About a week ago I took a look at the potential roster for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. I decided since I had so much fun the first time around that I would do it again. Only this time I want to take a look at the roster for one of America’s biggest threats to the crown, the always talented Dominican Republic. The Dominican has yet to have a real breakthrough in the World Baseball Classic and the 2009 edition was particularly embarrassing for a nation with so many big league players. The Dominicans, despite having perennial All-Stars like Robinson Cano, Pedro Martinez, and the still-good Hanley Ramirez dotting the diamond, were knocked out in the qualifiers by the Netherlands in a tight 2-1 contest. This year’s roster should be similarly star-studded once again, particularly on the infield, where there could be more All-Stars than positions available. The manager has already been announced and it’s going to be former Kansas City Royals coach Tony Pena. As always the World Baseball Classic allows each country to carry a 28-man roster.
Catcher – Carlos Santana and Miguel Olivo
Santana and Olivo give the Dominican team two reliable catchers to lean on to devise a plan of attack against opposing lineups. Santana is a much better offensive option, with some good pop and the ability to draw a walk so he should get a majority of the playing time. Olivo isn’t quite the player he used to be, but as a lightly-used, veteran backup option, he is solid.
1st Base – Albert Pujols and Edwin Encarnacion
I’d be absolutely shocked if Albert doesn’t end up hitting 3rd for the Dominican Republic come tournament time. He missed the playoffs a year ago and his historically good career OPS+ of 168 is perfect for the middle of any offense. Encarnacion is coming of a career-best season in 2012 and thanks to his shoddy defense his best use would be at DH. He hit 42 bombs while nearly doubling his walk total which lead him to a career-high 152 OPS+. He’s an excellent option for the 5th spot in the lineup, where he can instill fear in opposing pitchers.
2nd Base – Robinson Cano
Cano was the starter back in ’09 and he’s already announced his plans to play in this year’s Classic. He’s currently the best 2nd baseman in the world. He hit .313 with 33 homers and won a much-deserved Gold Glove for the Yankees a year ago and he should fit nicely hitting anywhere from 2nd to 5th in a loaded lineup.
3rd Base – Adrian Beltre and Miguel Tejada
Beltre is a 4-time Gold Glove winner and a 2-time Silver Slugger who’s among the top 2 or 3 candidates for best 3rd baseman alive. He’s got some of the quickest hands in baseball at 3rd base and they allow him to vacuum up anything hit in his direction. I don’t think Tejada should be on the Dominican roster but I think he will find a way to end up on it. He’s a veteran from the ’09 team and he’s trying to make a comeback with the Royals this season after sitting out all of 2012. We’ve seen some ancient veterans (Bernie Williams and Pedro Martinez come to mind) pull this trick before, and I’m almost expecting Tejada to at this point.
Shortstop – Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Starlin Castro
Reyes is another returnee from the 2009 team, and he should reprise his role as table setter in front of a barrage of power hitting options. His defense has slipped a little in the past couple of seasons, but he’s still solid in the middle of the infield and his 40+ steal speed is always fun at the top of a lineup. In terms of star power this infield is tough to beat. Ramirez offers up some positional versatility, with his ability to pass as an adequate shortstop, and his bat still has some pop too. He hit 24 homers a season ago despite playing in some of the most home run-averse parks in the league. Castro is a good pinch-hit option and his ability to steal bases makes him a solid pinch-running choice as well.
Outfield – Nelson Cruz, Alfonso Soriano, Alejandro De Aza, Melky Cabrera
This outfield would look a lot better if not for a wrist injury to Jose Bautista a year ago, one which will probably end any chance of him playing in this tournament. Nelson Cruz and Alfonso Soriano still provide some big power, albeit at the expense of playing any semblance of quality defense. That leaves De Aza of the White Sox and the controversial Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays to battle it out for playing time in centerfield. De Aza is still raw, but he’s proven to be a solid defensive centerfielder and he has a nice gap-to-gap swing. While this is a nice outfield, it doesn’t real hold a candle up to the firepower that the Americans can bring.
Same rules as last time folks:
This is where things start to get interesting. Since most Major League pitchers aren’t quite ready to really extend their arms at the start of March, many will decide to skip this event, which leads to a bullpen heavy staff. There is also a very good chance that many of the top American arms will stay away from the WBC entirely. Do you think the Nats are going to let Stephen Strasburg fire fastballs in the name of freedom after they shut him down on the way to title a year ago? Do you think the Yankees want CC Sabathia throwing sliders to Koreans or Brazilians after having offseason surgery to clean up his elbow? No and no. MLB teams are often overly protective of their assets and in this case it’s doubly so. No franchise want to see their season go up in smoke because one of their pitchers blew out his elbow striking out the heart of the Cuban order.
Without further adieu, here’s my thoughts on what the Dominican staff should look like:
Starters – Johnny Cueto, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Ivan Nova, Wandy Rodriguez
I could see something fairly similar to this being the actual rotation for the Dominican Republic. Cueto had some back spasms in the playoffs a year ago and with Cincinnati in full contention mode I could see them keeping their ace from pitching in the Classic. Jimenez actually had some of the best numbers of his career after pitching for his country 4 years ago so I expect him and his 95 mph heater to make an appearance. The rest of the rotation doesn’t appear to be too strong. Nova has put up some excellent K rates, but he allows home runs about as frequently as a soft toss machine. Santana gets beaten like a drum every other year it seems. He posted a 5.16 ERA a year ago, which is something both the Royals and his country hope he improve upon and Rodriguez has been absolutely adequate just about every year of his career.
Relievers – Carlos Marmol, Octavio Dotel, Alexi Ogando, Jose Arredondo, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, Pedro Strop, Kelvin Herrera, Jordan Norberto
My oh my, will you just look at that crop of flamethrowers. Herrera, Marmol, Rodney, and Ogando all have the ability to dominate with high 90’s heat which gives the Dominicans a chance to turn every ball game into a 6 inning affair, because after that, it’s going to be lights out.
It’s interesting to see how the United States’ roster compares to that of the DR. While the American outfield is far, far superior I have to give the nod to the Dominicans in the infield. The US also has an enormous advantage at catcher, while the pitching staffs of the two countries look to be about even, especially in the bullpen. All we can hope for is that the baseball gods smile down on us and grant us a Dominican Republic vs. United States game in either the finals or the semifinals. That, would be must see TV.