Posted February 22, 2013

No shortage of familiar names on World Baseball Classic rosters

World Baseball Classic
Justin Morneau and Joey Votto

Justin Morneau and Joey Votto are back for Team Canada, one of several squads loaded with MLB talent. (Reuters)

Last month, I took a look at Team USA’s provisional roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which gets underway on March 2. On Thursday the final rosters for all 16 teams were unveiled. According to MLB.com, 45 current or former All-Stars are on the rosters, as well as several other current and former major leaguers, and many other notables. Here’s a quick rundown of the names that stand out on the other squads beside that of Team USA.

Australia (Pool B): There are no All-Stars to be found here and only one of the seven Australian-born players who made a major league appearance last year is available: third baseman Luke Hughes, who played 96 games with the Twins in 2011 and eight with the Twins and A’s last year. Oakland teammates Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley will not play. First baseman Justin Huber played in 72 major league games with the Royals, Padres and Twins from 2005-2009; he made two Baseball America Top 100 Prospects lists in 2003 and 2006 and was the 2005 Futures Game MVP. Outfielder Chris Snelling was a three-time BA Top 100 prospect from 2001-2003 who played 93 games in the majors but was hampered by an unending series of knee injuries; the Baseball Prospectus injury database notes four separate surgeries on his left knee alone. The pitching staff includes lefties Brad Thomas (72 big league appearances for the Twins and Tigers from 2001-2011) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (115 games for the Mariners from 2007-2010), righties Shane Lindsay (four appearances with the 2011 White Sox) and Chris Oxspring (five appearances with the 2005 Padres). Many of the other players are veterans of the Australian Baseball League.

Brazil (Pool A): These first-time tournament qualifiers are piloted by Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, and their roster has some great names (Iago Januario, Tiago Magalhaes and Leonardo Reginatto are my favorites), but they don’t have any major leaguers. While catcher/utilityman Yan Gomes became the first Brazilian-born player to reach the majors last year — hitting .204/.264/.367 in 111 plate appearances with the Blue Jays — and played for the team in the qualifying round, he’s skipping the Classic to focus on his bid to make the Indians roster. The most recognizable name to these eyes is righty Andre Rienzo, who ranked sixth on Baseball Prospectus’ recent list of top White Sox prospects; he pitched in Double-A and Triple-A last year, and served a 50-game PED suspension as well.

Canada (Pool D): As you’d expect, this team is loaded with familiar names. Among the pitchers are Brewers closer John Axford, White Sox righty Jesse Crain, Phillies righty Phillipe Aumont, Pirates righty Chris LeRoux and prospect Jameson Taillon (the second pick of the 2010 draft, and 19th on BA’s latest list), former Phillies righty Scott Mathieson, and former Expos/Nationals/Blue Jays righty Shawn Hill, now in camp with the Tigers. The infield includes a pair of former MVP winners in the Reds’ Joey Votto and the Twins’ Justin Morneau as well as the Blue Jays’ Brett Lawrie, the Brewers’ Taylor Green and the Phillies’ Pete Orr. What’s really interesting here is that Bucs catcher Russell Martin will play shortstop, a position he’s never played professionally; he did spend his first year as a pro at third base back in 2002 and has a total of 15 games played there in the majors, with eight starts back in 2008 but just 4 1/3 innings there (plus another two at second base) since then.

The outfield includes the Mariners’ Michael Saunders, former Twin Rene Tosoni, and former Orioles pitcher-turned-outfielder Adam Loewen, who played briefly for the Blue Jays in 2011 and remains in their organization. Longtime Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt is the manager, and former NL MVP and current Hall of Fame candidate Larry Walker is the hitting coach.

China (Pool A): Piloted by former Mariners manager John McLaren, with former Mets and A’s skipper Art Howe and former Red Sox lefty Bruce Hurst on staff, China doesn’t have any major leaguers following the withdrawal of Royals lefty Bruce Chen. He pitched for Panama (where he was born) in the first two Classics, and while he wanted to honor his Chinese ancestry this time around, he’s got his hands full battling for a starting job in Kansas City’s remade rotation. Infielder Ray Chang has eight minor league seasons under his belt, most recently with the Twins’ Triple-A Rochester affiliate, while catcher Wei Wang did a brief stint in the Mariners organization in 2007 before tearing his ACL in the 2008 Olympics.

Chinese Taipei (a/k/a Taiwan, Pool B): Former Yankees frontliner Chien-Ming Wang, who spent the past two seasons pitching for the Nationals amid a slew of injuries, is the big name here, with Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen opting to skip the tournament. Outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who played nine games for the Red Sox last year, is the only other player with major league experience.

Cuba (Pool C): Alas, politics prevents any of the major leagues’ current Cuban defectors such as Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman from even considering playing for this squad. Both were on the 2009 one, which was knocked out of that year’s tournament by Japan in the second round, making for Cuba’s worst international finish ever. Several vets of past Classics are here, including infielder Yulieski Gourriel; once regarded as the country’s top player, he was rumored to be defecting back in 2006, but the report proved erroneous.

Dominican Republic (Pool C): As you’d expect, this is a star-studded roster. The infield alone has the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez, the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes, the Angels’ Erick Aybar and former MVP winner Miguel Tejada, now on his last legs with the Royals. The Indians’ Carlos Santana is one of the catchers, and the outfield includes the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz, the White Sox Alejandro de Aza, the Blue Jays’ Moises Sierra and the Yankees’ Melky Mesa. The pitching staff includes righty starters Edinson Volquez (Padres) and Samuel Deduno (Twins), lefty starter Wandy Rodriguez (Pirates), righty relievers Santiago Casilla (Giants), Octavio Dotel (Tigers), Kelvin Herrera (Royals), Fernando Rodney (Rays), Alfredo Simon (Reds), Pedro Strop (Orioles), Jose Valverde (free agent) and Jose Veras (Astros), and lefty reliever Atahualpa Severino (Royals). Five-time All-Star catcher and current Yankees bench coach Tony Pena is the manager, with former major leaguers Bill Castro, Felix Fermin, Alfredo Griffin and Juan Samuel among his staff.

Italy (Pool D): Mariners infielder Alex Liddi is the first Italian-born major leaguer in nearly a half century, while a handful of other familiar players here are of Italian heritage. That list includes Pirates closer Jason Grilli, former Rockies lefty Dan Serafini, Twins catcher Drew Butera, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto and Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia. Switch-pitching Yankees farmhand Pat Venditte, who’s working his way back from a torn labrum in his right shoulder, is on the roster as well. Hall of Fame candidate Mike Piazza is one of the coaches, as is former major league manager Tom Trebelhorn.

Japan (Pool A): The two-time defending champions have featured major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish and two-time tournament MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka on past rosters, but none of them are here this time around. In fact, the only player on the roster with MLB experience is 37-year-old infielder Kazuo Matsui, whose last major league stint came with the Astros in 2010. Eight players return from the 2009 winners, headlined by three past MVP recipients in the Japanese leagues, pitcher Toshiya Sugiuchi and catcher Shinnosuke Abe from the Yomiuri Giants, and outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Mexico (Pool D): As you’d expect, Team Mexico is well-stocked, particularly the pitching staff, which is headlined by the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. Righties Alfredo Aceves (Red Sox), David Hernandez (Diamondbacks), Rodrigo Lopez (Phillies), Luis Mendoza (Royals), Francisco Rodriguez (this one, not the big-name closer, but also a former Angel after being released last summer), Sergio Romo (Giants), Fernando Salas and Oscar Villareal (both Cardinals) are also on staff, as are lefties Oliver Perez (Mariners), Horacio Ramirez (last with the Angels in 2011) and Dennys Reyes (last with the Red Sox in 2011). The infield includes Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and his brother Edgar, who played with the Padres in 2008-2009 and finished last year with the Yomiuri Giants. The Dodgers’ Luis Cruz, the Braves’ Ramiro Pena, the Marlins’ Gil Velasquez and free agent Jorge Cantu are among the infielders, while Karim Garcia, who last played in the majors in 2004 and still plays in the Mexican League, is the lone outfielder with major league experience. Former major leaguer Rick Renteria is the manager, with Fernando Valenzuela, Teddy Higuera, Ruben Amaro, Sid Monge and Juan Castro among the coaches.

Netherlands (Pool B): Who doesn’t love honkbal? The tournament’s most beloved underdogs after defeating the Dominican Republic twice in 2009, the Dutchmen have a smattering of familiar names on this year’s roster. Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina are the only current major leaguers, but 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones, who spent the last two years with the Yankees before signing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League, is the biggest name on the roster. Former Nationals righty Shairon Martis, who pitched a no-hitter against Panama in a mercy rule-shortened WBC game in 2006, is here, as are former Mariners and Reds outfieler Wladimir Balentien, who last played in the majors in 2009, and Red Sox prospect Xander Boegarts, a shortstop who ranked eighth on BA’s recent list. The Dutch team is managed by current Giants hitting coach Hensley Muelens, with Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven as the pitching coach.

Puerto Rico (Pool C): This squad is brimming with major league talent in the outfield via the Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran, the White Sox’ Alex Rios and the Giants’ Angel Pagan and Andres Torres. They’re stacked at catcher as well, with brothers Yadier and Jose Molina (of the Cardinals and Rays, respectively) as well as the Brewers’ Martin Maldonado. There is less major league depth elsewhere on the roster, with the Indians’ Mike Aviles and the Royals’ Irving Falu the recognizable infield names, and righties Javier Vazquez (unsigned but considering a comeback after sitting out last year), Fernando Cabrera (currently a non-roster invitee with the Angels but absent from the MLB scene since one appearance with the Red Sox in 2010), Nelson Figueroa (on a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks) and lefty J.C. Romero (a free agent who pitched for the Orioles and Cardinals last year) on the pitching staff. The team is managed by former Marlins skipper Edwin Rodriguez.

South Korea (Pool B): The 2009 tournament runner-ups have 11 players returning from that squad headlined by infielder Tae-Kyun Kim and outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim, but outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, now with the Reds, is not on the roster. Former major league hurler Jae Weong Seo, who pitched for the Mets, Dodgers and Rays from 2002-2007, is on the pitching staff, as is onetime Red Sox prospect Seung Song.

Spain (Pool C): The first-time tournament participants have Astros reliever Rhiner Cruz on their roster, but given his 55 innings of 6.05 ERA work for Houston last year, you’re forgiven if you don’t recognize him. Among the minor leaguers here, the most familiar is Engel Beltre, a toolsy outfielder in the Rangers system who at age 17 was part of a deal for a washed-up Eric Gagne; now 22, his career has stalled in Double-A.

United States (Pool D): See here for my roster rundown; the Joe Torre-managed team has since added lefties Tim Collins (Royals) and Ross Detwiler (Nationals).

Venezuela (Pool C): Not surprisingly, this is another roster laden with major league talent, starting with reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval and NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro (Giants) — and that’s just part of an infield that also includes Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians) and Omar Infante (Tigers). The catching corps consists of Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks), Sal Perez (Royals) and Ramon Hernandez (Rockies). The outfield features Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado (Diamondbacks). The pitching staff is headlined by Anibal Sanchez (Tigers) and Carlos Zambrano (free agent), with Jhoulys Chacin (Rockies) and Henderson Alvarez (Marlins) the other established starters. Righties Francisco Rodriguez (free agent) and Ronald Belisario (Dodgers) and lefties Wil Ledezma (free agent), Jose Mijares (Giants) and Alex Torres (Rays) are part of the bullpen. Former Yankees utilityman Luis Sojo is the manager, while Wilson Alvarez and Andres Galarraga are on his coaching staff.

Pools A (Fukuoka, Japan) and B (Taichung, Taiwan) get underway on March 2, while Pools C (San Juan, Puerto Rico) and D (Salt Rivera and Phoenix, Arizona) begin on March 7.

An earlier version of this article erroneously placed Ray Chang and Wei Wang on the Chinese Taipei roster. 

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