It’s finally here! On March 2, the World Baseball Classic Pools A and B go into action with C and D catching up during the week. We here at Formerly Fausto have broken down for you the favorites, the dark horses, the top prospects in action, and all of the final rosters can be found here. Finally, we will break down each pool for you with predictions to boot. Check back here for more updates and the tournament plays out, including a live report for USA-Canada.
I can sum this pool up in one word: Japan. The Japanese are the favorites not just in the pool, but in the entire tournament. The Japanese don’t have a star studded lineup like the USA, but they have shown that their players know the fundamentals and won’t make mental mistakes: it’s just a question of talent.
The talent in Pool A in lacking to say the least. Cuba is in an interesting position as the world’s number one ranked team but featuring no major league talented players since they all…well defected. Awkward… Anyways China and Brazil round out the action which is about as uninspiring as it sounds. China did pull a massive upset over Taipei last tournament but it’s highly unlikely that either Cuba or Japan will be upset with their fundamentally sound ball.
Prediction: Japan wins, Cuba runner up.
Far more interesting than Pool A, but still not quite the biggest draw of the tournament. Pool B features last year’s Cinderella stories, the Netherlands and Australia. The Netherlands upset the Puerto Ricans twice to get into round two while Australia was two runs away from defeating Cuba and moving on as well. Chinese Taipei is hosting, qualified without giving up a run and is still fuming from being upset by their two largest political rivals China and South Korea. South Korea rounds out the mix of four and claims the basement for now.
Again, there’s not a lot of MLB talent in this pool however there are some prospects to watch. The Netherlands features Xander Boegarts, one of best prospects in baseball and in the Red Sox system. They also have Andruw Jones so yeah… Bottom line: this pool could end up being really fun to watch with tons of upsets or straightforward with no surprises. I’ll go with the latter.
Prediction: Chinese Taipei wins, Netherlands runner up.
In my humble opinion, this is perhaps my favorite pool. You have two teams with high expectations in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic who should battle it out for the top slot in the pool and will go on to be favorites in the tournament. You then have Puerto Rico, a traditional baseball power that has the ability to pull an upset over either one of these teams with a decent performance from the mound. Spain rounds out the group as perhaps the strongest basement dweller in the tournament.
Venezuela finished in third last Classic and a stacked lineup will help put them back in a position to do so again. Venezuela did lose Felix Hernandez which would have vaulted them into clear favorite status. Without him, Venezuela needs to rely on it’s powerful middle of Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Cabrera and Martin Prado to outgun opposition. That along makes the game with the Dominican all the more interesting. These two teams should move on but I wouldn’t be surprised if Puerto Rico can make noise with the Molina brothers (Yadier and Jose) and Carlos Beltran.
Prediction: It’s close, but I’ll take Venezuela to win, Dominican Republic runner up.
The definition of a two horse race, the United States is in the driver’s seat of Pool D with a stacked lineup that should terrify any pitcher. However, Mexico’s Caribbean Series win shows that the country has a shot of winning Olympic Gold and the WBC all in the same year. Canada has some decent prospects but nowhere near the talent or depth either USA or Mexico has. Italy has Jason Grili which makes me happy, but that’s about it.
Many of the questions around the USA deal with R.A. Dickey and who will catch him. His knuckler could be very well unhittable as it is not a pitch seen in international baseball. After Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Vogelsong take over give the Americans the best rotation in the tournament. Mexico showed it has a strong bullpen in the Carribbean series, the key for the Mexicans will be who can go deep into games outside of Yovani Gallardo. In what could be one of the most predictable upsets, Canada could send Jameson Tallion, the 15th best prospect in baseball, to the mound against USA. Otherwise, this pool is pretty straight forward.
Prediction: USA to win, Mexico, runner up.
At this point, any of these predictions are incredible risky but the key is pitching depth. Only Japan and the US have proven arms, giving them a huge advantage. The bracketing sets pool A vs B and C vs D for the finals putting the two above teams on a crash course for the final.
I’ll go USA breaking Japan’s dynasty and Venezuela hitting their way into a consecutive third place finish.