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Saturday, April 13, 2024

World Baseball Classic preview

After a six-year hiatus, which country will win the 2023 title?

 

By CAROLYN (CARI) FENN — sports@theaggie.org

 

For the first time since 2017, baseball stars will be given the chance to represent their countries and attempt to lead their teams to the World Baseball Classic title. In the last World Baseball Classic, Team USA was crowned champion, and with a team full of MLB stars, Team USA is looking to defend that title this year. However, with a six-year hiatus and many other teams full of MLB talent, is a repeat victory achievable?

The three teams predicted to have the best chances of winning the title are the Dominican Republic, the United States and Japan. Each team is headed by MLB all-stars and each has won a title in previous years, so their chances to win it are looking somewhat even between the three teams. Here’s a breakdown of how their rosters stack up.

 

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is favored by many to win the World Baseball Classic in 2023. After winning the title back in 2013 and then getting knocked out in the second round in the 2017 tournament, they are motivated to have a major comeback this time around.  

And with a team full of MLB stars, their chances are looking pretty strong. Just in the 2022 season alone, their MLB stars racked up a Cy Young, Home Run Derby and Rookie of the Year award, as well as an MVP runner-up title. 

Taking a look at the roster, it is clear just the amount of talent they have wearing the Dominican uniform. Some of the major stars they have in the infield include Houston Astros’ Jeremy Peña, San Diego Padres’ Manny Machado and Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. With some of the best names in baseball in their infield, they will be difficult to defeat. 

And their outfield is no different, with stars including San Diego Padres’ Juan Soto and Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez. While Rodríguez is not as seasoned as some of his veteran teammates, he won American League (AL) Rookie of the Year in 2022, proving his strong talent coming into the Dominican team. 

Meanwhile, up on the mound, the Dominican Republic has a plethora of talent, with 20 pitchers currently on their roster. Some of the talents include Astros’ Cristian Javier and Florida Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara who won the National League (NL) Cy Young Award in 2022. 

On the offensive side, the team also has a ton of skill and talent that will be hard for any opposing pitcher to go up against. With 2022 Home Run Derby winner Soto and runner-up Rodríguez, the team is bound to hit at least a few home runs against their opponents. 

With so much talent on one team, they are going to be tough competition for the other countries vying for the title.

 

United States

With a lineup that is not-so-shockingly full of many MLB stars, it makes sense why Team USA is another favorite to win the World Baseball title for the second time in a row. 

This star-studded lineup for Team USA includes 21 all-stars, four MVPs, 11 Silver Slugger Award recipients, three Rookies of the Year, one Cy Young Winner and four Gold Glove Winners, making this roster the most star-studded in World Baseball Classic history. With Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout leading Team USA as team captain, it is clear that the team is going to be tough to beat.

The infield of Team USA includes New York Mets’ Pete Alonso, Chicago White Sox’s Tim Anderson, Philadelphia Phillies’ Trea Turner and Boston Red Sox’s Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. Arenado and Goldschmidt were a part of Team USA back in 2017 when the team first won the World Baseball Classic title. 

The outfield is just as strong, if not stronger than the infield. With Dodgers’ Mookie Betts, Angels’ Mike Trout and Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber, there are plenty of powerful players in the backfield. Trout and Betts are two of the biggest stars in baseball at the moment, and Schwarber is coming out of this past season the NL home run champion, so there is not much that can top these star-studded outfielders.

Team USA also features the best group of catchers in the tournament, with three-time all-star and two-time Gold Glove winner J.T. Realmuto leading the way. 

While the team’s pitching lineup does not have an absolute advantage over the other teams, they are still looking strong. Star pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Nestor Cortes had to drop off of the roster, but their rotation is still full of many MLB stars, including Padres’ Nick Martinez, White Sox’s Lance Lynn, Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright and Pirates’ David Bednar.

With hall-of-famer and 13-time all-star Ken Griffey Jr. as the hitting coach for Team USA, they will be a danger at the plate. Griffey Jr. will have a ton of talent to work with, including two-time Home Run Derby winner Pete Alonso, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.  Team USA is sure to be a threat to their competition on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field. 

 

Japan 

Rounding out the teams with the best chances to win the World Baseball Classic is Japan. With two championships already under their belt — back-to-back in 2006 and 2009 — it’s no surprise that they are another favorite to win the title.

While Japan does not have the same amount of MLB all-stars as the Dominican Republic or the United States, they do have one player that these two teams don’t have: Shohei Ohtani.

The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is the current best two-way player in the MLB — and possibly one of the best of all time. With strong power both hitting and on the mound, he will be a challenge to all the countries Japan competes against. 

Other MLB Stars joining Team Japan include Padres’ Yu Darvish, Cardinals’ Lars Nootbaar, Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki and soon-to-be Red Sox’s Masataka Yoshida. The majority of the MLB talent for Japan is in the outfield with Nootbaar, Suzuki and Yoshida.

Most of Japan’s talent comes from the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB), which is the highest level of baseball in Japan.

Japan’s infield features NPB player Munetaka Murakami. At only 23 years old, he is one of the best hitters in Japan, shattering Sadaharu Oh’s single-season NPB record for most home runs by a Japanese-born player. Some players to keep an eye on are Sosuke Genda and Kazuma Okamoto

Japan’s biggest threat to other teams vying for the World Baseball Classic title is their pitching. While they have Darvish from the MLB, they also have NPB players Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Roki Sasaki. With Yamamoto’s status as the best pitcher in Japan and young Sasaki’s 100-miles-per-hour fastball, it will be hard for any team to face off against this pitching trio — in addition to Ohtani. 

 

With so many powerful rosters, it is hard to predict who will win the 2023 World Baseball Classic. While many think that the Dominican Republic has the best odds of winning the tournament, there is a ton of talent and skill on all three of these teams — and many others competing in the tournament.

Will the Dominican Republic, United States or Japan win the World Baseball Classic title? Or will another country snag the title from one of these top contenders? On March 7, the battle for the title will begin, and on March 21, the new reigning champion of the World Baseball Classic will be declared. 

 

Written by: Carolyn (Cari) Fenn — sports@theaggie.org