The World Baseball Classic is returning for the first time since 2017, as this March, 20 countries will battle it out for the right to be World Champions. The tournament is back after a five-year absence due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. This edition of the tournament is set to be the best yet, as more superstars are participating than ever before. With action set to kick off in a couple of weeks, let’s take a look at the Top 5 Countries in this year’s tournament.
1. Dominican Republic
This team is stacked. There’s just no other way to put it. The lineup has superstars such as Manny Machado, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Wander Franco, Jeremy Pena, Julio Rodriguez, Juan Soto, and Teoscar Hernandez, among many, MANY others. Think their lineup is a problem? How about the rotation that includes the reigning NL Cy Young award winner in Sandy Alcantara, Cristian Javier, and Johnny Cueto? The bullpen is probably their weakest part of the roster, but even then, it’s a huge problem for opposing teams. Try Gregory Soto, Hector Neris, and Diego Castillo. Their unbelievable lineup is going to be hard for teams to navigate through, good luck to opposing pitchers.
This is pretty much the only other country you can debate that should be number 1 on this list. In all honesty, you can’t be mad at anyone that has them at the top because they arguably can be and they are the defending tournament champions. This year’s USA lineup includes Captain Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto, Will Smith, Tim Anderson, Trea Turner, Nolan Arenado, Kyle Tucker, and the reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, among others. The rotation is built with the likes of future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, Lance Lynn, Merrill Kelly, and Adam Wainwright. The bullpen includes Devin Williams, Adam Ottavino, Miles Mikolas, and 2022 World Series champion closer Ryan Pressly. This is as deep as a team that you will find.
Japan is always a perennial powerhouse in this tournament, and this year will be no different. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani leads roster than boasts tons of talent. The lineup includes NPB MVP Munetaka Murakami, Lars Nootbaar, Seiya Suzuki, and Masataka Yoshida. The pitching staff boasts the likes of Yu Darvish, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Ryoji Imanaga, and Roki Sasaki. Expect Japan to reach AT least the Semifinal game.
Venezuela is a sneakily underrated team. They have the roster capable of making a deep run… if they can get out that gauntlet that is Pool D. Representing Venezuela are Ronald Acuna Jr, Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez, Luis Arraez, Miguel Cabrera, Andres Gimenez, Gleyber Torres and David Peralta. The pitching staff includes Pablo Lopez, Luis Garcia, Ranger Suarez, Martin Perez, and Eduardo Rodriguez. They join team USA as countries with some of the deepest rosters in this tournaments.
5. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is still looking for that first World Baseball Classic title. After making it to two straight WBC Championship Games (2013 L vs DR, 2017 L vs USA), Puerto Rico is set to face a hard road back to the title game as they start the tournament in Pool D with two of the teams ahead of them on this list in the DR and Venezuela. Nonetheless, they still some have of the best talent in this tournament that starts with a couple of big names in the lineup such as Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Enrique Hernandez, Jose Miranda, and Eddie Rosario. The rotation includes 2017 WBC MVP Marcus Stroman, Jose Berrios, and Jose De Leon, but their bullpen might be their strongest asset. With a bullpen that hosts Edwin Diaz, Alexis Diaz, Jorge Lopez, and Emilio Pagan, opposing teams are going to want to get a lead before Puerto Rico can throw out their bullpen, because if not, this team can hang with anyone.
(Photo via Alex Trautwig/WBCI/MLB Photos)