Baseball has had a World Cup tournament since 1938.
Apparently, that history matters most to the Mets and Davey Johnson.
Johnson, the longtime big league manager, will skipper Team USA at the World Cup that begins Friday in the Netherlands. His roster of minor leaguers—mostly from affiliated ball but with two independent leaguers—has precious little premium talent, aside from a pair of Mets.
Team USA features one marquee minor leaguer: Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge, who represented his country on the 2002 junior national team. The Mets also gave Team USA permission to have righthander Brian Bannister, even though Triple-A Norfolk is headed for the International League playoffs.
Other organizations were less willing to give Team USA players heading for minor league postseasons, which made building a team difficult for USA Baseball. It could ask players to participate only if they weren’t already on 40-man rosters, and the timing of the tournament discouraged organizations from loaning players if minor league affiliates were in their playoffs.
So the roster has few high-ceiling players. Aside from the Mets representatives, the best prospects are Padres righthander Jared Wells, Mariners catcher Rob Johnson and Astros shortstop Ben Zobrist. USA Baseball has its offices in Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and the team has a pronounced Bulls flavor. Five Bulls will make the trip, including former Blue Jays prospect Josh Phelps.
When compiling the team, USA Baseball relied on players who know what it’s like to represent the U.S. in international competition, so alumni such as Milledge are prominent on the roster. Lefthander Jason Jacome (pitching professionally in Mexico) and Jason Phillips, versatile veterans Jeff Deardorff (Devil Rays) and Brant Ust (Red Sox) and outfielder Chris Latham (independent Atlantic League) all have played for Team USA as amateurs or as professionals.
Baseball Canada also had trouble putting together a prospect-laden roster, though they did snare Futures Game righthander Scott Mathieson (Phillies), former big leaguers Rob Butler and Simon Pond (Orioles) and Mariners speedster Sebastien Boucher.
The 16-team tournament will be divided into two groups for pool play. Team USA will be with Australia, Colombia, Greece, Japan, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Spain and Taiwan. Canada joins Cuba in a pool that also includes Brazil, China, the host Dutch, Panama, South Africa, Korea and Sweden. Team USA begins play Sunday against Colombia, while Team Canada takes on Sweden.
Cuba, which has won 11 of 12 World Cups since 1974 (host Korea won in 1982), is the prohibitive favorite, and the Cubans will send their best team to the event. The Cuban roster includes veterans such as righthander Pedro Luis Lazo, catcher Ariel Pestano, outfielder Carlos Tabares and shortstop Eduardo Paret, as well as younger Cuban stars such as outfielders Osmany Urrutia and Frederich Cepeda and second baseman Yulieski Gourriel.
Here are the rosters for the United States and Canada:
Brian Bannister (Mets); Greg Bauer (Phillies); *Gilbert De la Vara (Royals), *Mark Freed (Diamondbacks), James Garcia (Giants), Talley Haines (Cubs), *Jason Jacome (Mexico), *Chris Michalak (Diamondbacks), Chris Mobley (Marlins), Jason Phillips (Devil Rays), J.J. Trujillo (Indy), Jared Wells (Padres)
Rob Johnson (Mariners), Brian Peterson (Reds)
Brooks Badeaux (Devil Rays), Mike Cervenak (Giants), Bryan LaHair (Mariners), Josh Phelps (Devil Rays), Brant Ust (Red Sox), Ben Zobrist (Astros)
Jeff Deardorff (Devil Rays), Trenidad Hubbard (Devil Rays), Chris Latham (Indy), Lastings Milledge (Mets).
*Jordy Alexander (Indy); Chris Begg (Giants); Brent Crowther; *Jordan Gerk (Cubs); Brett Gray (Indy); Scott Mathieson (Phillies); Chris Mears (Cardinals); *Steve Murray (Indy); John Ogiltree (Nationals); *Reggie Rivard (Indy).
Luc Carlin (Padres); Eric Langill (Dodgers).
Hyung Cho (Pirates); Lee Delfino (Indy); Geoff McCallum (Indy); Greg Morrison (Indy); Simon Pond (Orioles); Matt Rogelstad (Mariners).
Sebastien Boucher (Mariners); Rob Butler; Kyle Leon (Indy); Ben Van Iderstine (Brewers); Jeremy Ware (Indy).
*denotes lefthanded pitcher. Indy denotes plays in independent league.