Team USA announced their provisional roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic today, picking 27 of the final 28 players to represent the red, white, and blue. The final spot on Joe Torre’s ball club has been reported to be reserved for the one and only Justin Verlander, and if those rumors come to fruition, America’s team could be as strong as it’s ever been. As things stand right now, the Stars and Stripes will have 3 former MVP’s on the roster, the reigning NL Cy Young award winner, and a smorgasbord of All-Stars to fill out the rest of the lineup card. Here’s a comprehensive look at the 27 players picked for Team USA:
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Jonathan Lucroy, and JP Arencibia
It’s hard to not be a tiny bit disappointed in the fact that reigning NL MVP Buster Posey won’t be signaling in pitches for the Stars and Stripes, but it’s not as if his replacements are slouches either. Mauer is one of those former MVP award winners I was talking about earlier and he’s still one of the best hitters alive. Last year Mauer led the American League in on-base percentage, while rapping out a .319 batting average to boot. He’s not quite the defensive stalwart he used to be, but he’s more than passable behind the plate as well, thanks to his excellent pitch blocking skills. Lucroy is a 26-year-old who really blossomed into a great big league hitter a year ago, posting a .320/.368/.510 triple slash to go with solid defense and great base running, for a backstop at least. Arencibia’s presence on this roster has more to do with RA Dickey’s knuckleball than anything he’s done as a hitter. Arencibia is now teammates on the Blue Jays with Dickey, and has spent parts of his offseason in Nashville working on catching the elusive pitch. When Dickey’s on the mound for America, expect Arencibia, and a giant mitt, behind the plate.
First Base: Mark Teixeira
Tex makes his 2nd appearance in the WBC for the red, white, and blue, and he’s the only returning player from the inaugural 2006 American roster. Teixeira is a switch-hitter who still has the ability to drive a pitch left out over the plate and his defense is second to no man in the Major Leagues. He hit .251/.332/.475 a year ago and is usually in the center of the Yankee lineup, but with this much talent around, Teixeira will probably bat more toward the bottom of the lineup. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Joe Mauer get some playing time at first as well.
Second Base: Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist
This is, without a doubt in my mind, the strongest 2nd base duo in the entire World Baseball Classic. Phillips is an elite player at the position, a dangerous combination of 20 homer power, 15 steal speed, and Gold Glove defense. Zobrist, on the other hand, is the most versatile player in the game today, thanks to his ability to switch hit at the plate while defending multiple positions well in the field. He posted a .377 on base percentage a year ago, a number that ranked 2nd in baseball among middle infielders a year ago. Torre needs to find a way to get Zobrist in every game, because the dude always finds a way to make an impact.
Third Base: David Wright
Wright was among the first American players to sign up for the World Baseball Classic, pledging his allegiance to the roster way back in November. He’s a plus defender in the field with a strong arm, and he’s among the 2 or 3 best in the world at defending against the bunt, which could come in use against the small ball type teams from Asia that have dominated the tournament in the past 2 times. He’s also not too shabby at the plate either, coming of a 2012 season where he hit .306/.391/.492 with 21 homers and 41 doubles. Zobrist and Willie Bloomquist are also options at 3rd if Wright needs a day off.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins and Willie Bloomquist
The weakest position on Team USA’s roster has got to be shortstop, and I mean that with no offense towards Mr. Rollins. He still ranks among the top 10 at the position in the Major Leagues, which only serves to show how far the position has fallen. Rollins hit .250 with a solid 23 homers a year ago, but his on base skills have started to erode over the past 4 seasons. Bloomquist is nothing more than a backup on a good Major League roster, but he has positional versatility and he’s got a solid glove, making him the pick for the last infield spot.
Outfield: Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Ryan Braun, Shane Victorino
Now that’s more like it. The starting outfield trio of Stanton-Jones-Braun will be the best in the entire tournament, and it takes some of the sting out of missing out on Mike Trout. Stanton should enjoy playing with some competent Major League teammates for a couple of weeks, and that could push him to do some incredible things with the bat. He’s got just 3 big league seasons under his belt and his power is already the stuff of legend. Jones is a solid player with 30 homer power as well. He was voted the Gold Glove for centerfielders in 2012, which overstates how good of a defender he is. Jones is no better than the 3rd best defensive centerfielder in his own league, which is a solid accomplishment, but leaves him a step or two down from the best in baseball. Ryan Braun rounds out the world’s best outfield a year after leading the National League with 41 homers and a .987 OPS. He’s a monster at the plate and should hit 3rd in the US lineup. Victorino is the perfect 4th outfielder, bringing speed and defense to the table.
Starting Pitchers: R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong, Derek Holland, and Kris Medlen
This may not be the most highly touted starting staff of all-time, but it looks to be the strongest that Team USA has sent to the tournament so far. Dickey was one of the 3-5 best pitchers on the planet a year ago, winning 20 games while leading the National League in strikeouts and innings pitched. His best asset is his variety of knuckleballs, which baffled hitters a year ago, allowing Dickey to post a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 4:1. Vogelsong brings his championship pedigree to the team as well as a lower 90s fastball and a nice mix of breaking pitches. He fits nicely as a #2 pitcher in a tournament that restricts pitchers to pitch limits. Remember pitchers are only allowed 65 pitches a game in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semifinals and finals. Vogelsong and Dickey are both extremely efficient pitchers, with veteran approaches that lead them to being averse to walks, which should be beneficial to Team USA.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Derek Holland and Kris Medlen, two youngsters with electric stuff who sometimes struggle to control it. Medlen was the best pitcher on earth for the 2nd half of last season, going 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings. His 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio would have ranked 2nd in baseball behind only Cliff Lee if he would have had the required number of innings to qualify. But Medlen is still young and is less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, which makes his inclusion in the tournament a surprising one. Holland’s inclusion is also a bit of a Wild Card. He’s been a dominant pitcher at times in his career (look no further than his masterful Game 4 in the 2011 World Series) but he is a bit prone to the home run bug. He allowed a 32 bombs to leave the yard a year ago, good for 5th in baseball. That’s something that could cause some trouble against some of the better hitters in the World Baseball Classic.
Relief Pitchers: Craig Kimbrel, Heath Bell, Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Luke Gregorson, Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, Jeremy Affeldt, Tim Collins, Mitchell Boggs
This is a really nice, well put together group of relievers. Kimbrel and his electric fastball are the best of the lot and he will be the one doing the closing duties for Team USA after putting together one of the most impressive seasons in history for a reliever. Basically he’s America’s answer to Aroldis Chapman in the strikeout department. Bell is a nice veteran guy who looks primed for a bounce-back year in the desert and while I’m not sure what Chris Perez brings besides a sour attitude, he’s here too. The rest of the group is an intriguing mix of lefties, righties, hard throwers, junk ballers, long relievers, and one-batter types. Jeremy Affeldt’s presense on the roster is a nice one. For years he’s been one of the most flexible relievers in the San Francisco bullpen and his ability to pitch in any situation will come in handy. Mitchell Boggs also offers this sort of flexibility to the roster as well. He was excellent as a starter and a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals a year ago. I really like the inclusion of Tim Collins too. Despite his tiny 5’7″ stature, he’s got an electric fastball that can get the job done. He struck out 12 batters per 9 for the Royals a year ago.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the US roster, provided the player to be named later is Justin Verlander. The offense should be the best in the entire tournament. If I was Torre I’d run out a lineup that looks something like this:
- Ben Zobrist
- Joe Mauer
- David Wright
- Ryan Braun
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Adam Jones
- Mark Teixeira
- Jonathan Lucroy (when Dickey pitches, Arencibia will catch)
- Jimmy Rollins
I’d give Zobrist the start at 2nd base and I’d also hit him leadoff. His on-base skills and pitch taking ability make him the ideal candidate to bat at the top of the order and he’s an intelligent base runner to boot, which means that hit-and-runs are in play as well. Next I’d follow with Mauer, my DH, in the #2 hole, which is where you should hit your best on-base hitter, which is the Twins catcher in this case. Wright-Braun-Stanton make up a frightening 3-4-5 combo, one that should produce runs nearly every time it comes around the order thanks to the 80 or so combined homers that Braun and Stanton will hit this upcoming season. Jones follows next and is a perfect 6 hole hitter in this lineup, providing legitimate protection for Stanton. Teixeira’s power that far down in the lineup is brutal to face for any opposing pitcher. I also have Lucroy doing the majority of the catching with Arencibia making spot starts when Dickey is on the mound and Rollins rounding out the order, acting as a 2nd leadoff hitter.
Our pitching staff is full of guys who don’t allow walks, which is always a bonus. We also have a nice amount of big game experience, as both Holland and Vogelsong have a history of pitching in the World Series. Medlen is an excellent Wild Card at the bottom of the rotation as well. If he’s anything like the guy who was the best pitcher in baseball for the 2nd half of 2012, America will be damn near unbeatable. The bullpen is deep, has a good mix of lefties, righties, and plenty of long relievers as well, which is important in this tournament thanks to the pitch count rules. This roster will be the best in the world going into the tournament, and that makes the United States the favorites to win, just like they were in 2006 and 2009. Hopefully this time around our boys can get the job done, because this roster is about as good as it gets.