- Need a team to root for in the 2017 World Baseball Classic? Let this collection of MLB teams and players and how they're connected to the various international squads be your guide.
The World Baseball Classic got underway Monday and has already produced a few surprises and thrilling moments. That could help give a boost to the Classic, which has had a hard time drawing the attention of general sports fans due mostly to the absence of many top U.S. stars, but the chance to see competitive baseball when Opening Day is still roughly four weeks away is enough for many fans to dig in.
A few weeks ago, I checked in on the big roster rollout for the 16 participating teams (you can find the four pools and a bracket here) as well as the rules quirks, which include the introduction of pool pitchers, who can be activated by round but once deactivated are done for the tournament. Below I present a thumbnail guide to following the players from your favorite team. While subject to late scratches by banged-up (or merely ambivalent) players and far from comprehensive regarding minor leaguers, this should offer fans pointers as to where to catch their team's delegates to the tournament. It also serves as a rooting guide of sorts, giving fans of each MLB club a chance to know which team it might make sense for them to support in addition to—or instead of—Team USA.
The D-backs have gone through some tough times lately, but for guidance in the WBC, they can lean on franchise pillar Paul Goldschmidt, who's one of the marquee names on Team USA. From among the organization's six other participants, the most notable at the major league level are new utility infielder Daniel Descalso, whose Team Italy won't make it out of the first round, and Fernando Rodney, whose Dominican Republic squad's chances of repeating as champions hinge on his being able to unearth another Magic Plantain (even if the provenance of the original has been debunked).
The Braves' organization is slated to have 10 WBC participants, counting Dominican pool pitcher Bartolo Colon. With none of them suiting up for Team USA, the most obvious connection to follow the fate of franchise standby Freddie Freeman, one of the biggest starts on Team Canada. Also worth keeping an eye on: Julio Teheran, pitching for Colombia in its first WBC appearance.
Orioles fans hip enough to appreciate the groundbreaking importance of Chinese-born prospect Xu Guiyuan, an outfielder/first baseman who played 33 games for the team's Gulf Coast League affiliate last year, should check in on Team China; he'll be joined on that squad by the well-traveled Bruce Chen, who set career highs for wins (13) and WAR (3.0) with the O's in 2005. On a less obscure note, Manny Machado will be one of the Dominican Republic's heavyweights (joined by new catcher Welington Castillo), Adam Jones will again grace the US outfield, and Curaçao natives Jonathan Schoop and his older brother Sharlon (a 29-year-old shortstop with a .227 average in 100 games at Triple A) will be part of a Netherlands squad that's rich in familiar infielders.
With Hanley Ramirez scratched from the Dominican squad due to right shoulder soreness—just as well, given that he missed nearly all of April 2013 after injuring a thumb in the WBC finals—the big pull is for the Netherlands squad, which will feature Aruba native Xander Bogaerts. Then again, Sox fans with fond recollection of the time that Ryan Demptster intentionally plugged Alex Rodriguez can enjoy his coming out of retirement to pitch for Team Canada; he last pitched in the 2013 World Series. He'll be joined on that squad by another retired but less fondly remembered Red Sock, Eric Gagne.
With that elusive championship finally under their belts, Cubs fans may have an easier time harkening back to the 2007 and '08 NL Central-winning squads that were swept out of the Division Series and featured Ryan Dempster, who is coming out of retirement to pitch for Team Canada. There's no Anthony Rizzo on Team Italy this time, and no Kris Bryant for Team USA, so the real draw for Cubs fans is Javier Baez representing Puerto Rico.
Despite flurries of rumors that they would be traded as part of the team's rebuilding effort, both David Robertson and Jose Quintana are still members of the Pale Hose, but they'll change teams at least temporarily this month. Robertson (and fellow reliever Nate Jones) will both represent Team USA, and Quintana, who inherited the mantle of staff ace with Chris Sale's trade to Boston, will represent first-time participants Colombia; in fact, he'll start the team's March 10 opener against Robertson and the Americans.
If any team is a WBC party pooper, it's the Reds. Joey Votto, who played for Team Canada in 2009 and '13, is staying home this time. Dilson Herrera was scratched from Team Colombia due to right shoulder inflammation. Manager Bryan Price is fretting over Jumbo Diaz suiting up for the Dominican Republic as though he can afford to alienate one of the few good relievers from a unit that posted an MLB-worst 5.09 ERA last year. The oversized Diaz's small role on the DR squad is the best thing the Reds have to hang their hats on here, given that Scott Feldman is merely a pool pitcher for Israel and that few fans have heard of Aruban minor league catcher Shawn Zarraga, an organizational newcomer who will play for the Netherlands.
The Indians certainly have their bases covered, as the organization has sent players to seven different teams, including Chinese Taipei (A-ball pitcher Shao-Ching Chiang), Colombia (third baseman Giovanny Urshela), Israel (A-ball second baseman Tyler Krieger) and Italy (first baseman Chris Colabello). What's more, former shortstop Omar Vizquel is managing Team Venezuela. The household names from the current squad are on teams likely to stick around, namely the Dominican Republic (first baseman Carlos Santana), Puerto Rico (shortstop Francisco Lindor) and the United States (closer Andrew Miller).
Carlos Gonzalez may be one of the big bats on Venezuela, but reigning National League home run champion Nolan Arenado is an even bigger one—not to mention glove, which for this guy is almost worth the price of admission alone—for Team USA. He'll be joined on the American squad by reliever Jake McGee.
The Tigers are sending an MLB-high 15 players to the Classic, and while we can understand the temptation to root for Team Australia based on the presence of pitchers Warwick Saupold and Travis Blackley, Detroit fans will likely have their attention focused on one of two teams. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon and minor league pitcher Arcenio Leon will all suit up for Venezuela. Meanwhile, Ian Kinsler, Michael Fulmer and Alex Wilson will not only play for Team USA, but they'll also do so under legendary Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
Nori Aoki is the lone major leaguer on Japan's team this time around, but given that he's a newcomer to Houston, that's not much of a hook. Even so, Astros fans have plenty to choose from, with hitting machine Jose Altuve on Team Venezuela, Alex Bregman and Luke Gregerson on Team USA, and Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa playing for Puerto Rico.
Past Royals—Nori Aoki (Japan), Bruce Chen (China) and Edinson Volquez (Dominican Republic)—are spread far and wide across the Classic. Ex-skipper Tony Pena will even head up the Dominican squad, and prodigal son Joakim Soria will suit up for Mexico, of course. But for K.C. fans, the choice of who to pull hardest for probably comes down to the Americans (Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer) and the Venezuelans (Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar).
Few players could lend the tournament more stateside credibility than Mike Trout, but alas, the reigning AL MVP will not participate, and the Angels' delegation is particularly thin. Relievers Jose Alvarez and Yusmeiro Petit are on Team Venezuela, but the more interesting participant is Andrelton Simmons, who even on a Netherlands team laden with talented natural shortstops (Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar are the others) but should get first dibs on the position given his fielding wizardry.
Kenley Jansen—who caught for the 2009 Netherlands WBC squad, then pitched for them four years later—is merely a pool pitcher this time around, and former closer Eric Gagne is coming out of retirement to give Team Canada some innings. Still, the strongest connection here is to Team Mexico, with Adrian Gonzalez one of the marquee players (if his elbow inflammation has cooled off); he'll be joined by newcomer Sergio Romo, outfield prospect Alex Verdugo and designated pool pitcher Julio Urias.
Beyond pitcher Edinson Volquez (Dominican Republic) and infielder Martin Prado (Venezuela), the Latin representative that Marlins fans should check out is righthanded pitcher Tayron Guerrero, a triple-digit flamethrower who will come out of Colombia's bullpen. That said, few teams are bolstering Team USA's squad more than the Marlins, with 2013 holdovers Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich providing star power—and, given that they combined to hit 48 homers for Miami last season, plain old power—to the American outfield.
Three Twins minor leaguers—pitchers Todd Van Steensel and Lachlan Wells and outfielder Aaron Whitefield—will suit up for Australia, but all of their delegation from the major league roster will be with Puerto Rico, namely starters Jose Berrios and Hector Santiago, first baseman Kennys Vargas and outfielder Eddie Rosario. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau, who won an AL MVP award with the Twins in 2006 and is currently unsigned, will play for Team Canada for the fourth time.
Between their minor and major league rosters, the Brewers are slated to send nine players to six different teams, including Israel (first baseman Cody Decker, Twitter’s favorite journeyman) and Chinese Taipei (pool pitcher Wang Wei-chung), but not the United States, though ex-Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy, now with the Rangers, will wear the red, white and blue. Milwaukee's strongest MLB delegation is to the Dominican Republic squad, as pitcher Wily Peralta and infielder Jonathan Villar, a 2016 breakout star, will be on that roster alongside former shortstop Jean Segura, now of the Mariners.
While the Tigers have an MLB-high 15 players from their organization participating in the WBC, the Mets have the most from their 40-man roster (nine). That count includes a trio apiece for Puerto Rico (pitcher Seth Lugo, catcher Rene Rivera and infielder T.J Rivera) and the Dominican Republic (relievers Jeurys Familia and Hansel Robles and infielder Jose Reyes, who's suddenly become increasingly important to New York in light of David Wright's shoulder impingement). If Mets fans are undecided between supporting PR or DR in a potential matchup, perhaps it would tip the scales in favor of the latter to know that ex-Mets cult hero Bartolo Colon is a pool pitcher for the Dominican squad.
The Yankees' presence in the Classic is almost entirely centered around pitching, with Netherlands-born shortstop Didi Gregorius the lone exception at the major league level. While Tyler Clippard will suit up for the U.S. and Tommy Layne for Italy, New York's heaviest presence will be on the Dominican Republic squad, with Dellin Betances and Luis Severino both on board, the latter as a pool pitcher. Ex-Yankee Ivan Nova, now with Pittsburgh, will also pitch for the DR squad, and another old friend in the Bronx, free-agent righty Chien-Ming Wang, is by far the best-known representative of the Chinese Taipei team.
From a squad that's been shorn of most of its big names already, the Athletics' potential WBC delegation has been reduced to even less familiar faces. Coming off a career-worst year (5–11, 5.69 ERA), ace righthander Sonny Gray was unable to get insurance clearance due to the fact he didn't pitch enough after spending seven weeks on the disabled list for trapezoid and forearm issues at the end of the 2016 season. Meanwhile, John Axford, who was initially gung-ho to represent Team Canada for the second time, changed his mind, and the late arrival in camp of fellow reliever Santiago Casilla means that at the very least he'll skip the first round. Thus the only A's to represent the team will be minor leaguers, with journeyman catcher Ryan Lavarnway the best known; he and Double A reliever Joey Wagman are both on Team Israel. Double A reliever Jake Sanchez will pitch for Mexico, and Cesar Valdez will join the Dominican Republic.
The star power here is with Venezuela in the form of outfielder Odubel Herrera and, to a lesser extent, righthanded reliever Jeanmar Gomez, while Colombia will feature top catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. Other Phillies relievers will also represent, including Pat Neshek (United States), Hector Neris (Dominican Republic) and long-retired J.C. Romero (Puerto Rico), a member of Philadelphia's 2008 world championship squad; he hasn't pitched in the majors since '12, but since then, he's turned up in the minors, Mexico, the Puerto Rican Winter League and, most recently, the independent Atlantic League.
Pick a Pittsburgh outfielder and you've got a team to follow: Andrew McCutchen will play for the U.S. (along with infielder Josh Harrison), and both Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco will join the Dominican Republic (along with pool pitcher Ivan Nova). For those looking a bit more off the beaten path, 31-year-old catcher Francisco Cervelli is the most established major league player on Team Italy.
The Cardinals are a tradition-minded organization, and a pair of their players are steeped in WBC history, such as it is. Both catcher Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico) and righthanded reliever Seung-hwan Oh (South Korea) are among the 20 players who have now participated in all four of the Classics; the latter is his squad's lone major leaguer (the rest are from the KBO). The withdrawal of infielder Matt Carpenter due to back stiffness leaves pool pitcher Brett Cecil as the only representative on the U.S. squad, but Carlos Martinez is arguably the top pitcher on the Dominican team.
Of the five Padres headed to the Classic, just two are major leaguers, and both will suit up for Team Venezuela: third baseman Yangervis Solarte and pitcher Jhoulys Chacin. Those on a nostalgia trip can turn their attention to Team Mexico, which will feature four-time participant Adrian Gonzalez (now with the Dodgers but a Padre from 2006 to '10) and his brother Edgar (a Padre in '08 and '09). Both were born in San Diego, and the latter is the squad's manager.
The Giants are sending fewer members of their organization (three) than any other club, but credit them for going with quality over quantity. Catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford will both play key roles for Team USA, and righthander Johnny Cueto will possibly pitch for the Dominican Republic, though he's sitting out the first round after arriving late to camp because of delays in getting a visa for his ailing father. Meanwhile, former Giants outfielder Angel Pagan will use his time with Puerto Rico to audition for big league clubs, as he's an unsigned free agent at this writing. And—as if anyone needed a better excuse to root for those lovable #honkbalers—hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens will manage the Netherlands squad for the second time.
The Mariners have embraced the Classic like few other teams. They have 11 players from their organization slated to participate—tied for third behind the Tigers and the Mets—and all of their top stars are involved. Second baseman Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz and shortstop Jean Segura are all playing for the powerhouse Dominican Republic team. Hotshot closer Edwin Diaz will pitch for Puerto Rico, and ace Felix Hernandez will do so for Venezuela, though coming off a career-worst year, Seattle fans can be forgiven for hoping he makes a quick exit from the tournament.
The Rays never seem to lack for quality pitching, and theirs will be on display in a few different corners of the tournament. Even coming off a rough 2016 season, Chris Archer is one of Team USA's top starters. All-Star closer Alex Colome will pitch for the Dominican Republic. Newcomer Jose De Leon, acquired in an off-season trade with the Dodgers, will throw for Puerto Rico.
At this writing, Adrian Beltre's participation is up in the air due to a left calf strain, though the star third baseman did make his spring debut last Friday and hasn't been ruled out of playing in his first Classic since the 2006 inaugural. Even if he skips it, Rangers fans will still have plenty of teams to keep tabs on, with second baseman Rougned Odor, catcher Robinson Chirinos and lefthander Martin Perez all representing Venezuela, infielder Jurickson Profar honkbal-ing for the Netherlands, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy and righthanded reliever Sam Dyson both playing for the U.S.
Sure, Blue Jays fans can follow familiar faces like outfielder Jose Bautista (Dominican Repbulic) and pitchers Marcus Stroman (USA), J.A. Happ (a U.S. pool pitcher for a later round) and Marco Estrada (Mexico), but they'll mostly be interested in keeping tabs on a home team that has a couple of notable Toronto connections. Outfielder Dalton Pompey is on the roster, and the manager is Ernie Whitt, who joined the Jays for their inaugural season of 1977 and played 13 years for the franchise. Perhaps the only downside for Canadian fans is that Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, an Ontario native who had hoped to play shortstop in the Classic, won't be participating because of insurance issues.
The Nationals will have a strong presence on Team USA thanks to second baseman Daniel Murphy and pool pitcher Tanner Roark. Lamentably, however, Bryce Harper has chosen not to participate; back in November, Harper's agent, Scott Boras, told the New York Post's Joel Sherman that his client would "focus on conditioning and getting ready for the season."