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World Baseball Classic: Group C preview

The United States looks to defend its WBC title, starting in Group C pool play. Mexico, Canada, Colombia and Great Britain look to stop them.

Baseball: World Baseball Classic-USA at Dominican Republic Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, March 11, Group C play of the 2023 World Baseball Classic starts at Chase Field in Phoenix when Colombia will take on Mexico at 1:30 p.m. CT. Then later on Saturday, Team USA begins their title defense against Great Britain at 8 pm CT.

Group C of the WBC is made up of the USA, Canada, Mexico, Colombia and Great Britain. All games in the round-robin tournament will be played at Chase Field in Phoenix. The top two teams will advance to the second round in Miami. The team that finishes last will have to go through qualifying to play in the next WBC.

Team USA is the clear favorite in Group C and Mexico is clearly the second-best. But Canada and Colombia certainly have a chance at an upset and advance. Great Britain will just be looking to avoid the basement.


WBC history: Canada has played in all four WBC, but they haven’t found a lot of success. Back in 2017. they finished 15th out of 16 teams and only qualified for this tournament because of the expanded field of 20. Their overall record is 3-8. Canada had their most success in the first tournament back in 2006, when they won two games in pool play and only failed to advance to the second round on the run differential tiebreaker. Canada beat Team USA in that tournament 8-6 in one of the more famous upsets in WBC history.

Manager: Ernie Whitt.

The roster: Both of Dodgers’ first baseman Freddie Freeman’s parents were born and raised in Canada and Freeman represented the Maple Leaf in 2017 as well. Freeman will be the heart of Team Canada. Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill joins Freeman in the lineup and Guardians right-hander Cal Quantrill anchors the pitching staff. Mariners right-hander Matt Brash gives Canada a solid arm in the bullpen.

The rest of the pitching staff consists of guys you’ve heard of (but not recently) or arms toiling away in the minors. Left-hander Andrew Albers last threw for the Twins in 2019. Right-hander Phillippe Aumont last pitched for the Guardians Triple-A team in 2019. Thirty-nine-year-old John Axford hasn’t pitched since he blew out his elbow with the Brewers in 2021. Lefty Adam Loewen is 38 and last pitched for Triple-A Round Rock in 2018. He last pitched in the majors in 2016.

On offense, infielder Abraham Toro had a poor season with the Mariners last year. He was traded to the Brewers this winter. He’ll probably play third base in the tournament.

Top Prospects: Guardians catcher Bo Naylor made his major league debut last year and is a top prospect for Cleveland. (His brother Josh played for Canada last time around.) Otto Lopez made his major-league debut with the Blue Jays last year and has could have a future in the majors as a utility infielder. Twins second baseman Eduardo Julien had a breakout season in Double-A last year, hitting .300 with 17 home runs and a .441 on-base percentage. Athletics center fielder Denzel Clark is a cousin of the Naylors and is one of the toolsiest outfielders in the minors, but he’s still quite raw and struggled after his promotion to High-A last season.

Then of course, there is Cubs slugging outfielder Owen Caissie, who should get a lot of playing time with Team Canada.

Any Cubs? Caissie is joined by four corners player Jared Young, who made his major-league debut with the Cubs last year. The Cubs also signed right-handed pitcher Curtis Taylor to a minor-league deal this past off-season.

Old friends? Rob Zastryzny has a World Series ring after making his major-league debut with the Cubs in 2016. He pitched with the Cubs through the 2018 season. Zastryzny signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates this past winter.

Chances in the tournament: Canada should at least improve on their 0-3 performance in 2017. While it’s pretty unlikely that Canada advances to the second round, it’s not totally impossible. Freeman and Quantrill give them a chance. It will be up to the kids to live up to their promise and the old guys to rediscover their former glory to make something of it.


WBC history: Colombia made their first WBC in 2017 and gave Team USA a scare in their first game, losing in ten innings 3-2. Next Colombia beat Canada 4-1 for their first-ever WBC win before losing big to the Dominican Republic to end their tournament.

Manager: Jolbert Cabrera.

The roster: Colombia is an interesting mixture of major and minor leaguers. Rays outfielder Harold Ramírez is coming off a strong season, as is Angels third baseman Gio Urshela. Cardinals outfielder Óscar Mercado joins Ramírez in the outfield. Twins second baseman Donovan Solano gives them some stability up the middle. Colombia has a pair of solid catchers in the Red Sox’ Jorge Alfaro and the Rockies’ Elias Díaz. First baseman Jordan Díaz is a solid prospect who made his major league debut with the Athletics last year.

The pitching isn’t as sexy, but it’s a lot deeper than it looks thanks to a lot of prospects. Veteran Julio Teheran pitched in independent ball and the Mexican League last year, but he’s signed a deal with the Padres for 2023. But Colombia has a solid bullpen, thanks in part to prospects like the Cubs’ Danis Correa and the Pirates’ Santiago Florez. Red Sox prospect Rio Gomez, the son of the late ESPN broadcaster Pedro Gomez, is pitching for Colombia as well. Lefty Reiver Sanmartin pitched a lot of innings out of the Cincinnati pen last year, but it didn’t go all that well. But he did get left-handers out.

The loss of Mets left-hander José Quintana to an injury hurts, though. Quintana almost led Colombia to a win over the US six years ago.

Top Prospects: I’ve already mentioned most of them — Díaz, Correa, Florez. Guardians shortstop Dayan Frias, 20, played for Low-A Lynchburg last year and at least qualifies as “interesting.” Braves left-handed prospect Luis De Avila will likely join the team if they somehow get past the first round.

Any Cubs? Correa is the big name and should get important innings in the bullpen. Shortstop Fabian Pertuz, who played for South Bend last year, should also get in several games.

Old friends? Does Harold Ramírez count? Left-hander Yapson Gomez was in the Cubs’ system from 2013 to 2019. Right-hander Jhon Romero was in the Cubs’ system from 2105 to 2018, until he was traded for Brandon Kintzler. Romero pitched for Triple-A St. Paul last season. Right-hander Carlos Ocampo was in the Cubs’ system from 2016 to 2021.

Chances in the tournament: It seems like a longshot for Colombia to beat out either USA or Mexico for the second spot out of this tournament, but stranger things have happened. They almost beat the US and they did beat Canada last time. Their main goal should be to avoid last place and automatically qualify next time. This is a baseball country on the rise and they could be much better in the next tournament.

Great Britain

WBC history: This is Great Britain’s first trip to the WBC. They reached this tournament by beating Spain and finishing first in the Regensburg qualifier last year.

Manager: Drew Spencer

The roster: The Great Britain team is mostly made up of players from the Bahamas or Americans and Canadians with British ties—either having been born there or having a parent born there. Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson’s father, NBA great Mychal Thompson, was born in the Bahamas, for example. Thompson is the best hitter on the team. Nationals shortstop Lucius Fox made his major-league debut last year, although he’s more of a speed-and-defense guy than a bat you can rely on.

Catcher Harry Ford is the top prospect in the Mariners’ system and both of his parents were born in the UK. He’s a top 100 prospect after a strong season for Low-A Modesto in 2022.

Things are a little, but not much, better for Great Britain in the pitching department. Right-hander Vance Worley’s mother is from Hong Kong, but he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017. He pitched in independent ball last year. Right-hander Akeel Morris also pitched in indy ball last year and was last seen in the majors with the Angels in 2018.

Pirates right-hander Tahnaj Thomas was the best pitcher for Great Britain in qualifying. He pitched in Double-A last year.

Top Prospects: Ford is a terrific prospect. Thomas certainly has a chance to be a major league reliever. Cubs’ corner infielder BJ Murray Jr. is another “interesting” minor leaguer after playing well for Myrtle Beach and South Bend in 2022.

Any Cubs? Other than Murray, the Cubs’ picked left-hander Branden Noriega in the 11th round last year. He’s yet to make his minor league debut, so this could be your first chance to see him pitch. He is supposedly raw with upside, but he’s only pitched in the MLB Draft League since graduating high school in 2019.

Old friends? Trayce Thompson is about it as far as I can tell.

Chances in the tournament: Just winning a game in this group would be a major upset.


WBC history: Mexico has played in all four WBC tournaments so far. They advanced out of pool play and into the second round in 2006 and 2009, but they finished last in their group in both 2013 and 2017, despite the 2017 pool being held in Mexico.

Mexico’s overall record is 6-11.

Manager Benji Gil.

The roster: This is a pretty solid all-around team, made up mostly of major leaguers — both Mexican and Mexican-American. On offense, Mexico has some thump with two Brewers, first baseman Rowdy Tellez and third baseman Luis Urias. Rays third baseman Isaac Paredes and Rockies shortstop Alan Trejo give Mexico solid offense and some questionable infield defense.

The Rays’ Randy Arozarena (a naturalized Mexican citizen) and Red Sox Alex Verdugo and Jarren Duran give Mexico a solid outfield. Diamondbacks outfielder Alek Thomas can add some outfield defense when they need it. Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes provides veteran leadership behind the plate.

The pitching staff is led by Dodgers’ ace Julio Urías, who won the NL ERA title last season. Astros right-hander José Urquidy, Angels left-handed starter Patrick Sandoval and Phillies right-hander Taijuan Walker give Mexico better starting pitching depth than most teams. Cardinals’ closer Giovanny Gallegos should anchor the bullpen. Lefty Oliver Pérez may have just retired from MLB at 41, but he’s going to go out by representing Mexico one last time in the WBC.

Top Prospects: Infielder Jonathan Aranda is a top-ten prospect in the Rays organization. He made his major league debut last season. Cubs’ right-hander Javier Assad also made The Show last year and pitched well without losing his rookie eligibility. But this is a pretty veteran team.

Any Cubs? Assad.

Old friends? Paredes was in the Cubs’ minor league system from 2016 to 2017. He went to Detroit in the deal for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.

Chances in the tournament: This is probably the best team Mexico has ever fielded in the WBC. They should advance out of the group. Making the semis would be a stretch, but the pitching staff at least gives them a chance to do it.


WBC history: The US has played in all four WBC, but before winning it all last time, Team USA repeatedly failed to live up to expectations. They’ve advanced out of the first round in all four tournaments, but they were knocked out in the second round in 2006 and 2013. In 2009, they finished fourth. The 2017 title made up for a lot of previous disappointments.

Manager: Mark DeRosa. DeRosa has never coached before this tournament.

The roster: One can argue that Team USA has the greatest starting lineup in baseball history. Here’s one potential starting lineup:

Trea Turner SS
Mookie Betts RF
Mike Trout CF
Paul Goldschmidt 1B
Nolan Arenado 3B
Pete Alonso/Kyle Schwarber DH (platoon)
Kyle Tucker LF
Jeff MacNeil 2B
J.T. Realmuto C

And that leaves Tim Anderson and Bobby Witt Jr. on the bench.

Obviously, DeRosa isn’t going to have any trouble putting an offense out there. But he and pitching coach Andy Pettitte have more to worry about with the rotation. Both Nestor Cortes and Clayton Kershaw had to pull out of the tournament, leaving Team USA with a starting rotation of Lance Lynn, Nick Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas. Brady Singer and Merrill Kelly might also get starts. That’s not bad and it’s certainly deep, but it doesn’t compare to what some of the other title contenders are putting out there. There definitely isn’t a guy who can just shut down an opposing lineup in a win-or-go-home game like Shohei Ohtani, Julio Urías or Sandy Alcantara can.

There are fewer questions about the bullpen with Devin Williams, Ryan Pressley, David Bednar, Daniel Bard, Adam Ottavino and several other terrific arms.

Top Prospects: Everyone on this team is an established major leaguer.

Any Cubs? No.

Old friends: Schwarber, of course. DeRosa as a manager. Jason Adam and Brooks Raley are in the bullpen. Daniel Bard was in the organization for a year. Does he count if he never actually pitched for the Cubs?

Chances in the tournament: Obviously that lineup gives Team USA a solid chance to repeat. But other contenders have good lineups as well and the US doesn’t have a dominating starting pitcher to take the ball in a title game. Also traditionally, American players just aren’t as ready to play full-tilt in mid-March like teams from the Caribbean and the Far East are. Team USA solved that issue the last time, but can they do it again?

Team USA should make the final four, but they have to be considered a step behind the Dominican Republic and Japan among the three favorites. Still, no one should be shocked if they win it again.