The World Baseball Classic is back for the first time since 2017. What Latino teams and players should you look for at this year’s tournament?
From the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and Mexico, Latino teams are expected to perform at the WBC’s return.
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The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is back for the first time since 2017 as the international baseball sporting tournament kicks off on Tuesday, March 7.
In WBC’s fifth iteration, this year’s teams feature some of the greatest ever rosters of players ever assembled, including the best of Major League Baseball (MLB).
From Manny Machado to Shohei Ohtani, some of MLB’s best will be on display with each nation carrying one or several future Hall of Fame-caliber players.
It gives a chance for scouts to also look at young unknown minor leaguers as well as international players looking to break into the big leagues.
USA’s Mike Trout will look to help his country defend its 2017 title with Japan looking to win its third championship with Ohtani — Japan has the most WBC titles with two — and a stacked Dominican Republic team headlined by Machado and Juan Soto, who will look to add a second world title to DR’s trophy cabinet.
Players and teams to watch
DR has topped many outlets’ WBC power rankings with expectations that the MLB-filled roster will match Japan with two WBC titles, as the country previously won in 2013.
The loaded favorites have National League Cy Young-winner Sandy Alcantara and Astros starter Cristian Javier atop the team’s starting rotation that could also include veteran Johnny Cueto and star prospect Roansy Contreras. The bullpen has talents like Camilo Doval and Rafael Montero and depth that other teams cannot compete with.
The starting lineup will likely include Julio Rodriguez, Soto, Machado, Rafael Devers, Wander Franco, Jeremy Peña and others like Ketel Marte, Willy Adames, Teoscar Hernandez and more.
Venezuela possesses a top-five lineup in the tournament with an emphasis on their infield, featuring World Champion Jose Altuve alongside Andres Gimenez, Luis Arraez and Gleyber Torres. Ronald Acuna Jr., Salvador Perez and Anthony Santander also add much-needed power to Venezuela.
The South American nation has had talented teams previously, but has only reached the semifinals once in four WBCs — the last time more than 10 years ago. But Venezuela has never had this kind of starting pitching depth, with Martin Perez, Pablo Lopez, Jesus Luzardo, Eduardo Rodriguez, Luis Garcia and Ranger Suarez, the latter two who can be used as relief pitchers.
Puerto Rico will look to carry some momentum into this tournament after finishing second in the last WBC. They have an all-star middle infield of Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Diaz at the back of the bullpen.
Manager Yadier Molina — the former St. Louis Cardinals’ catcher — will be overseeing the national team and their key hitters such as Baez, Eddie Rosario, and Kike Hernandez. Molina will also have a great bullpen to work with in Diaz, his brother Alexis, Jorge Lopez, Alex Claudio and Emilio Pagan.
Twenty-four-year-old Kansas City Royals catcher MJ Melendez is looking to continue his solid play from his MLB debut last season, but isn't likely to play a ton as he sits behind other veterans, including Martin Maldonado and Christian Vazquez.
Mexico has their best-ever roster in this year’s tournament, with an offense led by Alejandro Kirk, Alex Verdugo, Randy Arozarena, Rowdy Tellez and Joey Meneses. The bullpen is just as talented with Julio Urias, Jose Urquidy, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Sandoval.
Mexico — who has never finished top four in the WBC — has a talented enough squad to get past the group stages with the U.S., leaving behind Canada and Colombia.
Thomas has been one of MLB’s better outfield prospects in recent times and in 2022, played 113 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks. An athletic and pure hitter in the minors, the Mexican will look to perform well in the tournament and take that momentum with him back to Arizona just in time for the start of the new MLB season.
The Cubans have an older team and a fighter’s chance to get through the group stages.
Their stars Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Yoenis Cespedes — Cespedes has not played in the major leagues since 2020 — will not only have to show out in order for Cuba to move through, but will also have to keep up a consistent play going up against some of MLB’s current crop of star athletes.
Once among the top nations that produced baseball excellence, Cuba in recent times has seen many of their top talents leave. Along with economic hardships in Cuba and a communist government that isolates Cuba from the rest of the world, their teams have drastically dropped in overall quality.
Luckily for them however, they will be playing in a weak pool that includes Italy, the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei and Panama.
They might be able to get past the group stages, but will struggle once the top nations remain.
The reigning 2017 WBC champions have a strong chance of repeating as champions, with a roster stacked from top to bottom with elite MLB talent.
Notably, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout is participating in his first-ever WBC tournament.
The Dominicans have been considered heavy favorites throughout the last few months but the U.S. lineup features the number three MLB hitter from 2022 in Paul Goldschmidt, number four in Trout, number eight in Nolan Arenado, number 12 in Mookie Betts, number 14 in Pete Alonso and number 16 in Jeff McNeil.
Additionally, they have the best MLB catcher in J.T. Realmuto of the Philadelphia Phillies, National League home run leader Kyle Schwarber and two other top 20 players in Trea Turner and Kyle Tucker.
Considered to be one of the best teams in baseball history — whether in the WBC or MLB All-Star game — the U.S. enters this year’s tournament as one of the top teams and will look to prove it in their first game on March 11 against Great Britain.
Other nations in the WBC include China, Czech Republic, Australia, Nicaragua, Great Britain, Italy, Panama, Colombia, Israel, Chinese Taipei, Canada, Netherlands, Korea and Japan.