The Brooklyn qualifier for the World Baseball Classic’s 16th and final spot in next year’s tournament starts Thursday. Four teams will play in a modified double-elimination tournament at MCU Park in Brooklyn for the right to play in the fourth edition of baseball’s top international tournament.
Last month, I wrote up a preview of this qualifying tournament, but since I’m sure most of you forgot about that by now, I thought I’d refresh your memory with a quick preview. Since the Cubs are pretty much just playing out the string (in a good way!) until the playoffs start, you really ought to check out a game or two with teams that really have a lot on the line.
Since its creation in 2006, the World Baseball Classic has become the top international baseball tournament. For players in the major leagues, this tournament may not seem like much, but for many players toiling overseas, this is their true World Series. On top of that, it is a chance for many players to get themselves noticed by scouts, either from North America or the Far East.
The four teams competing this weekend are Brazil, Israel, Great Britain and Pakistan.
Last month, I wrote this about Team Brazil:
Brazil advanced out of a qualifier in 2012 to make their first ever WBC last time around. This year, Barry Larkin returns as the manager of the Brazilians and he's brought along some high-powered help. Steve Finley is the Brazilian hitting coach and former Cub LaTroy Hawkins will serve as the pitching coach.
Nine of the 28 players on the Brazilian roster are currently in organized baseball, led by Andre Rienzo, who has spent time in the majors in each of the past three seasons. Rienzo is currently thriving as the closer for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. Infielder Leonardo Reginatto plays for the Twins Triple-A affiliate the Rochester Red Wings and second baseman Christian Lopes plays for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays organization.
I don’t have a lot to add to that now, other than to say that the WBC was aggressively marketing the WBC at Brazil Day in New York City a couple weeks ago and that they may have a stronger home field advantage than expected. Brazil is also missing Yan Gomes from four years ago, but even if he wasn’t injured, he wouldn’t be playing as he’s a major leaguer on a team in the heart of a pennant race.
Last month, I wrote the following about Team Israel:
Israel is managed by Jerry Weinstein, who currently manages in the Cape Cod League but previously spent nine years coaching in the Rockies organization. I notice he also managed some Cubs affiliates in Geneva in 1993 and Williamsport in 1994.
Twenty of the 28 players on the Israeli roster are currently playing in the affiliated minor leagues, including four in Triple-A and eight in Double-A. On top of that, they have a few players with major league experience in Josh Satin, Craig Breslow and Ike Davis who have been recently released by major league teams. Israel will be the favorite in this group, but they were the favorite four years ago and Spain ended up beating them in the final.
Yes, Team Israel is made up mostly of Jewish-American minor leaguers and former major leaguers, and you can add former Cub Jason Marquis to the Team Israel roster. If you check out their roster, you’ll see a lot of names you recognize. They’re clearly the favorite and playing in Brooklyn, they should have the crowd behind them.
I wrote this about Team Great Britain in August:
Liam Carroll is the manager of the Great Britain baseball team. Carroll has been involved with British baseball since the mid-90s, although he did play junior college ball in California. Carroll will get some top-flight help though, as Trevor Hoffman will serve as the British pitching coach.
Great Britain will have 12 players that are currently affiliated with major league clubs, including four in Triple-A and one in Double-A. The biggest name is Chris Reed, who is Rienzo's teammate in the Marlins organization. Reed was born in London, even though he grew up in California and was drafted in the first round in 2011. Another Zephyr on the Great Britain roster is Jake Esch. Left-hander Michael Roth pitches for Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers organization and catcher Chris Berset plays for the triple-A Louisville Bats in the Reds organization.
Team Great Britain has some talent, but they are a distinct longshot compared to the experienced Israelis and the young and talented Brazilians. Great Britain’s goal will be to gain experience and prepare for qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, where they’ll have a slightly easier (although still not easy) road through European qualifying.
Finally, there’s Team Pakistan:
The fourth team in the group is Pakistan, who is making their WBC debut. They are managed by Pervaiz Shah Khawar and have no players who are signed with major league organizations. In case you couldn't tell, they're the underdogs. But they've done well enough in international competitions over the past four years to just qualify for this tournament and that's quite an accomplishment.
Just getting a game to go nine innings and not losing by the mercy rule will be a victory for Pakistan. An upset win over Great Britain, for example, would be a monumental achievement for this country that according to one article I read, has only been playing baseball at all since 1992. Hopefully some of the Pakistani-American population of the New York area will turn out to support Team Pakistan.
I should also mention that Pakistan is considered to have the 5th best baseball team in Asia. When you remember that the top four are Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei and China, that’s quite an accomplishment.
The schedule of the games is as follows:
As I wrote last month, both Al and I are fans of the WBC and we’re looking forward to a great tournament next March. If you’re not a WBC fan, then I really suggest you check out one of these games, especially the final on Sunday, to see the passion of international baseball.