The World Baseball Classic is back after a two-year gap, with the tournament having been expanded to include 20 teams and here we look at the leading contenders for the title.
Can the USA repeat their 2017 success, or can favourites Dominican Republic pick up a first triumph since 2013?
|What||World Baseball Classic|
|Where||Japan, Taiwan, United States|
|When||8th March - 21st March 2023|
|Odds||Dominican Republic 2/1, Japan 5/2, USA 11/4, Puerto Rico 9/1|
While the USA may have a star-studded roster, there is a reason why they are not the favourites for the tournament and that is the Dominican Republic.
When you look at the roster the DR team is putting out, it’s a line-up that may be the best to appear on a diamond - a huge array of talent.
There are proven names such as Valdimir Guerrero Jr, Manny Machado, Rafael Devers and Juan Soto. There are up and coming players such as Julio Rodriguez, Wander Franco and Jeremy Pena, while on the mound they have Sandy Alcantara and Cristian Javier with Camilo Doval out of the bullpen.
Alcantara is the reigning National League Cy Young award winner and Rodriguez was the AL Rookie of the Year for 2022. Pena was the 2022 ALCS and World Series MVP, Machado was the NL MVP Runner-up.
Of the 30 men projected to play for the team, there are a combined 40 All-Star appearances, 18 Silver Sluggers and eight Gold Gloves.
The Dominican Republic get their World Baseball Classic quest underway on Saturday 11th March in Pool D against Venezuela.
The USA has had to wait six years to defend its first World Baseball Classic title. This year’s roster is arguably its best ever and they will need every ounce of that talent if they are to stop favourites, Dominican Republic.
USA beat Puerto Rico in the last final with their MVP Marcus Stroman, who will now be playing for PR instead.
USA will be lead by Mike Trout (who opted-out of the 2017 tournament) and Paul Goldschmidt. There are All-Stars and Silver Sluggers in every position including, Nolan Arenado, J.T Realmuto, Mookie Betts, Cedric Mullins and Kyle Tucker.
The rotation will be led by three-time Cy Young award winner and nine-time All-Star Clayton Kershaw, plus two-time All-Star Lance Lynn and veteran Adam Wainwright.
It is thought that there will be huge disappointment is the USA isn’t set to repeat their title from 2017. They get underway against Great Britain on Saturday 11th March in Pool C.
World Baseball Classic: Team USA in profile
World Baseball Classic: All you need to know
MLB: Can Jeff McNeil lead the New York Mets to the World Series?
MLB: Are the Tampa Bay Rays World Series contenders?
Japan’s roster is deep. There is Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish and they are joined by young starter, Roki Sasaki.
There is also an established list of big leaguers in Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki and St. Louis Cardinals Lars Nootbaar, plus new Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida.
If Ohtani, who is the reigning Major League Baseball AL MVP, they also have the Nippon Professional Baseball MVP in Munetaka Murakami, who hit 56 home runs for the Yakult Swallows last season.
Samurai Japan have won two World Baseball Classics, defeating Cuba in 2006 and South Korea in 2009 and have been placed third in the other two, but this year big things are expected of this roster.
Everyone will be curious to see how Japan use the two-way star Ohtani, but he has no restrictions from the Los Angeles Angels, there was talk of using his as a closer, but Ohtani is one of the most powerful hitters in the tournament.
Japan’s tournament gets underway on Thursday 9th March against China at the Tokyo Dome.
Losing the last two tournament finals has been hard for Puerto Rico, but they are aiming for third time lucky as they have a polished roster and it would not be a surprise if they went all the way.
A good test will come against the Dominican Republic, who are in their group and who they will face in their final group game. By that time, most of the roster will have blown the cobwebs off against the expected lesser opposition.
On the roster you can include Marcus Stroman (who appeared for the winning USA in 2017), Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor who will man the infield.
Edwin Diaz will close out the games and alongside Stroman will be Jose Berrios. Puerto Rico start with a game against Nicaragua in Miami on Saturday 11th March.