May 19, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Co-host and top-ranked Japan has been grouped with the United States in the inaugural Premier12 baseball tournament, which features the top 12 countries in the World Baseball Softball Confederation's rankings.

Japan and the U.S. are joined by the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Venezuela and Mexico in a tough Group B announced Wednesday by the tournament organizers.

''There are a lot of strong teams in that group,'' said Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo. ''I plan to pick a team that can win it all and be No. 1 in the world.''

Group A features Taiwan, Cuba, the Netherlands, Canada, Puerto Rico and Italy.

The tournament, to be held in Japan and Taiwan from Nov. 8-21 to help showcase the sport's popularity in the region as baseball and softball vie for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Major League Baseball has no plans to makes its players available, and it is not clear whether players with minor league contracts will be allowed to participate.

The top four nations from each group after the opening round meet in the quarterfinals before the tournament shifts from Taiwan to Japan for the semifinals and finals.

''The Premier12 platform provides another key opportunity for players to represent their countries and build on the wave of continued globalization,'' WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said. ''Particularly during this time when our sport is under Olympic observation for potential inclusion at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.''

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