Michael Roth, Ricky Oropesa Among Prospects Playing In World Baseball Classic Qualifiers

Michael Roth threw 89 pitches and six strong innings on Feb. 17 to beat VMI in South Carolina's season-opener.

A full seven months and likely more than 160 innings later, Roth still will be pitching in a game that matters—at least to somebody.

Roth, the cover boy on BA's 2012 College Preview and ace for South Carolina's last two teams, now pitches in the Angels system after signing as a ninth-round pick. The lefthander will continue his season by pitching for Great Britain in the third installment of the World Baseball Classic, which begins in September with two of the four four-team qualifiers that will whittle the field down from 28 to 16. The WBC championship will be decided in March in San Francisco.

The first two qualifiers will take place concurrently from Sept. 19-23. Roth's Great Britain club will join Canada, the Czech Republic and host Germany in a qualifier in Regensburg, in the German state of Bavaria. Meanwhile, in Jupiter, Fla., France, Israel, South Africa and Spain will face off at Roger Dean Stadium.

Roth tweeted the news first (he's @mtroth29), and in a follow-up interview said the British Baseball Federation contacted him during his college career about possibly playing for the country, and the Angels have agreed to let him make one appearance, though he'll be on a 65-pitch limit.

"I would love to represent America," said the lefthander, who went 23-4, 1.72 the last two seasons for the Gamecocks and had a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings for Rookie-level Orem. "But it's also cool to represent my heritage, something that's been passed down to me from my family.

"I'm pretty excited to go and compete. Plus it's a free trip to Europe," continued Roth, who spent last summer studying abroad in Spain.

Clubs and nations are keeping WBC qualifier rosters quiet, but there are other affiliated and independent-league players slated to compete in September, as well as former major leaguers readying to play for Israel. Brad Ausmus will manage the team, and ex-big leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler are listed as player-coaches. Ausmus confirmed the two hope to play, with Kapler, a 37-year-old who last played in the majors in 2010, likely to play outfield and Green, 39 and inactive since 2007, likely limited to DH.

Ausmus said official rosters are due Sept. 12 and didn't want to talk about specific players but confirmed that Dodgers farmhand Jake Lemmerman, who spent this season at Double-A Chattanooga, was going to be his team's shortstop. Mets infielder Josh Satin said via email he was not currently on the Israeli roster; he's likely hoping for a September callup, even though he was outrighted off the Mets' 40-man roster earlier this year.

"The great majority of our players will be affiliated players of Jewish descent," Ausmus said. "We'll have three or four native-born Israelis as well." That contingent is led by 5-foot-9 righthander Alon Leichman, a sophomore at Cypress (Calif.) JC, who posted a 4.22 ERA in 10.2 innings as a freshman. Leichman then threw 54 innings with a 2.18 ERA this summer in a summer league called the Far West League.

"Quite frankly, there was no easy way to find players," said Ausmus, currently a special assistant in the Padres' baseball operations department. "It would be ideal to see them all, but there's no way to do that, so we're going off scouting reports, stats, contacts we have in the game . . . We had a follow list of 70 or so players of alleged Jewish heritage, and names have been added and subtracted from that list during the process."

Israel's team of affiliated players likely will be the favorite in Jupiter. Canada, which won the Pan American Games last November in Mexico, will be the favorite in Germany. A winless appearance in the 2009 WBC means Canada has to play in the qualifier against host Germany, which figures to have minor leaguers Max Kepler (Twins) and Donald Lutz (Reds) lead its team. In the past, Canada has leaned on veterans of its international team, and outfielder Tim Smith (Braves) and lefthander Andrew Albers (Twins) confirmed they were expecting to play for the team.

South Africa's qualifier roster, according to BaseballSA.com, includes eight players from affiliated ball, led by shortstops Gift Ngoepe (Pirates) and Anthony Phillips (Mariners), righthander Kieran Lovegrove (Indians, a third-round pick this June)  and lefthander Hein Robb (Twins).

Other affiliated players include righthanders Robert Lewis-Walker (Reds), Tayler Scott (Cubs) and Dylan De Meyer and Dylan Unsworth (Mariners).  All the pitchers have experience in short-season or Rookie-level rosters, with Ngoepe, 22, having just completed a .230/.328/.329 season at high Class A Bradenton. Phillips, 22 and also primarily a shortstop, hit .214/.300/.305 in the low Class A Midwest League.

Roth will have company on England's roster for affiliated players. Bahama natives Antoan Richardson (Orioles), an outfielder, and Albert Cartwright (Phillies), a middle infielder, are both playing for Great Britain. They're eligible, according to this article, because the Bahamas doesn't have a team in the WBC and their parents were born in the Bahamas when the island nation was still a British colony.

Reds scout Jim Stoeckel will manage France's entry, with a roster featuring indy leaguers such as former Twins farmhand Rene Leveret and ex-Dodgers minor leaguer Joris Bert. France also will have Quebecois righty Eric Gagne, though he has signed up as pitching coach, not as a pitcher.

Stoeckel said he was excited about 5-foot-9 shortstop Max LeFevre, who hit .257/.352/.298 with 31 stolen bases last spring as a freshman at Cochise (Ariz.) JC, but said most of the rest of his roster will feature players in France's domestic leagues, where his son Jeff (a former player at Harvard) coaches a team in Paris.

Brothers Danny and Paco Figueroa, alumni of the Orioles farm system and the University of Miami, confirmed they will be playing for Spain once again. The outfielder and middle infielder have become staples of Spain's international clubs. Paco Figueroa remains active, playing in the independent Atlantic League. Spain's team also will feature former Futures Gamer Eduardo Morlan, who is Figueroa's teammate on Southern Maryland, and catcher Leonardo Hernandez (Blue Jays).

The other two qualifiers are scheduled for November in Panama and Taiwan. Giants farmhand Ricky Oropesa confirmed via Twitter that he will play for the Philippines, where his maternal grandfather boxed. The Filipino team also is also expected to have White Sox farmhand Leighton Pangilinan and ex-Giants lefthander Geno Espineli.

We'll have more names of minor leaguers heading to WBC qualifiers as they become available.