Thanks to some savvy reporting courtesy of MLB.com beat writer Alden Gomez, we’ve learned that preliminary rosters for the World Baseball Classic are due on January 17th. Player decisions have been coming through the wire just about daily. Some have been negative, like Andrew McCutchen withdrawing his name from consideration, while others have been positive with the likes Ryan Braun and Adam Jones joining the Red, White, and Blue. Team USA isn’t the only country pulling in All-Star commitments either. Venezuela has already pulled in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to man one of the infield corners, and the nation appears to be close to getting a positive confirmation from ace right-hander Felix Hernandez. Those two players alone give the Venezuelan team a ton of MLB star power, and if the country can successfully fill out the rest of their roster with some more big league talent, they could head into the WBC on the short list of favorites to win the whole damn thing. Let’s take a glimpse at their best potential roster.
Catcher – Miguel Montero and Salvador Perez
Montero should be one of the strongest offensive backstops in the entire tournament thanks in part to the .286/.391/.483 triple slash he put up a year ago. He’s also got a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder for gunning potential base thieves down. Outside of Yadier Molina, no Major League catcher is better at controlling a running game. Salvy Perez gives the Venezuelan roster some enviable depth too. Outside of the United States, no country has a better 1-2 combo behind the plate.
1st base – Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera has already announced his intentions to play in the Classic, and his current reign on the title of “Best Hitter Alive” gives the Venezuelan lineup a great jumping off point. I have him listed at 1st base for Venezuela because the country is lacking in great 1st baseman and besides, Venezuela should have 3rd base covered. No other 1st baseman from this country even warrants peaking at. If Cabrera doesn’t man the position it will probably fall to Braves minor league 1st baseman Ernesto Mejia, who hit .296 with 24 homers at Triple-A a year ago.
2nd base – Marco Scutaro and Jose Altuve
Another position of stregnth in the Venezuelan lineup is at 2nd base where the country can run out two above average Major Leaguers. Scutaro will probably get the start at 2nd base if he’s on the roster. He also has the ability to play some solid shortstop or 3rd base, which could be of use should injuries hit the roster. Altuve is a nice alternate/bench player/pinch runner with some solid speed and a little bit of pop.
3rd base – Pablo Sandoval and Alberto Callaspo
Remember when I said that Venezuela had somebody to play the position? Sandoval would fit perfectly in the #3 hole in the lineup, just in front of Cabrera. His ability to get on base would give Cabrera plenty of RBI chances, and I’m pretty sure everybody knows about his pop after Game 1 of the World Series last year. Callaspo is another perfectly acceptable Major League starter who will be more than adequate coming off the bench for the Venezuelans.
Shortstop – Elvis Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera
Rounding out a loaded infield is by far the toughest starting choice, maybe in the entire tournament. Both players are excellent glove men which basically means the choice boils down to offense. Do you prefer the speed game of Andrus? Or do you go for a little more power and choose Cabrera? Either way you can’t lose.
Outfield – Carlos Gonzalez, Martin Prado, Gregor Blanco, Bobby Abreu, Gerardo Parra
After going over such a strong group of Venezuelan infielders, this group almost feels like a let down. Carlos Gonzalez is a bona fide big hitter and Martin Prado is basically a giant cargo net in the outfield but the rest of the group feels more like spare parts than quality pieces. Parra should probably get the final starting spot in centerfield, which would give the Venezuelan’s 3 top-class fielders roaming the outfield expanse.
Same rules as always, and here they are:
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 Mets want Johan Santana throwing change-ups 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.
Starting Pitchers – Felix Hernandez, Felix Doubrant, Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, Freddy Garcia
If King Felix does indeed end up playing in the World Baseball Classic that would be a huge coup not only for Venezuela but for baseball fans everywhere. The big time Major League aces have primarily stayed away from this tournament in the past so it would be awesome to see King Felix, in his prime, mind you, dominating hitters from all over the planet. Sanchez makes for an excellent #2 in the tournament thanks to his big strikeout ability. As for the rest of the rotation, their performance will probably depend on how they feel when the get out of bed in the morning. Doubrant has had some solid big league success, but he’s also been frighteningly prone to the 3-run homer in his career and Big Z and Garcia are nothing more than veteran fodder at this point.
Relief Pitchers – Rafael Betancourt, Edward Mujica, Jose Mijares, Francisco Rodriguez, Franklin Morales, Brayan Villarreal, Luis Avilan, Henry Rodriguez, Lester Oliveros
This should be a fairly decent bullpen, but it doesn’t appear to stack up to the ‘pens that the USA and the Dominican Republic will be bringing to the tourney. Rafael Betancourt will probably take the closers role after his 31 save, 2.81 ERA season for Colorado a year ago, with K-Rod as his set up man.
So, how does Venezuela stack up? I’d say about as well as anybody. A heart of the order showcased by Pablo Sandoval, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Gonzalez has the power to strike fear into even the most dominant of pitchers’ hearts, and that’s not even considering the great base running threats that the Venezuelans can surround them with. The rotation should be just fine as well, provided that Felix Hernandez does indeed take part in the tournament. If he doesn’t play, it would knock Venezuela down a peg or two in the pecking order, but otherwise this team is as good a threat as any to win the World Baseball Classic.
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