Germany has ascended toward international baseball relevance in recent seasons, largely on the strength of German players. While Donald Lutz (Reds) and Max Kepler (Twins) have some American heritage, they grew up playing baseball in Europe, and German head coach Greg Frady (Georgia State) has pointed out that Germany's successes were built on homegrown players, not "passport" players.
But for the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifier, which will be played in Regensburg, Germany, starting Sept. 19, Germany will have its share of players of German heritage who are not actually from Germany.
The roster features Kepler and Lutz, as well as affiliated German players such as catcher Kai Gronauer (Mets) and Daniel Thieben (Mariners). But the Germans have added players such as Toby Gardenhire (ex-Twins), ex-big leaguer Will Ohman (Reds) and outfielder Aaron Altherr (Phillies), giving the team an injection of talent.
Ohman was born in Germany, as was Altherr and Gardenhire's father, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Altherr should team with Kepler and German-born Jake Shaffer (Cardinals) in the team's outfield. Shaffer, a 25-year-old who played his college ball at Division II Northern Kentucky, hit .262/.316/.373 in 260 at-bats for Double-A Springfield this season. Former Georgia State outfielder Eric Suttle, a former Astros farmhand and indy league veteran, also will see playing time.
Lutz, 23, is the team's star player thanks to his international experience and lefthanded power; he belted 22 homers this season between high Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. Kepler, 19, had his best season as a pro in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, leading the league in slugging while batting .297/.387/.539.
The lineup also should feature Matt Weaver (Braves), a 22-year-old who hit .216/.261/.371 at high Class A Lynchburg this season. Weaver indicated on his Twitter feed that his father was born in Germany, making him eligible for the team.
The German pitching staff includes Burgos, who was born in Regensburg. The 21-year-old lefthander went 8-10, 4.90 this year at high Class A Lakeland and struggled with command, walking 88 and striking out just 78. On paper, he's the ace of a staff that includes Markus Solbach (Twins), who posted a 5.82 ERA in 17 innings; Canadian indy leaguer Adam Kudryk (Quebec Capitales); and Cuban emigre Enorbel Marquez, 37. Marquez pitches in the Italian league.
Thieben, who turns 19 on the eve of the tournament, is the intriguing addition. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder went 3-1, 4.02 in 31 innings in the Rookie-level Arizona League, though he allowed 36 hits and 21 walks while striking out 18. He signed last November with the Mariners for $100,000 after playing for Germany in the 2011 World Cup.
Germans comprise the rest of the roster, though Americans such as Gene Roof (Tigers), Justin Pope (Yankees) and Terry Abbott (Marlins) dot the coaching staff. Germany is in the same pool as Canada, Czech Republic and Great Britain.
France also released its roster, and as expected it's bereft of affiliated players. It does include several indy leaguers, though, such as Joris Bert, the former Dodgers outfielder who is listed on the roster as a lefthanded pitcher. The team's strength will be its infield, with shortstop Maxime Lefeve (Arkansas-Little Rock), first baseman Rene Leveret (ex-Twins), infielder Emmanuel Garcia (ex-Mets) and third baseman Carlos Hereaud (ex-Brewers). The outfield includes two former affiliated players in Marc Ramirez (Marlins) and Frederic Hanvi (Twins).
Reds scout Jim Stoeckel will manage the club, with Eric Gagne serving as pitching coach and former Stetson All-American Sammy Serrano on the coaching staff. The French will play in the Jupiter, Fla., qualifier with Israel, Spain and South Africa, which already has released its roster. Both qualifiers will be streamed at worldbaseballclassic.com, and the final from Jupiter will air on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET.