By John Manuel
February 28, 2006
World Baseball Classic rosters continue to come into focus as the tournament’s roster deadline, March 3, approaches. Canada filled out its 30-man squad by adding Mariners farmhand Sebastien Boucher to its outfield, while Cuba formally announced a 35-man roster.
Boucher, 24, hit .340/.434/.468 in his first professional season last year between two Class A stops. The former Bethune-Cookman standout, a seventh-round pick in the 2004 draft, ranks as the No. 19 prospect in the Mariners system. He hit .259 for Canada in last year’s World Cup in the Netherlands.
The Cuban team will likely cut one catcher, one or two infielders and outfielders, and two or three pitches from its current roster, which includes 16 pitchers. The roster is an older squad with players rich in international experience; as one Cuban observer put it, “Unless someone pulls a (Jose) Contreras, any defectors from this group would be surprising.”
The team does not include 16-year-old Dayan Viciedo, who was the youngest player on any provisional roster, but it does include names familiar to those who are familiar with Cuba on the international stage.
Likely starters include Ariel Pestano at catcher, Eriel Sanchez at first base, Rudy Reyes at second, Eduardo Paret at short and Yuliesky Gourriel at third base. The outfield could include some combination of Frederich Cepeda, Carlos Tabares, Alexei Ramirez and Osmani Urrutia. Michel Enriquez, who hit .500 to lead all batters at the 2005 World Cup, should start at DH.
The pitching staff includes veterans such as Pedro Luis Lazo, Vicyohandry Odelin and Adiel Palma, as well as top young pitchers such as Maykel (or Maikel) Folch, Yuliesky Gonzalez and hard-throwing Yunieski Maya. However, hard-throwing righthander Danny Betancourt, who has been Cuba’s top pitcher in international competition since Contreras’ defection in 2002, was not on the 35-man roster. Betancourt apparently is out with an undisclosed injury. The same is true for righthander Norge Vera, who at one point was the No. 2 starter behind Contreras on the national team.
“Youth, versatility, defense and excellent pitching characterize the Cuban team,” manager Higinio Velez said according to Antonio Diaz of the website beisbolcubano.cu.