World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B
With the World Baseball Classic rosters being released last night, we are now able to review the remaining teams with their full rosters. After analyzing Pool A, we can now move on to Pool B.
After making their WBC debut in 2013, manager Jon Deeble will lead a much more talented squad in this year’s tournament. They went winless in 2013, but with a more talented roster to draw upon, Australia is poised to make some noise.
Australia boasts a deep pitching staff with two current major league pitchers on their roster. Oakland reliever Liam Hendriks and Detroit reliever Warwick Saupold. They will be joined by Travis Blackley and Ryan Rowland-Smith, both of whom have had experience pitching in the majors. Pitching may be the only advantage Australia has.
Only one notable position player will represent the land down under: outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Across parts of three major league seasons, the native Aussie hit five homers and batted .220. While these may not be eye-popping stats, Oeltjen certainly has some talent.
Australia will have to rely on their deep pitching staff to carry them in the tournament. The lack of talent off the mound is concerning, but nothing that can’t overcome.
With two victories in the past two WBC’s, China will be looking to get out of the first round in 2017. There is just one player with major league experience on the roster. Manager and current Phillies bullpen coach John McLaren has been tasked with a difficult job.
Don’t tell that to pitcher Bruce Chen. He has 17 years of major league experience to draw on, and will certainly be a boon for a young Chinese team. China has never been known for its baseball heritage, but that could change soon.
Catcher Wei Wang and infielder Guiyuan Xu both spent the 2016 season in the minor leagues. They represent the future of Chinese baseball, and will join Chen in international play. Another player to watch for is career minor leaguer Joey Wong. He spent eight years in the minors and batted .241, proving to have some ability.
While China is certainly at a disadvantage, don’t sleep on them. McLauren will be sure to have his team ready to play when the tournament starts, and just might be able to catch some teams off guard. They certainly have some good players on the roster, but the talent isn’t there for them to be competitive.
Cuba is one of the most storied nations in baseball history. The island nation has produced multiple big league players, like Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig. That legacy in the majors may come back to haunt Cuba.
After a player defects from the communist country to the United States, they become ineligible to represent Cuba in the WBC. Even with no major league players on their roster, Cuba will still have plenty of talent to draw upon. The Serie Nacional de Beisbol, Cuba’s professional baseball league, will provide a number of talented players.
One of those will be Yoelkis Cespedes, the half brother of Mets’ star Yoenis Cespedes. At 19 years old, the younger Cespedes is considered a five-tool talent. He will need all of those tools and then some if he wants to bring Cuba out of the first round. He won’t have to do it alone.
The star of Cuba’s 2013 team, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, is returning to team Cuba. He hit an astounding .389/.522/.944 with three home runs and eight RBIs in six games for Cuba in the 2013 WBC. He also won Pool A’s MVP award.
With their own professional league and vast baseball history to draw upon, team Cuba is a good bet to make it back into round two of tournament play.
Just like Cuba, Japan will be reliant on its professional league to guide them back to the WBC championship. Unlike Cuba, Japan has a major league star up its sleeve.
Astros outfielder Nori Aoki is easily the most accomplished position player in Pool B, batting .286/.353/.387 in five major league seasons. He also provides plenty of speed with 88 career stolen bases. Aoki is an excellent addition, but don’t underestimate the rest of Japan’s roster.
There will be plenty of representation from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Japan’s professional league. Pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano has dominated Nipponese hitting in his time there, posting a career 2.34 ERA. He will be the ace of a deep staff, accompanied by young stud pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.
After missing out on major leaguers like Kenta Maeda and Masahiro Tanaka, Japan is still in position to make a run in this year’s WBC. With Aoki and plenty of NPBL stars, Japan is one of the most dangerous teams in the whole tournament.
With a two-time WBC champion in Pool B, it is not hard to pick a favorite.
Japan won the inaugural WBC championship in 2006 and again in 2009. Even though they will not have nearly as many major league players on this year’s roster, they are still a legitimate threat. As the stars of the NPBL compete in this year’s WBC, they will be put up against some of the best baseball players outside of the United States.
Pool B is sorely lacking in major league talent, with Australia having the most players with major league experience. Even that doesn’t make them a favorite, given the strength of Japan’s NPBL and Cuba’s Serie Nacional De Beisbol. Japan and Cuba will slug it out for the top spot in Pool B, with Australia having dark horse potential and China looking to grow in international play.
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