Australia became the first qualifier to book their spot in the 2017 finals, going undefeated through the qualifying pool on home turf last month. They crushed South Africa 12-5 in the deciding game, after having previously beaten both the Philippines and New Zealand, They will be taking part in the fourth WBC finals, but have only one victory to their credit in the nine games played, and finished last of the 16 teams in the 2013 WBC. Who will join them? We'll know two more countries, by the end of play on Sunday.
Qualifier #2: Mexicali - Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, Nicaragua
No doubt who the favorites are in this group: that would be the Mexican team, who were forced to qualify this time, despite beating Team USA in 2013 - largely due to an unexpected loss to Italy. They will benefit from the presence of Dodgers' slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who will be leaving Camelback Ranch to join his national squad as they gear up to start against the Czech Republic on Thursday night. Former Diamondback left-handed reliever Oliver Perez is also part of the Mexican squad, as are Agustin Murillo, Mark Serrano and Walter Ibarra, who all used to play in our minor-league system at one point.
The other teams will have their work cut out, none having got past qualifying, and with few squad members who have even minor-league experience. Nicaragua will be without Everth Cabrera and J.C. Ramirez, who played for them in the 2013 qualifying tournament, However, there is a D-backs component on the German squad, 24-year-old pitcher Markus Solbach was with A-ball Kane County and High-A Visalia last year, going 11-6 with a 3.40 ERA. They also have Donald Lutz, who reached the majors with the Reds in 2013-14. The Czech team are real long-shots: they have only one current minor-leaguer, and in 2013's qualifying, lost both games, by a total of 22 runs.
Qualifier #3: Panama City - Colombia, France, Panama, Spain
Panama are two-time finalists, but didn't make it in 2013 - Spain did, although they went 0-3 and were outscored 20-9. Colombia appears to be the favorites, despite not having reached the finals before. They have more affiliated players than the other three teams, with more than half (16 of 28) their roster currently associated with a major-league team. Whole none of these are Diamondbacks, our farm system does supply the Colombian coach, Luis Urueta, who is our short-season Field Co-ordinator. However, the Panamanians likely have the best-known names in this pool, courtesy of two former All-Stars: infielder Carlos Ruiz, and coach Carlos Lee.
Paname are not the only team with a well-known coach, as the French squad are overseen by ex-Dodgers' closer, Eric Gagne. Which makes more sense, when you remember he was born in Montreal, and his middle-name is "Serge"... He was their pitching coach in 2013 qualifying and has been the head coach of the French national team since 2013, coaching them to sixth-place in the European championships the following year. Spain finished third in the same tournament, but appear to have a tough road, through the Latin American countries, if they are to become back-to-back finalists.
Not sure what the broadcast plans are for these games: with them being located in American-friendly time zones, I would have thought there would be coverage. But the WBC site is strangely quiet on this, and the MLB Network, which screened games from Qualifier #1, seems fully occupied with spring-training games. They may still be streamed on the WBC site. Of course, I'm rather more interested in Qualifier #4, which includes the British team, but that doesn't take place until September...