Today we have our preview of Group C. Group C hosts one of the tournament favourites: the almighty United States of America. Best of it all is that the team will play all their games in your Phoenix. USA is currently the number 3 on the world ranking, but obviously all the MLB stars we will see in the WBC aren’t counted in for that ranking. USA is joined in Group C by number 5 Mexico, number 11 Colombia, number 14 Canada and number 22 Great Britain.
Unlike Group A, where 3 teams might balance each other out, and Group B, where Japan is clear favourite and Korea the very likely number 2, Group C will be obviously dominated by USA but behind them both Mexico and Colombia will fight for the second spot. Canada and, sorry Jim, Great Britain won’t stand a chance.
(Former) Diamondbacks in Group C are: Merrill Kelly (USA), Taijuan Walker (Mexico),
The USA won the last edition of the WBC in 2017 so in that aspect they should be one of the favourites to repeat that success.
Team USA will be loaded with superstars, so if you like All-Star games, you will definitely enjoy the American batting lineup. Unlike in previous editions, where USA had some trouble in getting commitment from players, big names for the 2023 World Baseball Classic have been piling up ever since Mike Trout was the first star to commit in, July 2022. Paul Goldschmidt will return to Phoenix and Arizona can also cheer on a Dodger like Mookie Betts. The list of big names doesn’t stop here: JT Realmuto, Will Smith, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeill, Nolan Arenado, Bobby Witt Jr., Tim Anderson, Trea Turner, Kyle Tucker and Kyle Schwarber have all committed to Team USA as well. Bryce Harper and Trevor Story would have donned the Stars and Stripes as well, but are injured and won’t participate.
On the pitching side relievers like Devin Williams (Brewers) and Adam Ottavino will force opposing batters to sit down, while starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Nestor Cortes Jr., Adam Wainwright and Kyle Freeland will throw innings (80 pitches max in the WBC, btw).
But, above all, the biggest name for Diamondbacks’ fans is, of course, our own Merrill Kelly.
“I’m really, really excited about it,” Kelly said. “I’m honored by the fact that when I look around at the roster of who’s committed already, and it’s essentially an All-Star team […] the fact that they wanted me to play is pretty cool to me.” - Merrill Kelly in October 2022 on committing to Team USA (mlb.com)
America is led by GM Tony Reagins who had this to say about the pitching limits:
“What’s really important for us first and foremost is Team USA getting those guys back to their clubs healthy. That’s priority number one. So the communication between Team USA and the major league club is going to be phenomenal. [...] We want to win this thing, but we don’t want to get guys hurt. Obviously at that time of the year, early March they’ll be on a pitch count. It’s a three week process, so at certain stages it will build up from an innings standpoint. We’ll keep guys on their schedule.” - Tony Reagins, excerpt from si.com (Jack Sommers)
Obviously, no team will beat those names on paper, but it is playing for and representing your country, and the team spirit that goes with it, that might make it possible for a team to upset USA in this WBC. But it looks that with so many early commitments from players, USA might have overcome that aspect even better than in previous years, when they were already crowned Champions.
That, to me, makes them the clear number 1 favourite to win this tournament.
Biggest question mark though is: will manager Mark DeRosa be able to lead all those stars to success?
Mexico has participated in all 4 WBC editions, but, surprisingly, has never made it very far. The biggest deception was probably in the latest edition of 2017 when they were knocked out in the first round in front of a cheering home crowd in Guadalajara.
The good thing for Mexico is that playing in Arizona will probably ensure them with a lot of “home” support from the Hispanic community as well in this edition. On top of that, Mexico will play with a roster that’ll be tough to beat.
Their starting pitching looks to be the biggest weapon, although working with pitching limits might prevent the Mexicans from dominating an entire game. Still, guys like Jose Urquidy and captain Julio Urías will be feared by all opponents. Former Diamondback Taijuan Walker will also proudly represent Mexico in this WBC, as he stated that he considers himself Mexican too, because of a strong connection to the country due to his (late) grandmother, who is Mexican.
Other Uríases on this roster are infielders Luis (Brewers) and Ramon (Orioles). Rookie Joey Meneses from the Nationals will man first base, while other big names on the roster are Alejandro Kirk, Austin Barnes, Isaac Paredes, Alex Verdugo, Randy Arozarena (spent many years in Mexico) and Giants’ Luis Gonzalez.
The relief corps could be a bit weaker. Giovany Gallegos is their biggest name on the preliminary roster, but I am surprised to see Aces’ Miguel Aguilar and former Diamondback Oliver Perez absent from the list.
In 2017 it was the first time Colombia participated in the WBC and despite the presence of pitchers Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana, it lacked some MLB presence on the roster. As a result it didn’t get pass the first round.
In that aspect Colombia has made some strides and while their pitching might not impress that much, the hitting lineup is a bit more scary. Gio Urshela, Jonathan India and Donovan Solano make for an interesting infield, Jorge Alfaro will take his spot behind home plate, while in the outfield there is some experience present as well with Oscar Mercado and Harold Ramirez.
The pitching staff is once again led by Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana, although they are now joined by starter Luis Patiño and Padres’ Nabill Crismatt in the bullpen.
Unlike in the 2017 edition, former Diamondback coach Luis Urueta will not lead the “cafeteros” in the WBC, because of his job as bench coach with the Miami Marlins.
Canada will face USA and Colombia once again in the 2023 edition of the WBC, just like in 2017. Back then they lost every game and for the fourth consecutive time the Canadians had to leave the tournament after the first round.
Odds are pretty good that the same will happen with their 5th appearance in the WBC, as Canada has tried to improve their roster with MLB experience, but have a hard time in finding commitments as many players either return from injury or fear to miss time to showcase themselves on their MLB team.
That will leave Canada without players like Josh Naylor (Cleveland), Joey Votto and Mike Soroka and the resulting puzzle has prevented Canada from making any preliminary roster announcements.
However, the Canadians did get commitment from superstar Freddie Freeman and Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill, but on the hitting side the well dries up pretty fast and is complemented by players that have only sniffed at the MLB so far (Abraham Toro, Otto Lopez, Bo Naylor, Charles LeBlanc).
On the pitching side Cal Quantrill and Nick Pivetta lead the starting corps and Matt Brash and Rowan Wick are the more well known names in the bullpen.
The rest of the roster will most probably be a mix of veterans (Axford, Albers) and minor league talent.
Great Britain will participate for the first time in history in the WBC when they shocked Europe and the baseball world when they won the European qualifier by beating Spain in the final (Spain then lost the lucky loser final against Czech Republic as well).
Although Great Britain has done fairly well in the last 10 years or so on international stage, for the 2023 WBC qualification they went the “Israel” route in that it assembled a team with lots of Americans. On the other hand, it was nice to see them pull from baseball talent available on the Bahamas and Virgin Islands. So, if you had some doubt about cheering for Britain in this WBC: don’t, you are basically cheering for America as well.
When we talk about the Bahamas, we should talk about Jazz Chisholm Jr. of course, but the former Diamondback will not play in the WBC as he is rehabbing from an injury that kept him out of the MLB for a big part of the 2022 season. With his absence, the biggest star on the roster is probably Seattle’s top prospect catcher Harry Ford.
Who might also play for the Brits, although highly doubtful, is Aroldis Chapman. Apparently Great Britain has included the Cuban on its preliminary roster since Chapman’s grand parents fled Jamaica when it was still a British colony.
It shows you a bit of how ridiculous the rules have been bent by the WBC to make the tournament a bit more competitive, but who cares? Join Jim McLennan and cheer for yet another underdog in the World Baseball Classic.