As part of our continuing coverage of the World Baseball Classic, we're going to take a look at the rosters for each country in each of the four pools today. We broke down the rosters yesterday, looking at the major league talent on each, and now we're going to determine how the teams rank in each pool.
1) Japan. Despite not having any major league talent on the roster, the two-time WBC champions still have a solid roster for this year's Classic. Shinnosuke Abe, who had a .340/.429/.565 line and bashed 27 homers (good for second in the Central League last season), is on the club, as is Hayato Sakamoto, who hit .311/.359/.456 with 14 homers and 16 steals. When you throw in stud pitcher Kenta Maeda (1.53 ERA, 171 strikeouts in 206 1/3 innings), vicious set-up man Tetsuya Yamaguchi (0.84 ERA, 68 strikeouts, seven walks in 75 1/3 innings), and starter Toshiya Sugiuchi (2.04 ERA, 172 strikeouts in 163 innings), Team Japan is looking just as strong as they have in the past despite not having talent that the casual American fan may have heard of.
2) Cuba. This team is getting screwed over by having to travel halfway across the globe to Japan for the first round of pool play, but Brazil is getting screwed over just the same. The Cuban team is led by Yulieski Gourriel, who has been a member of the Cuban National Team since 2002, and has won nine gold medals in international competition with the team and is a former two-time MVP of th Cuban National Series. Alfredo Despaigne, who has won three out of the last four Cuban National Series MVP awards, is also on the team. With a pair of players like that in the middle of the lineup, Cuba should be a very dangerous team in the tournament.
3) China. I'm giving China the edge over Team Brazil for one reason: the presence of MLB starter Bruce Chen on the team. Chen has WBC experience, pitching for Team Panama in the prior two WBC events, and could help mentor a Chinese team that's rather young and inexperienced.
4) Brazil. Brazil shocked the world by winning their qualifying pool in November over the more highly regarded teams from Panama, Colombia, and Nicaragua. Team Brazil has no major leaguers on their roster, and the country's baseball tradition is rather short, with Yan Gomes being the first Brazilian born player to play in the majors (and he made his debut in 2012). It'll be a tall order for manager Barry Larkin to take his team past the heavily favored Japanese and Cuban teams into the next round of pool play.
1) South Korea. The Korean team is in the same boat as the Japanese team, with a roster full of players unfamiliar to American fans. However, the team features established Korean stars, like 2012 KBO batting champion Tae-Kyun Kim and five-time KBO MVP Seung-Yeop Lee. The pitching staff is highlighted by 2011 KBO MVP Suk-Min Yoon, as well as 2012 standouts Kyung Eon Noh and Won-Sam Jang.
2) Netherlands. The Netherlands team could make some noise in this pool despite being at a distinct disadvantage in terms of travel compared ot the other three teams. While established major leaguers like Andruw Jones and Jair Jurrjens will get most of the attention on the team, the team's infield is loaded with young and exciting major league prospects Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, and Xander Bogaerts. The pitching staff remains a question with the Dutch team, but I like their chances at advancing.
3) Australia. The Australian team just screams "mediocre" to me. It's a much older team in comparison to the Dutch team, and there is an extreme lack of high-level talent on the squad. However, because they actually have experienced veterans on the team, I think they'll be able to at least top Chinese Taipei, and could even squeak by the Netherlands into the second round.
4) Chinese Taipei. While Taipei absolutely routed their competition in the qualifying round, outscoring their opponents by a total score of 35-0 en route to winning their pool, it'll be a different story in this round of pool play. Taipei has gotten out of a pool with Japan, but remains in one with Korea, who has had their way with them in the prior WBC events. There's not a ton of information available on Taipei's players, but they could slide up the pool and knock off Australia and potentially the Netherlands. It's really a jumbled pool past the Korean team at the top.
1) Venezuela. While the Dominican Republic team gets a lot of love in this pool, I think the Venezuelan team might be a little stronger overall. The team has high-level offensive players in Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez, excellent defensive players in Gerardo Parra, Martin Prado, Elvis Andrus, and Salvador Perez, and a pair of solid starting pitchers in Felix Hernandez and Anibal Sanchez. The only area where this team might be a little weak is in the bullpen, where a declining Francisco Rodriguez is probably the best pitcher.
2) Dominican Republic. The Dominican team is nasty, as usual. Stars dot the infield, with Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Beltre all taking up residence on the team. However, I'm a little underwhelmed by the starting rotation of Edinson Volquez, Alexi Ogando, and Wandy Rodriguez, and the outfield of Melky Cabrera, Carlos Gomez, and Nelson Cruz leaves be unmoved in comparison to the Venezuelan team. However, the Dominican bullpen is nasty, and will feature Santiago Casilla, Octavio Dotel, Kelvin Herrera, and Fernando Rodney among others. If the starters can keep the games close, it'll essentially be a five inning game for the Dominicans.
3) Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is this year's token team that gets screwed by a bad draw. The team's infield is extremely weak aside from Yadier Molina behind the plate, but I love the outfield of Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, and Alex Rios. The Puerto Rican pitching staff is also very weak aside from veteran Javier Vazquez, who didn't pitch in America last year and will be facing his first real test against major league caliber hitters in the Classic after throwing Winter Ball this year.
4) Spain. Oh, Spain. The Spanish team won their way into Pool C by winning their qualifying pool, defeating Israel in the final game of the pool after losing to them earlier on. However, the talent level on Team Spain is so much weaker overall than the other three teams in this pool that they might be the team that fares the worst in this round of pool play. When your finest position players are Barbaro Canizares (who hasn't played in America since 2010, and has dominated the Mexican League for the last two years) and Fernando Martinez (a former top prospect that never clicked), you're in trouble.
1) United States. While Team USA could be better, it's still a strong team overall. The biggest weakness on the American team is in the rotation, where there could be some disaster potential with Ryan Vogelsong, RA Dickey, Kris Medlen, and Derek Holland making up the starting four for the club. But with a vicious bullpen and a terrific offense, Team USA should be able to do just fine in winning this pool.
2) Mexico. I'd give Mexico a slight edge over Canada based solely on their pitching. The Mexican team has a much better pitching staff than the Canadian team, in both the rotation and the bullpen. Milwaukee's duo of Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada is very strong at the top of the rotation, and the bullpen could get downright filthy with Oliver Perez, Sergio Romo, and David Hernandez all taking up residence in the pen. While Mexico's offense is a little weak-looking, a healthy and focused Adrian Gonzalez is an absolute game-changer.
3) Canada. I think it's a little strange that Canada had to qualify to get into the tournament, but they romped through their pool and won all three games quite handily, by a total score of 38-9. Now, Canada gets to play with some of their major league talent, including Brett Lawrie, Justin Morneau, and Russell Martin. But Canada's outfield is very weak-looking, and the team really lacks a major league caliber starting pitcher (aside from Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon, who is a complete wild card in this format). A healthy Joey Votto would help this team a lot, but it's going to take more than that for Canada to advance into the next round.
4) Italy. The Italian team is one that a lot of people are latching on to, and I'm not totally sure why. The team's pitching staff lacks talent aside from Pirates closer Jason Grilli, and the team's offense is essentially Anthony Rizzo and eight other guys who can't play every day in the majors. Italy is probably going to get a rude awakening in pool play, and could be a doormat for the rest of the pool.