Olympics Capsules

Previews for eight Olympic teams




UNITED STATES
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Fourth appearance (1992, 1996, 2000); bronze medal, 1996; gold medal, 2000. International Track Record: Inconsistent, but strong as of late. Since failing to qualify for the '04 Olympics (in the '03 qualifier), finishing ninth in the 2005 World Cup and failing to reach the medal round of the World Baseball Classic, the U.S. has gotten on a roll, winning the 2006 Olympic qualifier played in Cuba, then in November 2007 winning its first World Cup in 33 seasons.
International Track Record
Inconsistent, but strong as of late. Since failing to qualify for the '04 Olympics (in the '03 qualifier), finishing ninth in the 2005 World Cup and failing to reach the medal round of the World Baseball Classic, the U.S. has gotten on a roll, winning the 2006 Olympic qualifier played in Cuba, then in November 2007 winning its first World Cup in 33 seasons.
How It Qualified
Won Americas qualifier.
2008 Skinny
Team USA has found success internationally under manager Davey Johnson, the ex-big league second baseman and former manager of the Mets, Orioles and Dodgers. Johnson, who manages a bullpen as well as anyone, has power arms and veterans in relief with righthanders such as Kevin Jepsen (Angels), Jeff Stevens (Indians) and Casey Weathers (Rockies). They'll back up a mix of young starting pitching similar to, but less imposing, than the rotation that won gold in 2000. Athletics farmhands Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, Orioles righthander Jake Arrieta and righthander Stephen Strasburg—the San Diego State sophomore is the lone amateur on the team—are excellent prospects and all have above-average stuff. But they lack the power breaking balls and polish of 2000 aces Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets.

The American position players are young up the middle and more veteran on the corners, where Triple-A hitters such as John Gall, Mike Hessman and Terry Tiffee can play either corner or left field. Outfielder Dexter Fowler (Rockies) stands out as the team's top prospects among hitters, along with Matt LaPorta (Indians), who could play first base or either outfield corner. Colby Rasmus (Cardinals), the roster's best and only pure lefthanded hitter, injured his knee and was replaced by Nate Schierholtz (Giants).

Team USA has as good a chance as any team to bring home the gold, thanks to its solid level of talent, mix of veterans and prospects and Johnson's experienced leadership. A key will be if the Americans can come together in the clubhouse as they did in 2000; another will be Team USA's defense. Jason Donald (Phillies), Brian Barden (Cardinals) and Jayson Nix (Rockies) are the team's three middle infielders, and their defensive play probably matters more than their offensive production. The U.S. won gold in Sydney with one hit the whole tournament from shortstop Adam Everett, but he played Gold Glove-caliber defense, and this edition of Team USA's pitching staff figures to be even more groundball-oriented than the staff Sheets and Oswalt led almost a decade ago.
Roster
Pitchers: Brett Anderson (Athletics), Jake Arrieta (Orioles), Trevor Cahill (Athletics), Jeremy Cummings (Rays), Brian Duensing (Twins), Kevin Jepsen (Angels), Brandon Knight (Mets), Mike Koplove (Dodgers), Blaine Neal (Tigers), Jeff Stevens (Indians), Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State), Casey Weathers (Rockies).

Catchers: Lou Marson (Phillies), Taylor Teagarden (Rangers).

Infielders: Brian Barden (Cardinals), Matt Brown (Angels), Jason Donald (Phillies), Mike Hessman (Tigers), Jayson Nix (Rockies), Terry Tiffee (Dodgers).

Outfielders: Dexter Fowler (Rockies), John Gall (Marlins), Matt LaPorta (Indians), Nate Schierholtz (Giants).
 
CANADA
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Second appearance; finished fourth in 2004.
International Track Record
Modest. Canada's two Olympic qualifications are the country's high-water marks internationally, and the 2008 Olympic qualifier is the first tournament win for Canada in a top-level tournament.
Top MLB Players
1B Justin Morneau (Twins), LHP Jeff Francis (Rockies), OF Jason Bay (Pirates), C Russell Martin (Dodgers), LHP Erik Bedard (Mariners).
How It Qualified
Finished first in March 2008 qualifier.
2008 Skinny
Canada's three major league all-stars (a record for the country) and top minor league pitcher, Mariners righthander Phillippe Aumont (elbow), won't be able to help them in this tournament, a blow to the team's medal hopes. But Canada always is a tough out internationally, and this group includes 15 players who were on the roster for the March '08 Olympic qualifier, when Canada went 6-1. It also includes recent big leaguers such as infielder Pete Orr and first baseman Scott Thorman, plus righthander Chris Reitsma and lefty Rheal Cormier.

The top prospects on the club are young, talented outfielders Michael Saunders (Mariners) and Nick Weglarz (Indians), and both will have to play well to give the team some offensive punch. Just four of the position players bat righthanded, and the best might be 2008 first-round pick Brett Lawrie, an advanced hitter whose sister is a pitcher for Canada's Olympic softball team. Team Canada also lost Scott Richmond (Blue Jays) late to a big league promotion; it was unclear whether or not Canada could replace him or if the Jays would return him to the minors by Aug. 1 so that he could still play for Team Canada.
Roster
Pitchers: Chris Begg (Giants), T.J. Burton (Indians), Rheal Cormier, David Davidson (Pirates), Steve Green (Phillies), Mike Johnson, Jonathan Lockwood, Brooks McNiven (Giants), Chris Reitsma, Scott Richmond (Blue Jays), R.J. Swindle (Phillies).

Catchers: David Corrente (Blue Jays), Brett Lawrie (Brewers draftee), Chris Robinson (Cubs).

Infielders: Stubby Clapp, Emerson Frostad (Rangers), Emmanuel Garcia (Mets), Matt Rogelstad (Nationals), Scott Thorman (Braves).

Outfielders: Ryan Radmanovich, Michael Saunders (Mariners), Adam Stern, Jimmy Van Ostrand (Astros), Nick Weglarz (Indians).
 
CHINA
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
First appearance.
International Track Record
Scant. China's best finish ever internationally was a third-place showing in the '05 Asia World Cup qualifier, including a victory against South Korea.
Top MLB Players
None.
How It Qualified
Host country (automatic).
2008 Skinny
See accompanying story.
 
CUBA
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Fifth appearance; three golds (1992, 1996, 2004); one silver (2000).
International Track Record
Unrivaled. Cuba has recently stumbled internationally, failing to win the World Cup for the first time since 1982, losing to the U.S. college national team in July during Haarlem Honkbal Week. They also lost to the U.S. in Havana in the 2006 Olympic qualifier. But no one can touch the Cubans' history of international victories.
Top MLB Players
RHP Jose Contreras and 2B/OF Alexei Ramirez (White Sox), SS Yuniesky Betancourt (Mariners), SS Yunel Escobar (Braves), RHP Livan Hernandez (Twins).
How It Qualified
Second place, Americas qualifier.
2008 Skinny
Observers who saw Cuba in July's Haarlem Honkbal tournament counsel against reading too much into Cuba's losses to the U.S. college national team. The Cubans failed to generate much offense, and the national team doesn't necessarily have all of Cuba's top hitters. The team misses Alexei Ramirez's power bat after his defection, and other big bats didn't make the cut, either for security reasons or because they were beat out by other, more complete players with more national team experience. Among those left home were first baseman Jose Julio Ruiz, shortstop Yadil Mujica and outfielder Yoennis Cespedes, who hit 26 homers this year. Also, perennial Cuban batting champion Osmani Urrutia will miss the Olympics with an injury.

While third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel remains a top threat, a significant prospect and the team's three-hole hitter, other Cubans have had more impact for the national team offense. Right fielder Alex Bell, just 5-foot-9, has a plus-plus arm, speed and premium defense in right field, and a huge swing with above-average loft power. He became the first Cuban player to hit 30 homers and more than 100 RBIs in the Serie Nacional, which lasts 90 games. Fellow outfielders Fredrich Cepeda, a hero of the '04 Olympics, and 20-year-old Alfredo Despaigne, who hit 25 homers in the latest Serie Nacional, are strong complementary players.

Cuba's pitching staff never has replaced Jose Contreras but remains formidable. Veteran righty Norge Vera has re-emerged as the staff ace, reaching 94 mph when he needs it and throwing up to six pitches for strikes, while gritty righty Jonder Martinez, the ERA leader in Serie Nacional this year, has emerged as the team's most consistent starter. Veterans Pedro Luiz Lazo, the righthanded closer, and lefthander Adiel Palma have been national team stalwarts for nearly 15 seasons and remain effective.

Cuba has changed national team coaches, turning over the reins to former slugging second baseman Antonio Pacheco, a three-time Olympian and Serie Nacional's all-time hits leader.
Roster
Pitchers:Pedro Luis Lazo, Yunieski Maya, Jonder Martínez, Yulieski González, Yadier Pedroso, Vicyohandri Odelín, Adiel Palma, Norberto González, Norge Luis Vera, Luis Miguel Rodríguez.

Catchers: Ariel Pestano, Rolando Meriño, Eriel Sánchez.

Infielders: Alexander Malleta, Héctor Olivera, Yulieski Gourriel, Michel Enríquez, Eduardo Paret, Luis Miguel Navas.

Outfielders: Giorvis Duvergel, Yoandry Urgellés, Alexei Bell, Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne.
 
JAPAN
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Tied with Cuba with five appearances to lead all countries; silver, 1996; bronze, 1992 and 2004.
International Track Record
Excellent. Only Cuba surpasses Japan's track record, which was burnished by its 2006 World Baseball Classic championship. Japan won the gold when baseball was a demonstration sport in 1984, but has fallen short in the last two Olympiads despite using its top-level pros.
Top MLB Players
OF Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners), RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox), OF Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs), OF Hideki Matsui (Yankees).
How It Qualified
Won Asia qualifier.
2008 Skinny
Japan will be sending 24 of its best professional major league players to Beijing and has to be considered a favorite to win a medal—most likely the gold. The team is referred to affectionately as Hoshino Japan, after its manager Senichi Hoshino, a former great pitcher with the Chunichi Dragons and successful manager of the Dragons and Hanshin Tigers, both of Japan's Central League.

A disappointing bronze medalist in Athens in 2004 but the surprise winner of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Team Japan will be led this time by righthander Yu Darvish, the Iranian-Japanese ace who throws for the Pacific League's Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Darvish turns 22 on Aug. 16—right in the middle of the Olympics—and obtained Japanese citizenship earlier this year. Through July 23, Darvish had posted a record of 11-3 with a Japan-leading 1.88 ERA for the Fighters. Hoshino also has the two best closers in Japan in righthander Kyuji Fujikawa of the Tigers and lefty Hitoki Iwase of the Dragons, who have accumulated 31 and 26 saves, respectively, so far this season.

Offensively, the top hitters on the Japanese squad are Yakult Swallows center fielder Norichika Aoki, Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and slugging Yokohama BayStars third baseman Shuichi Murata. Aoki, a two-time Central League batting champion, is hitting .351 this season. Nakajima leads the Pacific League with a .348 average, 60 runs scored and 26 doubles and has 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. Murata, the likely cleanup hitter in Beijing, is tops in Japan with 27 homers.
Roster
Pitchers: Koji Uehara (Yomiuri), Kenshin Kawakami, Hitoki Iwase (Chunichi), Kyuji Fujikawa (Hanshin), Yu Darvish (Hokkaido), Yoshihisa Naruse (Chiba), Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi (Fukuoka), Masahiro Tanaka (Tohoku), Hideaki Wakui (Seibu).

Catchers: Shinnosuke Abe (Yomiuri), Tomoya Satozaki (Chiba), Akihiro Yano (Hanshin).

Infielders: Takahiro Arai (Hanshin), Masahiro Araki (Chunichi), Munenori Kawasaki (Fukuoka), Shinya Miyamoto (Yakult), Shuichi Murata (Yokohama), Hiroyuki Nakajima (Seibu), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Chiba).

Outfielders: Norichika Aoki (Yakult), Atsunori Inaba (Hokkaido), Masahiko Morino (Chunichi), Takahiko "G.G." Sato (Seibu).
 
NETHERLANDS
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Fourth appearance; no medals.
International Track Record
Good, for a European country, with a high point of a fourth-place finish in the 2005 World Cup as the host nation. The Dutch have finished first or second in the European championships every event since 1956, buoyed in large part by players from its Caribbean island possessions such as the Netherlands Antilles and Curacao.
Top MLB Players
RHP Rick VandenHurk (Marlins), RHP Jair Jurrjens (Braves), OF Andruw Jones (Dodgers), OF Roger Bernadina (Nationals).
How It Qualified
Won Europe qualifier.
2008 Skinny
The Netherlands' talent level among its hitters has dipped precipitously since the 2000 Olympics, when big league veterans such as current manager Robert Eenhoorn, Rikkert Faneyte, Ralph Milliard and Hensley Meulens helped upset Cuba. Eenhoorn has to make do with fringy minor league vets in the lineup, led by Mexican League slugger Sharnol Adriana at DH and former big league outfielder Gene Kingsale. A deep pitching staff with plenty of international experience and intriguing prospects such as van Mil, whose fastball hit the mid-90s last November closing for the Dutch in the World Cup, will be the team's strength.

International stalwarts such as righty Rob Cordemans and lefthander Diegomar Markwell, as well as Nationals prospect Shairon Martis—who threw a seven-inning no-hitter for the Dutch in the World Baseball Classic—will mix on the mound with righthander Juan Carlos Sulberan, a 30th-round pick of the Reds this year out of Florida's American Heritage High.

The Florida recruit from the Netherlands Antilles has shown the ability to throw three pitches for strikes, including a low 90s fastball. He also earned his spot on the roster in July's Haarlem Honkbal Week in the Netherlands, pitching six one-hit innings (albeit with five walks and one run allowed) against Cuba in a 2-1 loss.
Roster
Pitchers: David Bergman, Leon Boyd, Rob Cordemans, Diegomar Markwell, Shairon Martis, Alexander Smit, Juan Carlos Sulbaran, Michiel van Kampen, Loek van Mil, Pim Walsma.

Catchers: Sidney de Jong, Tjerk Smeets.

Infielders: Sharnol Adriana, Yurendel de Caster, Michael Duursma, Percey Isenia, Roel Koolen, Raily Legito, Jeroen Sluijter.

Outfielders: Bryan Engelhardt, Gene Kingsale, Martijn Meeuwis, Danny Rombley, Dirk van't Klooster.
 
SOUTH KOREA
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Third appearance; bronze medal, 2000.
International Track Record
Mixed. South Korea has mixed spectacular successes, such as beating Daisuke Matsuzaka to win bronze in 2000 and going undefeated on the way to the WBC championship round, to big disappointments, such as not medaling in the WBC and an eighth-place finish in Atlanta in 1996.
Top MLB Players
RHP Chan Ho Park (Dodgers), RHP Byung-Hyun Kim.
How It Qualified
Finished second in 2008 qualifier.
2008 Skinny
South Korea, Team USA's opening opponent, reached the WBC semifinals in 2006 and was Team USA's toughest foe in Sydney in 2000, losing two close games (3-2, 4-0) started by Roy Oswalt. The Koreans have slugger Lee Seung-yeop on their roster, the country's most recognizable player, who hit five home runs in seven WBC games.

Just four WBC alums made this Olympic roster, however, as big league righthanders Byung-Hyun Kim, Chan Ho Park and Jae Seo did not make the cut or were not available. The most recognizable pitchers to American fans will be former Red Sox and Expos righty Seung Song and lefthander Jung-keun Bong, a former Braves farmhand. Song and Bong are slated to be two of the team's four starters. The biggest omissions were first baseman Kim Tae-kyun, who leads Korea Baesball Organization in home runs, RBIs and slugging this season for the Hanwha Eagles; and Son Min-han, a Lotte Giants pitcher who is 8-3, 2.53.
Roster
Pitchers: Lim Tae-hoon, Oh Seung-hwan, Kwon Hyunk, Song Seung-jun, Han Ki-joo, Kim Kwang-hyun, Chung Dae-hyun, Ryu Hyun-jin, Bong Jung-keun, Jang Won-sam.

Catchers: Jin Kab-yong, Kang Min-ho.

Infielders: Jeong Keun-woo, Kim Dong-joo, Kim Min-jae, Ko Young-min, Lee Dae-ho, Lee Seung-yeop (Yomiuri, Japan), Park Jin-man.

Outfielders: Kim Hyun-soo, Lee Jin-young, Lee Jong-wook, Lee Yong-kyu, Lee Tae-keun.
 
TAIWAN
Olympic History (Appearances, Medals)
Third appearance; silver medal, 1992.
International Track Record
Solid, if unspectacular. Taiwan generally checks in as the No. 3 team in Asia behind Japan and Korea, but it scores high marks as a host nation, with World Cups played there in 2001 and 2007 and several Asian regional tournaments held there as well. After failing to qualify for the Olympics in 1996 and 2000, Taiwan qualified in '04 but failed to reach the medal round in Athens, and the same was true in 2006 in the World Baseball Classic. Taiwan figures to have extra incentive in these Games due to its political tensions with host China.
Top MLB Players
RHP Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees), LHP Hong Chi-Kuo (Dodgers).
How It Qualified
Finished third in 2008 qualifier.
2008 Skinny
Taiwan's roster features Futures Game MVP Che-Hsuan Lin of the Red Sox system, one of two Sox farmhands on the roster. Also making the roster was former Rockies farmhand Chin-Hui Tsao, who pitched for Taiwan in the '04 Olympics as a reliever, and former Dodgers farmhand Chin-Feng Chen. Taiwan will play without Dodgers Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-Lung Hu, both members of its '06 WBC roster, as was Indians farmhand Sung-Wei Tseng, who also isn't on the Olympic roster.

Taiwan's team has three amateur pitchers: Lee Chen-Chang, Lo Chia-Jen and Cheng Kai-Wen. Lo reportedly turned down an offer of around $200,000 to sign with the Red Sox this spring and ranks among the nation's hardest-throwing amateurs, touching 95 mph this spring. Cheng is a 5-foot-9 righthander with a good slider and solid-average velocity, while Lee pitched for Taiwan's college national team this summer and in the Alaska League last summer, throwing in the low 90s last summer.
Roster
Pitchers: Chih-Chia Chang, Wei-Yin Chen, Kai-Wen Cheng, Wen-Hsiung Hsu, Chen-Chang Lee, Chia-Jen Lo, Fu-Te Ni, Wei-Lun Pan, Chin-Hui Tsao, Chien-Fu Yang.

Catchers: Feng-Min Chen, Chih-Kang Kao, Chun-Chang Yeh.

Infielders: Tai-Shan Chang, Chih-Hsien Chiang (Red Sox), Yen-Wen Kuo, Chih-Sheng Lin, Cheng-Min Peng, Chih-Wei Shih.

Outfielders: Chien-Ming Chang, Chin-Feng Chen, Che-Hsuan Lin (Red Sox), Kuo-Hui Lo, Wu-Hsiung Pan.

Contributing: Peter Bjarkman (www.bjarkman.com), Wayne Graczyk.