That’s right! I’m back with more coverage of baseball players you’ve never ever heard of before. It’s time for the second half of the qualifiers that will determine exactly who will be playing the 2013 World Baseball Classic come March.
Once again, this is going to be a 4-team modified double elimination tournament. The bottom two teams are eliminated through double elimination play. The best two play in the final – and the winner of that game takes all. These games have the added bonus of being in the post season – so we’ll have a stronger MLB presence. Also, these countries (as opposed to qualifier 4, which I’ll talk about later today) are reasonably well scouted by major league teams, so there’s definitely more players in the minors or formerly in the minors.
These games will be played in Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama, which is a big multi-purpose stadium built in 1999. The dimensions (321 ft – 400 ft – 321 ft) are a tad small by MLB standards, but are pretty normal for the international game.
Game 1 tonight features Brazil vs. Panama, while tomorrow’s game will match up Nicaragua and Colombia.
The home team is this group’s WBC veteran – but may have a hard time here. Their WBC record is reasonably terrible – at 0-5, they’re tied with South Africa for worst ever. Also, in the 2009 Classic, they lost both their matches without scoring a single run. Of course, that was facing real major league pitching (Javier Vasquez and Johnny Cueto started for Puerto Rico and Dominican Repbulic in those games), and the pitching won’t be nearly as tough in this round.
The IBAF ranks Panama at 15th in the world, which is pretty good – they also won the 2011 Baseball World Cup. This will be a somewhat different set of rosters – but Panama will still have Jose Macias, for example, a 30-year old former utility player for the Tigers, Expos, and Cubs, who had the most runs scored in the BWC. Angel Chavez (an infielder who spent a lot of time in the SF Giants organization) also played for that team, hitting seven doubles throughout the tournament.
Team Panama will also have some legit MLB bats – in the form of Carlos Lee, Carlos Ruiz, and Ruben Tejada. They also have quite a few players with past MLB careers. The bigger problem is probably pitching. They do have Manny Acosta and Manny Corpas, who were pretty bad relief pitchers this past year, but still major leaguers. (Sadly, no Bruce Chen, which makes all of us very, very sad. Sadface.)
There are also some promising prospects like Paolo Espino, a righty starter in the Indians organization – he may be getting a little old for his level, but he still has solid ERA and K-rates. (Also, he went to the same school in Florida as Tyler Pastornicky). Overall, I think Panama has a solid group of former/current minor league players, who have played well together as a team. Their pitching is a little bit suspect, but against the bats here, they should be able to get by. I’d tentatively call them the favorite, just on the strength of having the best MLB bats.
Current MLB/MiLB players: Enrique Burgos (RHP, A-, D-backs), Angel Cuan (LHP, A+, Mets), Eliecer Navarro (LHP, A+, Pirates), Ernesto Silva (RHP, A, Braves), Damaso Espino (C, AAA, White Sox), Ashley Ponce (IF, A, Pirates), Luis Castillo (OF, A+, Tigers), Isaias Velasquez (OF, AA, Rays)
Former players: Ramiro Mendoza, (RHP, MLB, Yankees), Ruben Rivera (OF, MLB, Padres), Alberto Acosta (RHP, Rk, Yankees), Euclides Bethancour (RHP, Rk, Rays), Yeliar Castro (RHP, AA, Braves), Isaac Monrroy (LHP, Rk, Mets), Javier Dominguez (C, A, Braves), Javier Castillo (IF, AAA, White Sox), Jeffer Patino (IF, Rk, White Sox), Concepcion Rodriguez (OF, AA, Braves), Jahdiel Santamaria (OF, A+, Braves)
Brazil just got its first MLB player this year, in the Toronto Blue Jays’ Yan Gomes. Still, this team will have its challenges. At 26th in the world, they’re ranked quite a bit lower than Panama – and did not qualify for the Baseball World Cup in 2011.
They do have a Hall of Famer on the roster, with the just-inducted Barry Larkin agreeing to manage the club. They also have some decent MLB prospects – Andre Rienzo (RHP, AAA, White Sox) appears to have made solid progress this year as a starter in the minors – moving up levels, and performing pretty well at AA. His strikeout rates are impressive (average of 9.8 through minor leage career), but his control could use some work. Most of the other prospects come from the Mariners system.
Most notably, I would say that this team is young. Maybe not quite as young as the 2009 South African squad, but pretty close. The youngest member is Daniel Missaki who is all of 16 years old, but he’s joined by Orioles prospect Rafael Moreno (RHP, FRk), who won’t turn 18 until February, and a group of other youngsters, most of whom are pitchers. They also have only two lefties on the staff, and neither of them are over 25, or signed with a major league club. Thankfully for them, all of Panama’s best bats are righties.
(As a side note, this team does also have some Japanese ties: many of the players appear to be Japanese Brazilian, and hanfdul of others have played in the NPB.)
Current MLB/MiLB players: Felipe Burin (RHP, Rk, Mariners), Murilo Gouvea (RHP, A, Astros), , Thyago Vieira (RHP, FRk, Mariners), Pedro Okuda (IF, FRk, Mariners), Leonardo Reginatto (IF, A-, Rays), Paulo Orlando (OF, AA, Royals)
Team Nicaragua actually has the highest IBAF ranking in this group at #14. Their biggest name is probably Everth Cabrera, the Padres shortstop who led the NL in stolen bases last year. There’s also the young third-baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, who was ranked the 84th best prospect pre-2012.
This team didn’t perform very well at the BWC in 2011 – losing 5 out of six games. On the other hand, they were in a very tough division – those losses to Venezuela, Italy, Australia, Korea, DR, and Cuba are all very respectable. Their best pitcher from that tournament, lefty reliever Mainor Mora is also on this roster, as well as their best hitter – Dwight Britton (a former Mariners CF prospect) who went 11-23, with two doubles and 2 stolen bases.
Like Brazil, this team has a famous manager in the form of Dennis Martinez, a right-handed starter for the Orioles and Expos, who had a very long, mostly illustrious career, indeed – including an ERA title, and becoming the first Latin pitcher to pitch a perfect game (and the 13th pitcher of any kind). Martinez is now the bullpen coach for the Houston Astros.
Overall, I’m not sure this team is going to hit well enough to win the group, despite their high ranking. Of course, I think this group is fairly open – in a ‘modified double elimination’ format, just about anything can happen, and Team Nicaragua has enough solid pieces that they could definitely slip in to the WBC tournament in March.
Current MLB/MiLBers: Elvin Garcia (LHP, Rk, Braves), Ricky Martinez (RHP, A+, Cardinals), Uber Paz (RHP, A-, Padres), Jhonny Polanco (RHP, A, Cardinals), J.C. Ramirez (RHP, AAA, Phillies), Elmer Reyes (IF, A, Braves), Jem Argenal (OF, Rk, Cardinals)
Former players: Danilo Alvarez (RHP, A, Braves), Douglas Arguello (LHP, AAA, Astros), Berman Espinoza (RHP, FRk, Phillies), Gustavo Martinez (RHP, AAA, Mariners), Pedro Rayo (RHP, A, Braves), Carlos Teller (LHP, Rk, Pirates), Ofilio Castro (IF, AA, Nationals), Edgar Ramirez (RHP, AAA, Mets), Ronald Garth (IF, A+, Mariners), Justo Rivas (OF, A, Braves)
In terms of IBAF rankings, Colombia slots in after Panama, but well in front of Brazil at 19th. Colombia probably has more major leaguers than any of these countries, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into success for their national squad. The Colombian star of this team is Edgar Renteria, who at this point probably features more in the manager category – but is probably still good enough to do some damage at this level of competition. Along with him comes Jolbert Cabrera, who is older than Renteria, and has over 1500 plate appearances for 4 different MLB teams. They also have several players who have had tastes of playing in the majors, but aren’t regulars yet, like Luis Martinez (C, MLB, Rangers), and the Solano brothers – Jhonatan (Catcher) and Donovan (Infielder) who debuted for the Nationals and Marlins respectively this year.
As for prospects, RHP Sugar Ray Marimon had a promising season starting in A+ for the Royals (2.12 ERA in 68 innings, 3.33 K/BB), and Dilson Herrera (2B/3B, Pirates), is just 18, but did pretty well in rookie ball, and in a short stint in low-A in 2013. Reynaldo Rodriguez, at 26 years old, is maybe a little old to be too impressed at his .839 OPS at Boston’s AA Portland team, but it does show that he probably will hit well in the qualifier, as the team’s first baseman.
The management of the Colombian squad, like Brazil, also has ties to Cincinnati Reds Hall-of-Famers. The manager, Eduardo Perez, who had a long career as a good bench player, is also the son of Tony Perez, of the Big Red Machine. Most recently, he served as the hitting coach for the Marlins, in 2012, but was let go with Ozzie Guillen. He’s now the Houston Astros bench coach -if you’re counting, that makes him the second new Astros coach managing in this Qualifier.
I think this qualifier is the most evenly matched of all of them. Team Colombia may not have the best ranking, or the most Major Leaguers, but I don’t think there’s a strong favorite to win this one. Pitching tends to be very unpredictable in these qualifiers – and in the WBC itself, so whoever has the best pitching to get hot at the right time, may end up going to the Classic in March.
Current MLB/MiLBers:Rivar Angulo (LHP, Rk, Phillies), Dayan Diaz (RHP, A, Astros), Ivan Julio (RHP, FRk, Mariners), Oscar Melendez (RHP, A+, Orioles), Dewen Perez (LHP, FRk, Cardinals), Karl Triana (RHP, Rk, D-backs), Luis Sierra (C, AA, White Sox), Luis Piterson (IF, A+, Royals), Giovanny Urshela (IF, A+, Indians)
Former players: Randy Consuegra (RHP, A-, Red Sox), Dumas Garcia (RHP, AA, Blue Jays), Cristian Mendoza (RHP, A+, Yankees), Ronald Ramirez (LHP, Rk, White Sox), Yesid Salazar (RHP, A, Padres), Luis Salazar (RHP, A+, Pirates), Marwin Vega (RHP, AA, Mariners), Steve Brown (OF, A+, Astros)