 2016 and hit 14 home runs. He is currently a free agent. Major leaguers like Jung-Ho Kang, Hyun-Soo Kim and Shin-Soo Choo are all expected to miss the WBC. Don’t let the lack of major league talent fool you.
Korea will have plenty of quality players to call upon, most of them from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). All-Star pitchers Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang will be joined by position player Hyung-Woo Choi. Choi is a star in the KBO, and proved it in 2016 batting .376/.470/.651 with 31 homers and 144 RBIs.
While lacking in terms of major league experience, this team is certainly full of talent. Some of the best KBO has to offer will suit up and join Seung-Whan Oh to try and continue their WBC success.
This team will be one of the most difficult to analyze. The Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) has been quiet on potential players it will include on its roster. It is easier at this point to discuss what players will not be on the roster, proving to be more helpful in analyzing this team’s chances.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) decided to boycott the WBC, leaving many of Chinese Taipei’s best players out. Chun-Hsiu Chen, Hung-Yu Lin and Po-Jung Wang, who are three of the best pitchers in the CPBL, will all miss the tournament. There is still hope for Chinese Taipei’s pitching staff.
Major leaguers Wei-Yin Chen and Chien-Ming Wang are both potential additions to the roster. Chen is coming off a less than stellar year in Miami, posting a 4.96 ERA in 123.1 innings pitched. Chen has stated that he will allow the Marlins to decide on his participation in the tournament, leaving his status up in the air. Wang is also a questionable addition after pitching in relief for the Royals in 2016. The 36-year-old is currently a free agent.
Chinese Taipei is sorely lacking in major league talent, and the questionable state of their roster leaves them in flux. If they are able to land Chen and Wang, they will have a solid one-two punch at the top of their rotation. That may be all they will have, with little other major league options.
Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Dutch National Team is the most storied European team in the WBC, and arguably one of the most talented. Manager and San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens will be able to call upon multiple current major leaguers, all of whom have had success at the major league level.
The Netherlands will have a loaded infield, highlighted by Oriole Jonathan Schoop and Angel Andrelton Simmons. Schoop provides plenty of power in the heart of the lineup, hitting a career high 25 homers in 2016. Simmons brings the defense. Simmons is arguably the best defender in the majors, and will certainly shine in the WBC.
The best overall player in all of Pool A has to be Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts. He provides a strong overall offensive game, hitting 21 homers and stealing 13 bases in 2016. His 109 OPS+ was the best of his young career, and is something skipper Meulens will be counting on.
What the Dutch National Team does lack is pitching. Former major leaguer Rick van den Hurk is the only confirmed pitcher currently on the roster. He had a career 6.08 ERA across six seasons in the majors. What they lack in pitching they make up for in hitting. The Netherlands has a deep infield to rely on, and should make good use of it.
While Israel has a good amount of major league experience on it’s roster, they will be hard pressed to compete. Chinese Taipei is seen to be the least talented team in the pool, even with questions surrounding its roster. That leaves The Netherlands and Korea.
With a deep infield, the Netherlands has a good chance to emerge from Pool A. However, Korea has the edge. With only two players with major league experience set to play for Korea, they will rely on their KBO stars to carry them. Korea is one of the most successful teams in WBC history, and that will continue in 2017.
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