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Americas Qualifier Preview: Breaking Down Team USA's Chances For An Olympic Berth



The Americas Qualifier is set to begin May 31, with eight teams competing against one another in the hopes of earning an Olympic bid.

The team with the best record at the end of the qualifier will be declared a winner and earn an automatic berth to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The second-place and third-place finishers will advance to the Final Qualifier in Mexico, where they will have one last chance to qualify for the Olympics.

The Americas Qualifier begins with three games of pool play. The top two finishers in each pool will advance to the Super Round, where they will each play two more games. The team with the best record at the end of the Super Round will be declared the winner and earn a spot in the Summer Games.

Here is a preview of the Americas Qualifier, including who to watch for and each team's chances of advancing to the Olympics.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect Matt Wieters' removal from Team USA's roster and Jose Rondon, Wil Ledezma and Tomas Telis' removal from Venezuela's roster.

The full schedule for the qualifier can be found here

GROUP A

UNITED STATES

Manager: Mike Scioscia

Last Olympics appearance: 2008

Notable players: OF Matt Kemp, RHP Homer Bailey, 3B Todd Frazier, RHP David Robertson.

Top prospects: LHP Matthew Liberatore (Cardinals), RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (Blue Jays), 1B Triston Casas (Red Sox), OF Jarren Duran (Red Sox), RHP Joe Ryan (Rays).

Team Strengths: Both the lineup and pitching staff should be among the best in the tournament field. Kemp, Frazier, 2B Logan Forsythe and OF Jon Jay have all played in the majors within the last two years and bring decades of experience to the lineup. Bailey, Robertson and RHP Edwin Jackson lead a pitching staff that includes seven players with big league pitching experience, although only Bailey has pitched in the majors since 2019.

Team Weaknesses: Outfield defense could be Team USA’s one Achilles heel. Kemp is a DH at this point in his career and Jay, 36, has seen his defense decline with age. Duran and Mariners prospect Eric Filia—the only other outfielders on the roster—have been defensive liabilities at times in the minors.

Bottom line: Team USA has the deepest and most talented roster in the qualifier. They are the heavy favorite to win the event and qualify for the Olympics, and anything less will be a disappointment.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Manager: Hector Borg

Last Olympics appearance: 1992

Notable players: OF Jose Bautista, OF Melky Cabrera, OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio, 1B Juan Francisco, RHP Jumbo Diaz

Top prospects: OF Julio Rodriguez (Mariners), OF Luis Liberato (Mariners), SS Jeison Guzman (Royals), RHP Emilio Vargas (White Sox).

Team Strengths: The Dominicans should score plenty of runs with a powerful lineup led by Bautista, Cabrera, Rodriguez, Bonifacio and Francisco. The offense is balanced with both righthanded and lefthanded threats, as well as a mix of contact hitters and sluggers.

Team Weaknesses: The Dominicans have few reliable pitchers in either their rotation or bullpen. The staff does have some big league experience led by Diaz and RHP Radhames Liz, but only one pitcher—reliever Williams Jerez—has pitched in the majors since 2018. Most of the pitchers on staff are out of baseball or pitching in foreign leagues.

Bottom line: The Dominicans and their potent offense are Team USA’s biggest threat in Group A. Even if they don’t win the qualifier, they should finish in the top three and advance to the final qualifier in Mexico.

PUERTO RICO

Manager: Juan Gonzalez

Last Olympics appearance: 1992

Notable players: 3B Jesmuel Valentin, 2B/SS Ivan De Jesus, OF Noel Cuevas, RHP Jason Garcia.

Top prospects: None

Team Strengths: Puerto Rico has a solid infield with Valentin, De Jesus and 2B Rey Navarro, all of whom played in the major leagues. 1B Kevin Luciano, a power hitter who led Puerto Rico to the gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, rounds out the infield.

Team Weaknesses: Most of Puerto Rico’s roster is no longer active in either the majors or minors. A lack of both depth and star power, combined with a lack of recent high-level playing experience, puts them at a decided disadvantage against Team USA and the Dominican Republic.

Bottom line: Puerto Rico will need to pull off a massive upset to beat the U.S. or Dominican Republic. A third-place finish in Group A is the most likely outcome.

NICARAGUA

Manager: Marvin Benard

Last Olympics appearance: 1996

Notable players: LHP Carlos Teller, 3B Ofilio Castro, RHP Jorge Bucardo, RHP Osman Gutierrez

Top prospects: LHP Dilmer Mejia (White Sox), C Melvin Novoa (Rangers), SS Steven Leyton (Reds), OF Ismael Munguia (Giants).

Team Strengths: Nicaragua has familiarity and chemistry on its side. The bulk of the roster has played together for years in international competitions, including at the 2019 Pan American Games where it won the bronze medal. The pitching staff in particular has a solid mix of professional and international experience, led by Teller, Bucardo, Gutierrez, LHP Elias Gutierrez, LHP Elvin Garcia and RHP Junior Tellez.

Team Weaknesses: Nicaragua doesn’t have many offensive threats and the pitching staff will be facing vastly superior hitters than what they've previously seen. No one on Nicaragua’s roster has played in the major leagues, making it the only team in Group A without at least one former major leaguer.

Bottom line: Just winning a game will count as a success for Nicaragua. Its best shot will come against Puerto Rico in pool play.

Team USA Roster 2021

Tokyo Olympics Baseball Rosters Will Not Include 40-Man Players

Team USA will once again be limited to using non 40-man roster players in the Olympics.

GROUP B

CANADA

Manager: Ernie Whitt

Last Olympics appearance: 2008

Notable players: RHP John Axford, RHP Scott Mathieson, RHP Chris Leroux.

Top prospects: OF Jacob Robson (Tigers), LHP Ryan Kellogg (Blue Jays), LHP Ben Onyshko (Mariners).

Team Strengths: Team Canada’s pitching staff should be stout with six former major leaguers in Axford, Mathieson, Leroux, RHP Scott Richmond, RHP Andrew Albers and RHP Dustin Molleken. The roster includes 12 players who were part of the team that won the silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, making Canada one of the qualifier’s most experienced teams in international play.

Team Weaknesses: Offense could be hard to come by. None of Canada’s position players have major league experience and none of the prospects on the roster are prolific hitters compared to those on other teams. Scoring runs has been a problem for the Canadians before. At WBSC Premier12, they hit .191 and scored five runs in three games.

Bottom line: Canada’s pitching staff gives it a chance to advance out of Group B. While winning the tournament would be a surprise, it has a solid chance to finish in the top three and advance to the final qualifier.

COLOMBIA

Manager: Jair Fernandez

Last Olympics appearance: Never

Notable players: RHP Yohan Pino, RHP Sugar Ray Marimon.

Top prospects: SS Jeter Downs (Red Sox), OF Jhon Torres (Cardinals), 3B Jordan Diaz (Athletics), OF Brayan Buelvas (Athletics), LHP Reiver Sanmartin (Reds).

Team Strengths: Colombia’s lineup is full of youthful, dynamic talents in Downs, Torres, Diaz and Buelvas. That young group is complemented by current or former upper-level minor leaguers like C Carlos Martinez, 2B Brallan Perez and 3B Mauricio Ramos, giving the lineup a mix of talent and experience that could carry the team.

Team Weaknesses: The pitching staff is extremely short on upper-level experience beyond former big leaguers Pino and Marimon. Sanmartin and RHP Jasier Herrera give the staff some upper-minors experience, but the majority of the pitchers are no longer in affiliated baseball.

Bottom line: Colombia is a sleeper with its intriguing lineup and the fairly open nature of Group B. Advancing to the Super Round isn’t out of the question.

CUBA

Manager: Armando Ferrer

Last Olympics appearance: 2008

Notable players: OF Frederich Cepeda, OF Alfredo Despaigne, SS Erisbel Arruebarrena, OF Roel Santos.

Top prospects: None.

Team Strengths: Cuba is the tournament’s most experienced team in international play. Cepeda and Despaigne are longtime stars and are joined by Santos, INF Yordan Manduley, C Yosvani Alarcon, RHP Lazaro Blanco, LHP Yoennis Yera and RHP Livan Moinelo as holdovers from Cuba’s 2017 World Baseball Classic team. Cepeda and Despaigne lead what could be a dangerous lineup that also includes former Dodgers shortstop Arruebarrena and 1B Lisban Correa, the reigning Serie Nacional MVP.

Team Weaknesses: Cuba’s roster is on the older side after many of the country’s best young players left in droves in recent years. The thought that most of the players’ best days were behind them gained steam at the WBSC Premier12 in 2019, when Cuba scored three runs in three games and was eliminated in the Opening Round.

Bottom line: Group B is fairly open without a clear-cut favorite. If Cuba’s veterans show they still have something left in the tank, it has chance to advance to the Super Round.

VENEZUELA

Manager: Jose Alguacil

Last Olympics appearance: Never

Notable players: RHP Anibal Sanchez, C Robinson Chirinos, INF Hernan Perez

Top prospects: OF Diego Rincones (Giants), RHP Andres Sotillet (Royals), 2B Oswaldo Cabrera (Yankees)

Team Strengths: Venezuela has the most major league experience of any team in Group B and should pitch well in particular. Sanchez, Ledezma and other former big leaguers will throw to a catching duo of Chirinos and Carlos Perez, both of whom have multiple years of major league experience.

Team Weaknesses: Venezuela has some frontline players, but the depth falls off quickly, especially on the position player side. If one of its marquee pitchers has a poor performance or one of the ex-big leaguers in the lineup suffers an ill-timed slump, that could be enough to sink the team’s hopes.

Bottom line: Venezuela’s upper-level experience gives it an advantage over the other teams in Group B, but the gap isn't particularly large. It should still finish in the top two and advance to the Super Round.

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