It’s a shame there’ll be no World Baseball Classic games in Phoenix next year, but it still remains one of the most fun events on the calendar. The final round of qualifying games begins today in Brooklyn, and has four countries you wouldn’t normally associate with baseball, meeting for a spot in next year’s WBC. Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will face off at MCU Park on Coney Island, the home of the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones. They play a modified double-elimination tournament, with the team who prevail in Sunday’s decider qualifying for a spot in Pool B of the finals. That takes place in Seoul next March, where they will be joined by automatic qualifiers Korea, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei.
Brazil are likely favorites, having beating Panama to qualify for the main tournament in 2013. They have nine players affiliated with major-league clubs on their roster, including two Diamondbacks. Rodrigo Takahashi is a 19-year-old starting pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA in 2016, over three levels from low- to high-A. They also have outfielder Gabriel Maciel, a name mentioned the other day, as he led our players in the Arizona Rookie League in stolen-bases. He swiped 22 bags between there and Missoula, while hitting a combined .281 in his first pro season. There’s another Arizona connection, as Steve Finley serves as the team’s hitting coach, under manager Barry Larkin.
Great Britain have a secret weapon in their bullpen coach, Trevor Hoffman, whose mother was English. and will seek to improve on their 1-2 record in the last qualifier. Their roster has a dozen players in the minor leagues, one of whom is Arizona prospect Jasrado Chisholm. He was the regular shortstop for our rookie affiliate Missoula Osprey, batting .281 with nine home-runs in 62 games. While he is from the Bahamas, his parents were born there while it was still a British colony, qualifying him for Team GB. He’ll be joined on the roster by his cousin, Antoan Richardson, who played in the majors for the Braves and Yankees.
Israel narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2013 WBC, losing a heart-breaking final in extra innings to Spain. They will pose a strong challenge to Brazil having a roster almost filled with affiliated players; 20 in all, including a number of major-league players. Their outfield includes one of the mainstays of the Reno Aces this year, Zach Borenstein. He played 120 games for them this year, hitting .276 with nine home-runs and 57 RBI. They’ll also have a couple of former Diamondbacks. Reliever Craig Breslow, now with the Miami Marlins, pitched for Arizona in 2012; and Jason Marquis had three thoroughly forgettable starts (9.53 ERA) for the D-backs the year before that.
Pakistan will be making their first appearance in WBC qualifying, replacing Thailand from the last competition. They are likely outsiders to make it through, coming from a nation where cricket is the national pastime, but placed fifth in the 2015 Asian Baseball Championships. Pakistan are fielding no affiliated or foreign-born players, and will also have to contend with a new environment, as the artificial turf at MCU will be their first experience of the surface. Team manager Syed Fakhar Ali Shah said, "We will get better as we practice over here, because the fields are good, the equipment is better and the baseballs are a lot different.” Having tried a Kickstarter campaign to cover costs for the trip, they’re likely just happy to be here!
Here’s the schedule of games, which will all be streamed for free on MLB.com. Feel free to treat this as an unofficial Gameday Thread for Thursday’s games! [As long as you’re cheering for Team GB, of course!]
- Thu, 9 AM - Pakistan vs Brazil
- Thu, 4 PM - Great Britain vs Israel
- Fri, 9 AM - Israel vs TBD
- Fri, 4 PM - Great Britain vs TBD
- Sat, 5 PM - TBD vs. TBD
- Sun, 3 PM - TBD vs. TBD