Manager: Hensley Meulens.
WBC History: The Netherlands went 1-2 in pool play in the 2006 WBC and didn’t advance from the first round. Three years later, the Dutch made it to the second round by beating the Dominican Republic twice in pool play, though they lost to Venezuela and the United States in their only second-round games in 2009.
How They Got Here: Don’t underestimate the Dutch national team. After delivering a knockout blow to the Dominican Republic in 2009, the Netherlands beat South Korea 5-0 in its first WBC game this year in Taiwan and went 2-1 in Pool B to advance to the second round in Tokyo. That’s where the Netherlands beat Cuba 6-2 and 7-6 to bounce the Cubans from the tournament, though the Dutch lost both games to fellow semifinalist Japan by 16-4 and 10-6 margins.
The Netherlands won’t have the most firepower among the lineups in San Francisco, but they do have the most exciting young players to watch. They’re led by Braves 23-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a dynamic threat who brings outstanding defense and a quality bat to the top of the lineup. The biggest boost for the Netherlands will be the addition of shortstop Jurickson Profar, the No. 1 prospect in baseball and a player who seems to thrive on the big stage. Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop has had big moments in the first two rounds. He and Boston’s Xander Bogaerts should be fun to watch in the infield for prospect fans, but Schoop is 21, Bogaerts is 20 and neither player has experience above Double-A. That should make for a dynamite lineup in the 2017 WBC, but for now there are still some rough edges.
Nationals 28-year-old outfielder Roger Bernadina is coming off a career year in which he hit .291/.372/.405 in 129 big league games. After a borderline Hall of Fame career, Andruw Jones will play for Rakuten in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball this season. At 35, Jones is no longer the dazzling power-speed threat he was early in his career with Atlanta, but he’s the Dutch team’s most experienced major league hitter. Outfielder Wladimir Balentien has big power but never broke through in parts of three seasons in the majors from 2007-09, but he was a star in Japan last year, where he hit .272/.386/.572 with 31 homers in 106 games. First baseman Curt Smith has been a pleasant surprise through the first two rounds of the WBC, hitting .375/.467/.542 in seven games.
Pitching is the big area of concern for the Netherlands, a team where some of the best arms are on the position players. Diegomar Markwell, a 32-year-old lefthander, has allowed just one run and two walks in 10 innings over his two starts, but he doesn’t have big stuff and has struck out just two batters. There’s neither impact talent nor depth in the starting rotation, as Rob Cordemans, Tom Stuifbergen and David Bergman have all struggled in the WBC. They at least have the luxury of having quality defenders behind them and a pitcher-friendly park to work with in San Francisco, so if the Dutch pitchers can throw strikes and keep the ball in the yard, they may be able to squeak by with smoke and mirrors.
The addition of Dodgers righthander Kenley Jansen will be a big help for the Netherlands. Jansen immediately becomes the team’s best pitcher with his lively mid-90s fastball he leaned on for a 13.7 K/9 last year in the big leagues. Reds righthander Loek Van Mil also has a power arm with a plus fastball that he drops on hitters from his 7-foot-1 frame. The 28-year-old flashed a quality slider at times in Tokyo, but he’s also prone to mistakes with his command. Shairon Martis, a 25-year-old Twins righthander with big league experience who spent last year between Double-A and Triple-A, could also be an important arm.
While not the shock their wins against the Dominican were in 2009, it was still an upset that the Netherlands beat Cuba twice in Tokyo. It was even more surprising given the circumstances they were dealt in the final game. Bernadina was already out of the lineup after getting drilled in the wrist by a pitch the previous day. Then Balentien had to be removed in the third inning with a groin injury and third baseman Yurendell de Caster left after the fifth with a leg injury. Getting reinforcements with Profar and Jansen helps, but the health of Balentien and Bernadina in the finals could be a difference-maker.
Getting Profar for the finals is a major upgrade for the Netherlands, but now the question is how Muelens will sort out his glut of shortstops. The best defender of the group is Simmons, so he should stay at shortstop. Profar is next in line defensively and has experience at second base, which is where Schoop has played for the first two rounds of the tournament. Profar would be a defensive upgrade over Schoop, but will Muelens prefer to keep the same double play combination together and fit Profar in elsewhere? Schoop played third base last year in the Arizona Fall League and got time at the hot corner in 2011 while playing next to Manny Machado, so putting Simmons at shortstop, Profar at second and Schoop at third would seem to make sense. That would move Bogaerts, who has been playing third base, to a probable DH role. Now just imagine if this team had Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius too.