SEE ALSO: Complete World Baseball Classic Coverage
SEE ALSO: WBC Spotlight: Puerto Rico
Manager: Marco Mazzieri | 2013 WBC Result: Seventh place, lost in second round
Top Players: 1B/DH Chris Colabello, C Francisco Cervelli, 2B/3B Daniel Descalso
Top Prospects: SS Gavin Cecchini (Mets), OF Brandon Nimmo (Mets)
Hitting: Without Anthony Rizzo—a stalwart on the surprising 2013 team—Italy is short on power and will rely on veterans Colabello, Cervelli and minor league veteran Alex Liddi for pop. There are big leaguers to fill out the lineup around those three, including Descalso, Drew Butera, Rob Segedin and Mets prospects Nimmo and Cecchini, giving the Italians a respectable if not explosive lineup.
Pitching: The Italians are short on experienced starters, the biggest hole on their team. Righthanders Sam Gaviglio (Mariners), Trey Nielsen (Cardinals) and Jordan Romano (Blue Jays) have had minor league success as starters, but now, in short bursts, they’ll face some big leaguers. Tommy Layne and Pat Venditte lead a bullpen with some major league-experienced arms but not much in the way of depth or premium velocity.
Bottom Line: Italy was a big surprise in 2013 with its upset of Mexico, but stands little chance of getting out of the first round in this Group of Death.
Manager: Edgar Gonzalez | 2013 WBC Result: Lost in first round
Top Players: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LHP Julio Urias, RHP Roberto Osuna
Top Prospects: OF Alex Verdugo (Dodgers), 2B Luis Urias (Padres), RHP Giovanny Gallegos (Yankees)
Hitting: Gonzalez will give Mexico a potent middle-of-the-order threat, provided a balky elbow doesn’t preclude him playing for his brother, the manager. Verdugo could use the WBC as a breakout. Brandon Laird hit 73 home runs the last two NPB seasons. Efren Navarro has big league experience, but Mexican and Japanese leaguers mostly make up the rest.
Pitching: The pitching staff is the backbone of Mexico’s team and one of the deepest units in the tournament. Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez and Urias give Mexico an array of accomplished starting options, but Jaime Garcia and Jorge de la Rosa bowing out late hurts. The bullpen is even stronger, with Osuna, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas, Sergio Romo, Vidal Nuno and Oliver Perez figuring to play prominent roles. With so many options, Mexico can match up with almost any lineup in the tournament.
Bottom Line: Second round in reach, especially with home-field advantage in round one.
Manager: Edwin Rodríguez (Padres) | 2013 WBC Result: Runner-up, lost to Dominican Republic
Top Players: SS Carlos Correa, SS Francisco Lindor, OF Carlos Beltran
Top Prospects: RHP Jose De Leon (Rays), RHP Jorge Lopez (Brewers), RHP Joe Jimenez (Tigers)
Hitting: Puerto Rico boasts one of the best groups of position player talent in the WBC, with three players capable of playing shortstop—Correa, Lindor and the Cubs’ Javier Baez— as well as slugging veteran Carlos Beltran and catcher Yadier Molina, the heart of the 2013 WBC runner-up. Big leaguers Angel Pagan, Enrique Hernandez, Kennys Vargas, and T.J. Rivera provide length and pop to what should be one of the better lineups in the tournament.
Pitching: Puerto Rico reached the finals with makeshift pitching in ‘13. This time around it boasts electric young arms such as De Leon, Lopez and Jose Berrios. Lefty Hector Santiago is the veteran of the group. There are flamethrowers in the bullpen too, with Jimenez and Edwin Diaz possessing some of the best stuff in the tournament and Alex Claudio, J.C. Romero and Seth Lugo there to provide quality support.
Bottom Line: Once again a title contender, with anything less than a semifinals trip a deep disappointment.
Manager: Omar Vizquel (Tigers) | 2013 WBC Result: Lost in first round
Top Players:1B Miguel Cabrera, 2B Jose Altuve, RHP Felix Hernandez
Top Prospects: LHP Jose Alvarado (Rays), Jhondaniel Medina (Cubs)
Hitting: Look no further for the best lineup in the pool, and one of the very best in the entire tournament. Cabrera, a future Hall of Famer, and Altuve are two of the most talented hitters in the world. Carlos Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Salvador Perez, Martin Prado, Ender Inciarte, Yangervis Solarte, Odubel Herrera, Freddy Galvis, Alcides Escobar . . . the lineup goes on and on for the Venezuelans, who should feast on more shallow pitching staffs of the WBC.
Pitching: As exceptional as the lineup is, pitching could be a problem for the Venezuelans. Felix Hernandez is a clear No. 1 starter, but Martin Perez is the best of a mostly uninspiring group beyond him. Shaky starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Jhoulys Chacin and current free agents Franklin Morales and Yusmeiro Petit make up the rest of the starting options. More importantly, Venezuela boasts a strong bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez, Hector Rondon and Jeanmar Gomez.
Bottom Line: Will go as far as pitching takes them, which could be safely second round.