‘The World Baseball Classic? Is it really that time again?’ you may be asking yourself. Well, not exactly. The round-robin, semi-finals, and finals will still take place in March of next year, but as the WBC has expanded its format to include 12 new teams, now 16 teams must compete for four qualifying spots this fall, with one lucky qualifier coming from each location.
Expansion has put more focus on the WBC’s lax roster eligibility rules. You can play for a country if you’re a citizen, if either of your parents were citizens, or if you can qualify for a passport there – that definitely opens the door for Jewish players who have otherwise limited ties to Israel. That’s probably necessary when you have countries with limited baseball activity.
All in all, I’m excited. The baseball won’t be the best baseball you’ve ever seen – but South Africa vs. Israel in baseball has sort of a cache of it’s own. I enjoy international baseball in general and am a huge WBC fan (I ’covered’ the 2009 WBC at the sbnation Reds blog, Red Reporter). Whatever happens, you know it’s going to be very entertaining.
The Panama City and Taipei qualifiers aren’t until November, and I’ll cover the Regensburg group later. Today, I’m going to cover the Jupiter, FL, qualifier which starts tomorrow.
The Jupiter round will be played at Roger Dean Stadium, a complex that houses the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Palm Beach Cardinals, and serves as the training facility for the Marlins and the Cardinals.
The four teams will play in a ‘modified’ double-elimination playoff. It’s not explicitly stated, but I’m assuming, it’s going to be exactly like the 2009 pools, where one game between the final two teams will decide the winner. As an example, in 2009, after two games, Japan was 2-0, so China and South Korea played for the right to face Japan in the final. South Korea won that game, and the next game against Japan, so they ‘won’ the pool, even though it was Japan’s only loss. In a true double elimination contest, Japan and Korea would have played again to determined the winner. (The assumption is based on the fact that ‘modified double-elimination’ is also how the WBC described the round 1 format in 2009, and because none of the schedules seem to show a possible game 7).
That’s one thing where the top two teams both go on to the next round, and the winner merely gets the better seed. Here, losing in the final game means you go home for the next four years. Bummer. Thus, timing is everything this week. It’s very possible that the two final teams will finish with an identical record, and a 1-1 record against each other, but the winner of the last game wins.
Teams (after the jump)
(Full rosters are posted at Baseball America, here)
South Africa is the one team in this group that has been to the World Baseball Classic before. Thus, it’s the only team in this group with WBC experience, including Hein Robb, a Twins prospect, who was but a wee 16-year old when he played for South Africa in the 2009 classic . However, South Africa has yet to win a game in the WBC, so most of the WBC experience includes being brutalized – like getting mercy-ruled in the 5th after the USA went up 17-0 in 2006. That game gave starter Carl Michaels (also on this year’s roster) a WBC record for most runs allowed.
South Africa features a generous selection of lower level MLB prospects and former MLB prospects. The rest of the squad is filled out by players from South African leagues – heavily dominated by the Baseball Association of Western Province, especially the Bellville Tygers, who appear to dominate the rest of the league, with a 24-6 record last season. They play in early spring, so most of the MLB prospects seem to play in the South African leagues as well.
Not many of the prospects would be on their teams’ best-of lists, but RHP Dylan Unsworth (Mariners) had a decent season in low A this year. LHP Hein Robb (Twins) seems to be improving – though still in rookie ball for his third season, he’s only 20, and he’s improved his K and BB numbers every year. Apparently both RHP Tayler Scott (Cubs) and SS Anthony Phillips (Mariners) (broken ankle) are out right now, which hurts the team a lot. Thankfully, the Phillips family will still be represented by brother, Jonathan (former Brewers prospect) and father Alan, coaching. (Gregorius style!)
Gift Ngoepe is a shortstop prospect with the Pirates, who hit .232/.330/.338 in A+ this year. Still raw, but can take a walk. He was South Africa’s most productive batter in 2009 – with two triples and a walk in 6 plate appearances. Shannon Ekermans was a LHP at NDSU at the last baseball classic, but looks like he mostly hits in the South African league he plays in now, and is listed as an infielder on this year’s roster, but he played left field in the 2006 classic.
I recommend taking a look at Paul Bell’s charming blog. Bell is a veteran of the 2006 WBC, and he’s written a couple of entries on the league website since the players arrived in Florida that are both cheerful and frankly funny. Hopefully he’ll keep us updated as the round continues.
This is Team Israel’s first World Baseball Classic appearance. They may actually be the favorites in this round, because their roster is loaded with passport players, with only 2 of their 28 man roster listing a birthplace in Israel. Much of the team (like South Africa’s) is young, but Israel has something South Africa doesn’t – two bona fide major league hitters. All-star Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler are not in the majors anymore, and are probably not in their primes, but neither are they decrepit, and a little MLB experience could unleash a lot of destruction on some of these inexperienced young pitchers. Green and Kapler will also coach, and Brad Ausmus will manage. Of course, Ausmus doesn’t have a lot of managing experience (officially, at least), while South Africa’s manager, Rick Magnante, has managed minor league teams for Oakland for years.
Team Israel also has a decent chance if they do win this group’s bid and move on, as some very impressive names at the MLB level (obviously not available right now) have expressed some interest in playing for Israel in March. A team with Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Braun could definitely make some waves – you don’t have to win that many games to succeed in this tournament.
RHP Max Perlman (A’s, A+) does not have brilliant minor league numbers, but he was apparently born in Jupiter, which could mean he could have quite the home crowd cheering him on. 2B Josh Satin has hit well in AAA, earning him a brief call-up to the Mets in 2011. I think this will definitely be an offense oriented club – between Green and Kapler, and guys like OF Ben Guez who has spent significant time in AAA and 1B Nathan Freiman (Padres) who is hitting well in AA. The pitching strikes me as a little more dicey – and I’m not sure they have a true third-baseman on the team. (Note to South Africa: hit it to the left.)
The group of Israel Baseball Leaguers includes Schlomo Lipetz, a veteran who has a day job managing the live music program at a New York winery, Dan Rothem, and Alon Leichman, a youngster who pitched in the first season of the IBL as a teenager, and now pitches for Cypress College in the states. Unfortunately, Leichman had Tommy John this spring, so he probably won’t pitch after all – though he is on the roster.
Other miLB’ers: RHP Brett Lorin (Diamondbacks,AA), LHP Eric Berger (Indians, AAA), RHP Justin Schumer (Giants, A+), RHP David Colvin (Mariners, A), RHP Josh Zeid (Astros, AA), LHP Jeff Urlaub (A’s, A+), RHP Jeff Kaplan (Mets, AA), LHP Richard Bleier (Rangers, AA), RHP David Kopp (Tigers, AA), LHP Jeremy Gould (Mets, A), C/2B Jack Marder (Mariners, A+), C Nick Rickles (A’s, A), C Charlie Cutler (Pirates, AA), 1B Cody Decker (Padres, AA), SS Jake Lemmerman (Dodgers, AA), 2B Ben Orloff (Astros, AA), , 3B Casey Haerther (Angels, AA), OF/3B Robbie Widlansky (Orioles, AA), OF Joc Pederson (Dodgers, A+)
Israel vs. South Africa, September 19, 7:00 PM
I think that Israel has a stronger team, compared to the South Africans, especially offensively, full of well-developed, if not top tier, current MLB prospects. I do want to root for South Africa, as they seemed so plucky, even in loss, during the two previous WBC’s. Still, the idea of Team Israel, full of major league talent in the World Baseball Classic this spring, is pretty tantalizing. Israel will also probably have a bigger cheering section in Jupiter, Florida. (I’m not just stereotyping, I promise)
If South Africa has a saving grace, it may be that they’ve played as a team more frequently (as far as I can tell) than team Israel. Parts of the South African team go back to the 2006 WBC team together, so perhaps the cogs will all fit together perfectly.
Spain is also a ‘passport player’ heavyroster. Only RHP Eric Gonzalez, a former Padres farmhand who now pitches for in the independent Frontier League claims a Spanish hometown. Most of Team Spain hails from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the US, or Cuba, and generally they play in the minor leagues, U.S. independent leagues, or in the Italian league.
Engel Beltre is probably the most well-known on the roster – Beltre is a center-field prospect for the Texas Rangers who OPSed .727 at AA this season. Chris Manno is a career left-handed relief pitcher at a young age, who closed at Duke before being drafted by the Nationals. Now in the Reds system, he’s struggled after being promoted to AA, but still has solid K numbers. C Adrian Nieto was born in Cuba, but went to high school in Florida, and was drafted in the Nationals in the 5th round in 2008.
There’s quite a few former prospects, including guys like LHP Richard Salazar and RHP Eddie Morlan who stuck around in the minors for a long time, for the Orioles and Twins, respectively, before moving to independent leagues, and LHP Manuel Olivera (Marlins, AA), the elder statesman of the pitching staff at age 35. C Blake Ochoa was a long time Marlins, and then Mariners prospect, who couldn’t hit well at the upper levels and moved into the independent Frontier League, but he’s still fairly young. Current Dodgers farmhand 2B Gabe Suarez has played in six different minor league systems since 2004, interspersing them with four different independent league stints, and a trip to the Mexican League.
There is tons of experience on this roster, both in the minors and in independent leagues. My guess is that Spain beats France, and gives the winner of Israel/South Africa a very tough game.
Former prospects: RHP Jose Cruz (Tigers, Frk), RHP Sammy de los Santos (Diamondbacks, A-), LHP Ivan Granados (A’s, Rk), LHP Ricardo Hernandez (Marlins, A+), RHP Leslie Nacar (Giants, Rk), LHP Antonio Noguera (Astros, A), RHP Nick Schumacher (Padres, A+), C Blake Ochoa (Mariners, AAA), 1B Barbaro Canizares (Braves, AAA), SS Paco Figueroa (Orioles, AAA), 3B Jesus Golindano (Dodgers, Rk), SS Nestor Perez (Rays, AA), 2B Juan Salazar (Red Sox, A), 3B Yunesky Sanchez (Diamondbacks, AAA), OF Rafael Alvarez (Twins, AA), OF Daniel Figueroa (Orioles, AAA), OF Yasser Gomez (Braves, AA).
Ah, France. I will probably root for les Bleus, not because I have any particular affection for France, but because they are going to have a really rough time of it. Jim Stoeckel, who is an international scout for the Reds, will be managing Team France, and had this to say:
Harsh, dude. The most major or minor league playing time comes from Eric Gagne, Cy-Young Award winner, who unfortunately for France, is not pitching, but will be the pitching coach. Most of the players on the roster are French, and come from the FFBS – Federation Francaise de Baseball et Softball. They have 8 teams in their first division, and 19 of their 28 players come from those 8 teams. The remaining players are free agents, in a Quebec league, or other independent North American leagues.
They also have a single MLB prospect- Andy Paz, a Cuban born catcher playing for Oakland’s Dominican Summer League team, as well as former Mets farmhand SS Emmanuel Garcia, IF Carlos Hereaud, who was briefly with the Brewers, CF Marc Ramirez, ex- Marlins prospect, and Sneideer Santos, who had good year in rookie ball for the Diamondbacks about 10 years ago.
France vs. Spain, September 2, 7:00 PM
No one expects France to do anything here. Hopefully it’ll be a good experience for the players, and help promote the sport to the country a little bit – which is what the WBC is here to do. Spain probably has enough minor league/ former minor league/ independent league talent to take them deep into the qualifier with a little bit of luck. It’s hard to say, though, since I wouldn’t say any of the four teams are particularly strong pitching/defense teams, which always makes things more unpredictable.
Look for a preview of the Regensburg qualifer – Germany, Great Britain, Czech Republic, and Canada tomorrow!