The 2013 28-team World Baseball Classic is down to 22 teams, with eight in action this weekend. Panama and Taiwan will play host to four-team WBC qualifiers that will feature major league veterans such as Johnny Damon, Carlos Lee and Edgar Renteria.
Lee, 36 and coming off his 14th major league season, will play for Panama, which plays host to Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua.
Damon, who just turned 39, will play for Thailand in a qualifier with host Taiwan, New Zealand and the Philippines. Damon's mother has a Thai background, which made him eligible to play for the Asian nation that has little baseball tradition.
Some quick highlights from the qualifier rosters:
BRAZIL: Yan Gomes, Brazil's first big leaguer, highlights a roster managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Gomes is one of 11 affiliated players on Brazil's roster, with the other most recognizable name being Andre Rienzo, the White Sox righthander who reached Triple-A Charlotte this season. Rienzo was pitching in the Arizona Fall League prior to leaving a week early for the WBC. Other affiliated players include Paolo Orlando (Roayls), who has some Triple-A time, and righthander Murilo Gouvea (Astros), who pitched at low Class A Lexington this season. The other affiliated players are in Rookie ball. The roster also includes 16-year-old righthander Daniel Missaki and several veterans of Japanese baseball from Brazil's sizable population of Japanese immigrants, such as part-time Yakult Swallows first baseman Daniel (Yuichi) Matsumoto. Righthander Gabriel Asakura, a Sao Paolo native who spent the last two seasons at Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills, also is on the roster. Asakura was 14-5, 2.03 the last two seasons in college.
COLOMBIA: Renteria, the 2010 World Series MVP, and fellow big league veteran Jolbert Cabrera head up Colombia's entry, which also includes BA All-Rookie Team selection Donovan Solano (Marlins). Colombia's roster includes 15 active affiliated players, with two catchers with big league time in Luis Martinez (Rangers), who has played 32 games in the majors the last two seasons with the Padres and Rangers, and Jhonatan Solano (Nationals), who played 12 games in Washington this season.
Other prospects including righthander Sugar Ray Marimon (Royals), former top indy league prospect Reynaldo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and third baseman Giovanny Urshela (Indians). Marimon, 24, figures to be key as the only affiliated pitcher with experience above Class A. Ex-big leaguer Eduardo Perez will manage Colombia, with ex-big leaguer Mariano Duncan among the coaches.
NICARAGUA: Shortstop Everth Cabrera of the Padres and Mariners righthander Erasmo Ramirez lead the way for manager Dennis Martinez and Nicaragua. The roster includes Royals prospect Cheslor Cuthbert, a native of Nicaragua's Corn Islands; righthander J.C. Ramirez of the Phillies; and several other familiar names such as ex-Mariners farmhand Ronald Garth, a veteran of Nicaraguan international teams; former Expos/Nationals farmhand Ofilio Castro; indy league lefthander Douglas Arguello, formerly of the Astros system.
PANAMA: The host nation has many of its most familiar names, starting with Lee and two other major leaguers in all-star catcher Carlos Ruiz and Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. One of the more familiar names belongs to former Yankees uber-prospect Ruben Rivera, now 39, who has spent the last six seasons playing for Campeche in the Mexican League. His last major league time came in 2003 with the Giants.
Panama's pitching staff includes hard-throwing big league vet Manny Acosta, a 31-year-old who split 2012 between New York and the Mets' Triple-A affiliate, and righthander Paolo Espino (Indians), who went 7-3, 3.09 at Double-A Akron this season. Espino rejoins lefty Angel Cuan (Mets) and righty Alberto Acosta from last fall's national team, when Panama played host to the World Cup and finished eighth.
In the other qualifier:
NEW ZEALAND: We covered the Diamondblacks here.
PHILIPPINES: The Filipino team hoped to land big leaguer Tim Lincecum and Giants prospect Ricky Oropesa but wasn't able to make it happen. Instead, the team features former TCU and San Francisco Giants lefty Geno Espineli, plus a trio of active affiliated players. First baseman Leighton Pangilinan (White Sox), drafted out of Escalon (Calif.) High in 2009, hit .225/.299/.342 with eight homers at low Class A Kannapolis this season. Second baseman/outfielder Ryan Pineda (Athletics) got 316 at-bats between two A-ball levels this season after spending his college career at Cal State Northridge. Five-foot-7 catcher Chad Nacapoy (Rays), a 38th-round pick this season out of Division II Cal State Los Angeles, is the other affiliated player.
The Philippines has several other U.S. college players such as shortstop Andres Vazquez of Rutgers, who went 1-for-4 as a freshman in 2012, and lefthander Devon Ramirez, who posted a 10.40 ERA for D-II Cal State Dominguez Hills while also hitting .337 in a part-time hitting role. He's listed on the roster as a pitcher.
THAILAND: Damon is by far the most accomplished player on the Thai team, which includes no other affiliated players. It does include 19-year-old Nathan Lorentz, who attended the American School in Japan and plays catcher, first base and also pitcher. He's originally from Seattle. The Daru brothers, John and Jose, have U.S. experience, as John plays at D-II Cal State East Bay while Jose played catcher at IMG Academy in Florida.
TAIWAN: Host Taiwan, the huge favorite in this qualifier, will not have Chien-Ming Wang for this round, but it does have two affiliated players and will rely on players from its domestic Chinese Professional Baseball League such as shortstop Lin Chih-Sheng.
The 30-year-old Lin (one of seven players named Lin on the roster) led the CPBL with 24 homers this season, then was the championship series MVP for the Lamigo Monkeys.
Taiwan's roster also includes Cubs farmhands Chen Hung-wen and Wang Yao-lin. The 25-year-old Chen, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound righthander, was loaned to the Mexican League in 2011-12 but was 28-29, 3.84 in 495 career innings from 2007-2011, reaching Triple-A in his last season. Wang, 21, went 4-5, 3.92 with 12 saves for low Class A Peoria this season.
Taiwan also included 18-year-old righthander Tseng Jen-ho of Sammin Senior High.