WBC Provisional Roster Highlights

See also: Veteran dominate U.S. roster

See also: Cuba roster boasts a talented outfield

See also: Preliminary rosters for all 16 teams

The remaining 14 teams in the World Baseball Classic announced their preliminary rosters during the afternoon on Jan. 17. Here is a look at the notable names for each team.


Pool B: with Netherlands, South Korea, host Taiwan

Australia won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, but generally the nation’s international baseball track record has been one of disappointment more than triumph. The Aussies are 1-5 in WBC play all-time, the lone victory coming against Mexico in 2009 (a loss Mexico avenged in the next matchup by a 16-1 score).

It goes into the World Baseball Classic without Athletics pitchers Travis Blackley and Grant Balfour, two of its top major league players, meaning its highlight players are up-and-down big leaguers such as reliever Peter Moylan, infielder Luke Hughes and veteran first baseman Justin Huber. Other Aussie big leaguers who were not on the provisional roster include righty Liam Hendriks (Twins), lefty Josh Spence (Yankees) and righthander Rich Thompson (Blue Jays).

The Aussie roster has just 12 players who are under contract to major league organizations, along with free agents and former minor leaguers currently playing winter ball in the Australian Baseball League. The team’s pitching staff should be a strength with veteran righty Chris Oxspring, who has signed with the Detroit Tigers, and lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith. Oxspring was the hero of the Aussie ’04 Olympic effort, beating Daisuke Matsuzaka and Japan in the semifinal.

The roster also features former Mariners outfielder Chris Snelling and shortstop James Beresford (Twins).


Pool A: with China, Cuba, host Japan

Winner of the Panama qualifier in November, Brazil has much the same roster as it featured in the qualifier, though it does not include the first Brazilian-born big leaguer, catcher Yan Gomes, who drove in the only run in Brazil’s clinching 1-0 victory. Traded to the Indians this offseason, Gomes decided to skip the Classic and focus on trying to win a big league job with his new club.

Brazil does have outfielder Paulo Orlando (Royals) as well as the key pitchers from that upset of Panama such as righties Rafael Fernandes (Yakult Swallows, NPB), Astros farmhand Murilo Gouvea and closer Thyago Vieira (Mariners). The staff also includes White Sox prospect Andre Rienzo and Mariners prospect Luiz Gohara, 17.


Pool D: Italy, Mexico, host United States

Canada’s baseball program is on a hot streak since a disastrous 0-3 showing at Rogers Centre in the 2009 WBC. In the last four years, Canada has a pair of World Cup bronze medals in 2009 and 2011, as well as a 2011 Pan American Games gold medal—its first tournament victory at the senior level ever. Canada also easily won its WBC qualifier in September, beating host Germany.

As usual, Canada’s provisional roster is chock full of veterans of international play. But the name that stands out is righthander Jameson Taillon, the Pirates’ 2010 first-round pick out of a Texas high school. Taillon’s parents are both Canadian, and while he played for USA Baseball as an amateur, he’s tentatively slated to pitch for Canada in the WBC. Canada does not have Mariners lefty James Paxton on the roster, however, nor Twins big league lefty Scott Diamond.

Canada’s lineup should be formidable even without Joey Votto, who is coming off last year’s knee injury. Justin Morneau anchors the lineup along with Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, Pirates catcher Russell Martin and Phillies infielder Pete Orr, who are all veterans of Canada’s WBC team. Canada has added Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders  as well as minor league veterans such as Tim Smith (Orioles), Rene Tosoni (Brewers) and James Van Ostrand (Nationals), with Van Ostrand having performed strongly the last two years in international play.

Canada lacks ideal candidates up the middle, and the two best shortstops on the roster are indy leaguer Jonathan Malo and Cale Iorg, a career .217 hitter in nearly 2000 minor league at-bats.

The Canadian pitching staff is heavy on relievers such as Brewers righties John Axford and Jim Henderson and White Sox vet Jesse Crain. The rotation likely will lean on righty Shawn Hill, Twins lefty Andrew Albers and ex-big leaguer Scott Richmond along with Taiilon.


Pool A: Brazil, Cuba, host Japan

Team China will be managed by John McLaren, the former Mariners manager who is now a scout with the Angels organization. McLaren had hoped to use more Americans of Chinese ethnicity to play for Team China, but he wound up with just two players from affiliated baseball on his provisional roster.

Lefthander Bruce Chen of the Royals is the famous example; the Panamanian-born veteran lefthander surprised some by playing for China, where his parents were born. The other is Triple-A infielder Ray Chang, a career .272 hitter who has spent parts of the last two seasons with Triple-A Rochester in the Twins system. He’s currently in the Reds organization. Chang, originally signed as a nondrafted free agent in 2005 out of Rockhurst (Mo.), is best known as a fine defender.

Among the Chinese players, the most notable player is veteran catcher Wei Wang, who was once signed by the Mariners (and remains on their restricted list) but has never played pro ball in the U.S. Wang also is known for getting trucked by Matt LaPorta in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in a home-plate collision.


Pool C: host Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela

The Dominican Republic is coming off an embarrassing 1-2 showing in the last WBC, losing twice to the Netherlands and failing to advance past the first round. That’s after the Dominican advanced to the semifinals of the ’06 WBC, going 5-2 in the event. The roster of the D.R. released Thursday has just 23 players and is still short of starting pitchers.

As expected, the Dominican has a star-studded big league lineup that features impressive power. The lineup could feature Edwin Encarnacion at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Adrian Beltre at third. That quartet combined for 135 home runs last season in the majors. Sub in Jose Reyes, who hit 11 homers last year and led the majors in batting in 2011, and the offense might actually improve.

The Dominican outfield is less potent but still includes Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Gomez, and catcher Carlos Santana provides still more offensive thump. The Dominican lineup should be one of the best in the field.

Pitchers from the Dominican Republic are not noted for pitchability, and just two of the 11 pitchers on the roster to this point are starters—veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez and Padres righty Edinson Volquez, who led the National League in walks last season. Still, the DR bullpen should be intense with power arms such as Santiago Casilla, Kelvin Herrera, plus Rays teammates Joel Peralta and closer Fernando Rodney.

Righty Alexi Ogando is listed on the provisional roster, but media reports out of Texas indicate the righty will not participate in the WBC.

The Dominican has not had tremendous success internationally, but it has picked up lately, including victories against Team USA and Cuba en route to winning the 2010 World Cup qualifying tournament.


Pool D: Canada, Mexico, U.S.

Italy has leaned heavily on “passport” players, Americans of Italian descent who use the eligibility rules to play for Italy even if they are not from Italy. That makes the Italian entry an intriguing and dangerous one for the WBC, as it includes 10 current or former major leaguers, led by Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and reliever Jason Grilli

Italy also features corner infielder Alex Liddl (Mariners), the first player born and raised in Italy to reach the major leagues, as he did in 2011. It also has a pair of catchers with MLB experience in Francisco Cervelli (Yankees) and Drew Butera (Twins), and a big league infield of Rizzo, Liddi, Nick Punto (Dodgers) and Jeff Bianchi (Brewers).

Italy’s other big leaguers include outfielder Chris Denorfia and 38-year-old pitchers Dan Serafini and Brian Sweeney. Italy’s pitching staff also gets a boost from Triple-A veteran Matt Torra (Nationals) and former Cubs farmhand Alessandro Maestri, who now pitches in Japan. Other minor leaguers include Twins Double-A first baseman Chris Colabello, who lit up Mexican League pitching this winter, and Giants farmhand Tyler LaTorre, a catcher who played for Italy’s 2012 Euro championship team.


Pool A: Brazil, China, Cuba

Japan has won the last two Classics, winning in ’06 behind the combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka, then repeating in 2009 with a strong pitching staff featuring Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma.

Ichiro is now 40, Dice-K is a major league free agent coming off two disastrous seasons, and Darvish and Iwakuma are in the big leagues. Japan’s WBC team meanwhile has no major leaguers, relying exclusively on players in its top league, Nippon Professional Baseball. However, the provisional roster does include 37-year-old former Mets and Astros infielder Kaz Matsui, who plays for Rakuten in the NPB.

Righty Masahiro Tanaka heads the list of veterans of WBC play who are back to help Japan defend its title. The 24-year-old Tanaka is 75-35, 3.50 in six seasons for Rakuten in NPB with career ratios of 8.6 strikeouts and 2.0 walker per nine innings, including an 8.8-1 K/BB ratio in 2012. Righty Kenta Maeda of Hiroshima joins him as a fellow ace, having gone 14-7, 1.53 in 2012 while giving up just six homers in 206 innings.

Other likely starters for Japan include Fukuoka Softbank righty Tadashi Settsu, who went 17-5, 1.91 last season but also was a reliever in the past; and lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, who has won 33 games with sub-2.00 ERA the last two seasons for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Also watch for 5-foot-7 lefty Masahiko Morifuku, listed at 143 pounds and has a 1.26 ERA over 114 innings the last two seasons for Softbank.

Catcher Shinnosuke Abe figures to lead the offense, as he’s both playing at his peak professionally in Japan and has starred to Japanese national teams since his college days.  The 33-year-old was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 Japanese draft and has played for the national team since 1997 when he was 18; he also played in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics and ’09 WBC. He just missed winning the NPB’s Central League triple crown in 2012, batting .340/.429/.565 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs in an MVP season.

Other offensive factors could include 24-year-old shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, a breakout star who hit .311/.359/.456 for Yomiuri this season and could hit third; 32-year-old infielder Shuichi Murata, who starred in the ’09 Classic but has slipped in NPB, from a 1.062 OPS with 46 homers in 2008 to a .690 OPS in 2012; and third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda, a power hitter when healthy who played just 95 games in 2012.


Pool D: Canada, Italy, host U.S.

Mexico has named 20 players to its provisional roster as it navigates an internal dispute between the Triple-A Mexican League and the Mexican Baseball Federation (FeMeBe), which wants the WBC team to lean heavier on Mexicans playing in the majors than on Mexican Leaguers.

The provisional roster has plenty of big leaguers, led by team captain Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers, who has his brother Edgar on the roster as well as Dodgers teammate Luis Cruz with him in the infield; and Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo, joined by fellow Milwaukee teammate Marco Estrada in the rotation.

Mexico scored a coup with the inclusion of middle infielder Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Giants reliever Sergio Romo as Mexican-Americans who agreed to play for Mexico. The roster of big leaguers also includes catcher Rod Barajas, lefty Oliver Perez and righthanders Alfredo Aceves, David Hernandez and Luis Mendoza, as well as ex-big leaguers Alfredo Amezaga and Jorge Cantu.

Mexico didn’t get all the big leaguers it wanted, missing out (so far) on big league lefties Jorge de la Rosa (Rockies) and Jaime Garcia (Cardinals). Media reports out of Mexico indicate both are awaiting medical clearance from their teams after reporting to spring training; the same also holds for Blue Jays lefty Ricky Romero and brothers Jerry and Scott Hairston, who would provide a boost to the lineup.

Media reports out of Mexico have indicated the Mexican League will suspend Mexican League players who play in the WBC, and only one Liga Mexicana de Beisbol player—ex-big leaguer Karim Garcia—is on the provisional roster. If that situation persists, Mexico may have trouble filling out its roster in terms of quality depth and may wind up with indy leaguers or minor leaguers filling out the bench and pitching staff.


Pool B: Australia, South Korea, host Taiwan

The Netherlands features a mix of veterans of Dutch international teams, mixed with young prospects and big league veterans such as outfielders Roger Bernadina and Andruw Jones.

Netherlands has been on a roll in international play in recent years, from beating the Dominican Republic twice and advancing to the second round of the 2009 WBC to winning the 2011 World Cup in Panama.

Managed by Giants coach and 2000 Netherlands Olympian Hensley Meulens, the Dutch roster starts with three of the sport’s most exciting young shortstops: the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar and Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts, who played on the nation’s 2011 World Cup championship team.

Bogaers will either move to third base or outfield in deference to Simmons, while Profar figures to shift to second base. The Dutch team does not include Didi Gregorius, who was their starting shortstop on the ’11 Cup winner, or either Jonathan or Sharlon Schoop, both regulars in international play.

The pitching staff also includes big league free agent Jair Jurrjens and closer Kenley Jansen, who was a catcher for the Netherlands during the 2009 WBC. Righty Rob Cordemans, the top pitcher in the Dutch Major League and ace of the ’11 World Cup team, returns to the staff along with Twins farmhand Tom Stuifbergen, who has pitched better in international play than as a minor leaguer.

Other familiar names on the staff include righties Shairon Martis (who threw a no-hitter against Panama in the ’06 Classic), 7-footer Loek Van Mil and Royals farmhand J.C. Sulbaran.


Pool C: Dominican Republic, Spain, Venezuela

Puerto Rico’s baseball boom of the 1980s and 1990s has faded as big leaguers such as Roberto Alomar, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado and Bernie Williams, among others, have retired. However, Puerto Rico produced the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft in Carlos Correa, as well as a pair of first-rounders in 2011 in Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor (Puerto Ricans who moved to the U.S. as children).

Puerto Rico picked two youngsters in 2012 supplemental first-round pick J.O. Berrios and hard-hitting outfielder/second baseman Eddie Rosario, both of the Twins. But for the most part, Puerto Rico’s WBC roster has gone older with a team of big leaguers, minor league vets and several veteran free agents.

Righty Javier Vazquez headlines that list after sitting out the 2012 season. He had 48 strikeouts in 40 innings for Caguas in the Puerto Rican League this winter, likely pitching himself back to the big leagues and heading the WBC rotation. Other starters should include Dicky Gonzalez, who pitches in Japan’s NPB; White Sox lefty Hector Santiago; and Brewers farmhand Hiram Burgos.

Puerto Rico’s star big leaguers are on the club in Cardinals teammates Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran. Molina headlines this team with catchers Jose Molina (his brother) and Martin Maldonado of the Brewers. The rest of the lineup relies heavily on the outfield with Beltran, Alex Rios (White Sox) and Angel Pagan (Giants). The infield lacks big league talent aside from Mike Aviles (Indians).

Puerto Rico should be able to match up well in late innings with lefty relievers Javier Lopez and J.C. Romero.


Pool B: Australia, Netherlands, host Taiwan

South Korea has consistently contended for world championships in amateur baseball for more than a decade, dating back to when Shin-Soo Choo led the Koreans to the 2000 World Junior Championship ($).

Soon that amateur success translated into a stronger domestic league and then international success, with a bronze medal in Sydney in 2000 and gold in Beijing in 2008, the final Olympiad with baseball. First baseman Lee Seung-Yeop, who has returned to the Korean Baseball Organization after a stint in Japan’s NPB, has helped lead the national team for much of that time and is still on the WBC roster. He’s the KBO’s all-time home runs leader and helped the Samsung Lions to the KBO title last season.

Lefty Ryu Hyun-Jin led the Olympic effort as well as the 2009 Classic runner-up, but he’s not on the provisional WBC roster since signing as a free agent with the Dodgers this offseason. A former big leaguer, right-hander Seo Jae-Weong, could be Ryu’s replacement as the team’s ace. Seo, who went 28-40, 4.60 in six big league seasons spent mostly with the Mets, pitched for the Kia Tigers last season in the KBO, going 9-8, 2.59. Other starters include Doosan Bears righty Noh Kyung Eun and lefty Park Hee-Soo, who went 8-1, 1.32 for the SK Wyverns last season.

Korea is relying on KBO players almost exclusively but its best player could be its lone NPB rep, corner infielder Lee Dae-Ho. He hit 44 homers in his final season in the KBO and hit 24 for Orix in NPB last season, batting .286/.368/.478. He’ll be joined by power-hitting shortstop Kang Jung-Ho, who hit 25 homers last season in the KBO.


Pool C: Dominican Republic, host Puerto Rico, Venezuela

While Italy and the Netherlands usually dominate European baseball, Spain has found success by tapping into passport players and won the September WBC qualifier played in Jupiter, Fla. The Spanish team had 11 players and coaches of Cuban descent (who have a parent from Spain) who helped them upset Israel, with a team of American minor leaguers and ex-big leaguer Shawn Green, in the qualifier final.

Much of the qualifier team is back for the WBC proper, such as indy league shortstop Yunesky Sanchez, a Cuban who had the game-winning hit in the winner-take-all finale against Israel, and former University of Miami stars Danny and Paco Figueroa, veterans of the Spanish team. Paco, the infielder, played in September while his brother did not due to injury. The returnees also include former Futures Gamers Eduardo Morlan, a righthander whom the Twins traded to the Rays in the Delmon Young-Matt Garza deal prior to the 2008 season, and outfielder Engel Beltre (Rangers).

Spain has added some big league reinforcements for the WBC proper. That list includes lefthander Paco Rodriguez of the Dodgers, the former University of Florida reliever who was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the major leagues. Two Astros out of the Dominican Republic—former Mets phenom Fernando Martinez and righty Rhiner Cruz, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Rule 5 draft—also joined up for this round, as did Cardinals righthander Richard Castillo and veteran minor league third baseman Jesus Merchan. Castillo, who went 9-8, 3.27 last season between Double-A Springfield and high Class A Palm Beach, uses a modest three-pitch mix and relies heavily on command.

Spain’s Cuban contingent for this round includes veteran outfielder Yasser Gomez, a former Cuban Olympic team member; and Barbaro Canizares, a former Braves farmhand who now plays in the Mexican League.


Pool B: Australia, Netherlands, South Korea

Taiwan had to go through the qualifier process after going 0-3 in the ’09 Classic, and it cruised through a weak field with Philippines, Thailand and New Zealand to earn a WBC berth. Known as Chinese Taipei in international play in deference to China and the political dispute between the two nations, Taiwan will rely mostly on players from its domestic Chinese Professional Baseball League such as shortstop Lin Chih-Sheng. The 30-year-old Lin (one of six players with the surname Lin on the roster) led the CPBL with 24 homers last season, then was the championship series MVP for the Lamigo Monkeys.

However, Taiwan’s top big league export, righthander Chien-Ming Wang, is on the roster for the Classic. He’s a major league free agent who spent the last two seasons in the Nationals organization. making 21 big league appearances. Former Dodgers lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, also currently a free agent, also is on the roster despite missing all of 2012 with injury, a year in which he was released by both the Mariners and Cubs organizations. The roster does not include Orioles lefthander Wei-Yin Chen or shortstop Chin-Lung Hu, to name two other active or recent Taiwan big leaguers.

Other affiliated players for Taiwan include righthander Chia-Jen Lo, who is on the Astros’ 40-man roster; outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who reached the majors briefly with Boston in 2012 and is now in the Astros system; and former Cubs right-hander Hung-Wen Chen, who reached Triple-A before returning to Taiwan last season. 


Pool C: Dominican Republic, host Puerto Rico, Spain

Venezuela plays host to many international tournaments at the youth levels but has a spotty track record of success at that level and even less of a track record at senior levels of international play—aside from the WBC. Venezuela fell in the second round of the ’06 Classic, then took a third-place finish in ’09 that included a pair of victories against Team USA.

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez returns to Team Venezuela and gives his nation the best pitcher in the tournament on paper, and it remains to be seen what kind of help he gets considering Venezuela’s initial roster stands at 20. For now, Carlos Zambrano, Anibal Sanchez and Henderson Alvarez have signed up for the rotation, with Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez and Jose Mijares among the relievers. For now, just nine pitchers have committed to Venezuela’s roster.

The lineup looks as formidable as any in the tournament can be, led by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval at the infield corners. (Perhaps opposing teams will test Venezuela’s bunt defense.) Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera and WBC veteran Marco Scutaro make this team formidable up the middle as well, with Miguel Montero, WBC veteran Ramon Hernandez and Salvador Perez signed up to do the catching. For Miguel Cabrera and Scutaro, it’s their third WBC for their country.

Big leaguers populate the outfield as well with Carlos Gonzalez, WBC vet Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado. That constitutes an expected changing of the guard considering Bob Abreu and Magglio Ordonez had manned the corners in Venezuela’s two previous WBC clubs.