The World Baseball Classic is back for the first time since 2017, and with the tournament having been expanded to include 20 teams, we look at the leading contenders for the title.
Can the USA repeat their 2017 success, or will favorites Dominican Republic triumph as they did in 2013?
|What||World Baseball Classic|
|Where||Japan, Taiwan and United States|
|When||March 8th - March 21st 2023|
|How to watch||Fox Sports, MLB Network|
While the USA may have a star-studded roster, there is a reason why they are not the favorites for the tournament: the Dominican Republic.
When you look at the roster the DR team is putting out, the array of talent may be larger than any MLB lineup ever assembled.
There are proven names such as Vladimir 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, March 11th 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 favorites Dominican Republic.
USA beat Puerto Rico in the 2017 final with their MVP Marcus Stroman, who will be representing Puerto Rico this year.
USA will be led by Mike Trout (who opted out of the 2017 tournament) and 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt. There are All-Stars and Silver Sluggers in every position including 3B Nolan Arenado, C J.T Realmuto, and outfielders Mookie Betts, Cedric Mullins and Kyle Tucker.
The rotation was set to be led by three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, but the Dodgers ace pulled out of the competition on Friday for unspecified reasons. He will be replaced by Padres reliever Nick Martinez, who joins two-time All-Star Lance Lynn and veteran Adam Wainwright on the USA staff.
The Americans get underway against Great Britain on Saturday, March 11th in Pool C.
Japan’s roster is deep.
There are standouts Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, alongside young gun starting pitcher Roki Sasaki. There is also an established list of big leaguers in Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki and Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, plus new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida.
Beyond Ohtani, who finished second in the 2022 American League MVP race, 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 placed third in the other two.
Everyone will be curious to see how Japan use two-way star Ohtani as he has no restrictions from the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani is both one of the most powerful hitters and top pitchers in the tournament.
Japan’s tournament gets underway on Thursday, March 9th against China at the Tokyo Dome.
Losing the last two tournament finals has been hard for Puerto Rico. They are hoping that third time's a charm, 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 ex-USA member Stroman, as well as MLB studs Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor, who will man the infield. The pitching staff also includes closer Edwin Diaz and starter Jose Berrios.
Puerto Rico start with a game against Nicaragua in Miami on Saturday, March 11th.