Breaking Down the WBC: Pool D
The “World Series” is a misnomer — the final round of the MLB playoffs only determines the best team in America/Canada. The true “World Series” is the World Baseball Classic, where the top baseball teams from all across the globe compete.
The WBC isn’t like Olympic Baseball, where only the best amateurs compete — instead, countries draw on the best professional talent tied to the nation and assemble powerhouses of teams to compete with one another.
The first round of the WBC consists of four pools of four teams who compete in a round robin tournament. The top two teams from each pool move onto the next round. For the next week, I’ll be ranking each WBC team, pool by pool, to see who might be best poised to make it to the next round. Teams are sorted from 1st to 4th by their ability to contend in the WBC. I’m looking at the final pool, Pool D, having reviewed Pool A, Pool B, and Pool C already.
1. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico surprised the Latin American world by taking the Carribean Series crown, so expectations are predictably high entering the WBC. The roster is chock-full of MLB talent, headed by veterans OF Carlos Beltran, and C Yadier Molina. The exciting part for Puerto Rico, though, are the young talents on the team. RP Edwin Diaz is a strikeout machine, pitching to an incredible 15 K/9 in his first full season in the majors. SP Seth Lugo has an otherworldly curveball. And SS Carlos Correa is one of the best shortstops in the game, despite having only two seasons under his belt. This Puerto Rico team is built to compete in not only this WBC, but in tournaments for years to come.
Just across the Gulf of Mexico from Puerto Rico lies its biggest competition in Pool D — Venezuela. This team has an excellent balance of veterans and young blood. Venezuela is led by future First-Ballot Hall of Famer 3B Miguel Cabrera and SP Felix Hernandez (both with plenty of MLB experience under their belts), but rounded out by younger talents such as hitting machine 2B Jose Altuve and OF Odubel Herrera. This is a strong team, especially with the bat, though their pitching might be their Achilles heel — Hernandez is coming off of a down year, and their pitching depth leaves plenty to be desired. Make no mistake, this is still a very strong team. Expect to see Venezuela in the second round — at least.
Despite being on the bubble for tournament qualification for this year’s WBC, Mexico silenced the doubters by sweeping their qualifiers with an incredible 25/2 run-scored to runs-allowed ratio. While there is no absence of MLB talent on the team, nobody on the team quite has the “Star Power” of the other teams in the pool — names like RP Fernando Salas or RP Sergio Romo might sound familiar, but they hardly jump off of the page. The biggest star on the team might be the youngest — SP Julio Urias shone in limited MLB action in 2016, despite being only 19.
Italy is one of only two European teams in the tournament this year, but unlike the Netherlands, Italy has no Latin American territories from which to draw talent. As a result, there’s little star power on this team, which is mainly composed of quiet MLB regulars (like C Francisco Cervelli and 1B Drew Butera) and minor league talent (like OF Brandon Nimmo and SS Gavin Cecchini). There’s not nearly enough depth for this team to compete with the likes of Venezuela and Puerto Rico, unfortunately, so Italy might find itself fighting for qualification come 2021.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 1B Anthony Rizzo would be playing for team Italy. Rizzo was not on the released rosters for Italy for the WBC.