2017 World Baseball Classic: Pool B Capsules

SEE ALSO: Complete World Baseball Classic Coverage

SEE ALSO: WBC Spotlight: Cuba


Manager: Jon Deeble (Dodgers) | 2013 WBC Result: Eliminated in first round
Top Players: RHP Peter Moylan, LHP Travis Blackley, OF Trent Oeltjen
Top Prospect: LHP Lachlan Wells (Twins)

Hitting: Australia needs consistency from its international veteran hitters, with former big leaguers Oeltjen, Luke Hughes and Brad Harman leading the way in experience but all several years removed from major league rosters. The squad will look to James Beresford to anchor the infield, with high expectations from 20-year-old outfielder Aaron Whitefield to adjust to the WBC stage quickly and contribute.

Pitching: The biggest strength of the Aussie squad is the bullpen that houses big league arms in Moylan, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Warwick Saupold along with Australian Baseball League standout Ryan Searle, but the late decision of Liam Hendricks not to play hurts. Active in the Mexican League, Blackley also could start in the tournament. Young lefties Wells and Jon Kennedy could be called upon situationally and like the majority of hurlers from down under, have been playing through the winter months in the ABL. That winter-ball time could be an advantage over teams with pitchers just getting cranked up for the Classic.

Bottom Line: Perhaps the best team the Aussies have had, but they still need every player at the top of his game to advance.

— Alexis Brudnicki


Manager: John McLaren (Phillies) | 2013 WBC Result: Eliminated in first round
Top Players: SS Ray Chang, LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Kwon Ju
Top Prospect: 1B Gui Yuan Xu (Orioles)

Hitting: Chang leads a lineup that predominantly features players from the China Baseball League. The 33-year-old shortstop doesn’t have any major league time, but has been in the minors since 2005, reaching Triple-A in 2006. After hitting .257/.316/.304 in 72 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year in the Reds system, Chang’s career is winding down, but he’s the best hitter in China’s lineup. China also has first baseman Xu, who signed with the Orioles for $10,000 in 2015 and batted .247/.271/.284 in 85 plate appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year.

Pitching: Can Bruce Chen pitch every day? Chen, a 39-year-old whose major league career lasted 17 years, is the staff ace and China’s only player with major league experience. Deploying Chen against Australia or Cuba would be China’s best chance to squeak out a victory.

Bottom Line: China is an extreme long shot to get past the first round, but the focus here will be on how much improvement Chinese baseball has made since the 2013 WBC. Progress can be slow, but the arrows from 2013 are
pointing in the right direction.

— Ben Badler


Manager: Carlos Marti | 2013 WBC Result: Eliminated in second round
Top Players: OF Alfredo Despaigne, OF Victor Mesa, RHP Vladimir Garcia
Top Prospect: N/A

Hitting: Defections have drained Cuba’s lineup. The most dangerous hitter Cuba has is Despaigne, a rotund 5-foot-9 masher with an aggressive approach and huge power. Mesa is an explosive athlete with plus-plus speed who will have the attention of scouts as the team’s best prospect. Roel Santos is another excellent runner with more of a slap-and-dash approach and limited power. Cuba doesn’t have Yoenis Cespedes, though younger brother Yoelquis is on the team.

Pitching: Get ready for a bunch of 85-88 mph fastballs, slurvy breaking balls, splitters and pitchers trying to get by on smoke and mirrors. There aren’t many pitchers in Cuba who throw harder than 90 mph, though Garcia is an exception with the ability to reach 95 mph. Livan Moinelo, 20, is a small, slender lefty who throws mid-to-upper 80s but keeps hitters off balance with an excellent changeup and good spin on his breaking ball, often pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen.

Bottom Line: At the first WBC, Cuba was a powerhouse team. Now, the question isn’t whether they will win, but whether they will make it past the first round.

— Ben Badler


Manager: Hiroki Kokubo | 2013 WBC Result: Lost to Puerto Rico in semifinals
Top Players: RHP Shintaro Fujinami, 2B Tetsuto Yamada, RHP Takahiro Norimoto
Top Prospect: N/A

Hitting: Infielders Sho Nakata and Hayato Sakomoto return from Japan’s 2013 WBC team, while Astros outfielder Nori Aoki is Japan’s lone player on a major league roster. Second baseman Yamata, 24, is one to watch. The Central League MVP in 2015, Yamada followed up last year by batting .304/.425/.607 with 38 home runs and 97 walks in 133 games.

Pitching: The biggest disappointment in the WBC is the lack of Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s sensational two-way threat. Without Ohtani or big leaguers like Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish or Kenta Maeda, Japan’s pitching staff takes a hit, but Norimoto is one to watch. The 26-year-old has a small frame but a big fastball, posting a 2.91 ERA with 216 strikeouts and 50 walks in 195 innings last year. At 6-foot-5, Fujinami is a 22-year-old with an electric fastball and swing-and-miss secondaries, though he is still learning to hone his command.

Bottom Line: Japan should easily advance to the second round and it would be a disappointment if they didn’t at least reach the semifinals. Even without Ohtani and some of their best pitching, Japan is a legitimate threat to win it all.

— Ben Badler

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