2023 World Baseball Classic Pool B Preview
Manager: Dave Nilsson
Preview WBC Results: 9th in 2017, 16th in 2013, 12th in 2009, 13th in 2006,
Top Players: OF Aaron Whitefield, RHP Warwick Saupold, OF Darryl George
Top Prospects: RHP Kyle Glogoski (Reds), 1B Rixon Wingrove (Phillies), C Alex Hall (Brewers)
Hitting: Whitefield (12 PA) is Australia’s only position player to have played in the major leagues and doesn’t have much help behind him. Hall and Ulrich Bojarski finished 1-2 in batting average in the Australian Baseball League over the winter, George is a former ABL MVP and slugging catcher Jordan McArdle has the power to change a game at any time. Royals Double-A infielder Robbie Glendinning is the only other hitter of note in a shallow lineup that will struggle to score against high-level arms.
Pitching: Australia has produced some successful MLB pitchers, but none are participating in the WBC. Former Tigers righthander Saupold and 45-year-old righthander Chris Oxspring are the staff’s only two pitchers with major league experience. Glogoski and ABL veterans Tim Atherton and Josh Guyer help fill out the rotation while fellow ABL vets Mitch Neunborn, Steve Kent and Sam Holland lead the relief corps. Lefthanders Jack O’Loughlin (Tigers) and Will Sherriff (D-backs) are two young pitchers to watch.
Bottom Line: Unlikely to make it out of pool play.
Manager: Dean Treanor
Preview WBC Results: 16th in 2017, 13th in 2013, 11th in 2009, 15th in 2006
Top Players: SS Ray Chang, OF Yusuke Masago, C Li Ning
Top Prospects: RHP Alan Carter (Angels)
Hitting: China is short on experienced position players and has struggled to score in international play, including scoring just one run in three games in the 2017 WBC. Chang is the team’s stalwart as a 12-year minor leaguer who played in the last three WBCs and drove in China’s only run in 2017. Masago played six seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Ning was one of China’s few players to record a hit in the last WBC. China doesn’t have much beyond them and will be challenged to score once again.
Pitching: China is inexperienced on the mound and will overwhelmingly rely on unproven newcomers. Righthander Alan Carter, who was born in Singapore, signed with the Angels in January as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Lee (Tenn.) and is the only pitcher on the roster with even college experience. Lefthander Chaoqun Zheng pitched 1.1 innings in the last WBC and is the team’s most experienced returner. China surrendered 24 runs in three games in the last WBC and will likely be in for similar struggles again.
Bottom Line: Just happy to be here.
Manager: Pavel Chadim
Preview WBC Results: Making first WBC appearance
Top Players: 2B Eric Sogard, C Martin Cervenka, SS/RHP Martin Schneider
Top Prospects: RHP Boris Vecerka (D-backs)
Hitting: The Czechs went on a Cinderella run to qualify for their first WBC and feature a roster of players who hold regular jobs during the week and play in the local Czech Extraliga on weekends. Schneider, the league’s longtime star, is a firefighter. Chadim, the manager, is a neurologist. Sogard gives the Czechs a former major leaguer to lean on and Cervenka is a 10-year minor league veteran. Infielder Vojtech Mensik played at North Carolina State and in the Angels system, but the lineup is otherwise made up of players whose primary profession is not baseball.
Pitching: The Czechs similarly lack experience on the pitching staff. Six-foot-8 righthander Marek Minarik played four minor league seasons with the Pirates and Phillies and righthander Jan Novak played two seasons of Rookie ball for the Orioles. That accounts for all of the affiliated professional experience of the Czech staff, although many of the Extraliga’s top pitchers are on the roster, including Schneider, righthander Lukas Ercoli and former Utah Valley State lefthander Jeff Barto. Vecerka leads a host of 22 or younger pitchers who represent the future of Czech baseball.
Bottom Line: Just happy to be here.
Manager: Hideki Kuriyama
Previous WBC Results: 3rd in 2017, 3rd in 2013, 1st in 2009, 1st in 2006
Top Players: RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani, RHP Yu Darvish, OF Seiya Suzuki
Top Prospects: RHP Roki Sasaki, RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto, 3B Munetaka Murakami
Hitting: Japan features power up and down its lineup with Ohtani, Suzuki, Murakami, reigning Pacific League home run champion Hotaka Yamakawa and five-time 30-home run hitter Kazuma Okamoto. It’s an explosive offense filled with players who can change a game with one swing, but it’s hardly one-dimensional. Yoshida and Kensuke Kondo are premium contact hitters and Ukyo Shuto and Takumu Nakano are speedsters who can wreak havoc on the bases. With a diverse mix of power, patience, contact and speed, Japan has a well-rounded lineup that can beat opponents in many different ways.
Pitching: Japan boasts a World Series-caliber rotation that is the best in the tournament with Ohtani, Darvish, Sasaki and Yamamoto. Ohtani and Darvish are frontline MLB starters and Sasaki and Yamamoto project to be when they come to MLB. Japan’s elite rotation can shut down any lineup and is its greatest advantage in the tournament, but the bullpen is also excellent with top NPB closers Ryoji Kuribayashi, Yuki Matsui and Taisei Ota. Scoring against Japan will be tough for any opponent.
Bottom Line: Championship contender.
Manager: Kang-Chul Lee
Previous WBC Results: 10th in 2017, 9th in 2013, 2nd in 2009, 3rd in 2006
Top Players: 2B Tommy Edman, SS Ha-Seong Kim, LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim
Top Prospects: OF Jung-Hoo Lee, 1B Baek-Ho Kang, SS/2B Hye-Seong Kim
Hitting: South Korea struggled to score in the last two WBCs and beefed up its lineup in response. Edman and Ha-Seong Kim give the team two established MLB hitters while former big leaguers Hyun-Soo Kim and Byung-Ho Park provide power in the middle of the lineup. Young KBO standouts Lee and Kang further bolster the offense, as does longtime slugger Sung-Bum Na. Korea’s lineup doesn’t have a singular standout, but it is deep one through nine and has a solid blend of power, contact and speed.
Pitching: Lefties Kwang-Hyun Kim and Hyeon-jong Yang front South Korea’s rotation as two longtime international veterans with MLB experience. South Korea is short on proven starters beyond them, but 31-year-old righthander Young-Pyo Ko gives hitters a different look as a sidearmer with good command. Righthander Woo-Suk Go features a fastball up to 98 mph at the back of the bullpen and Woo-Young Jung is another sidearmer with a power fastball/slider combination.
Bottom Line: Likely to reach the quarterfinals, but more will require an upset.