WBC Preview: Pool A

Pool A

The World Baseball Classic is a unique tournament in that it pits teams from around the world against each other. It is even more unique in the fact that there are a number of teams that rarely are seen in the international stage. This is true of the Brazilian team in Pool A of this year’s tournament as they will enter a pool that could be one of the tougher pools in the tournament. They will make their first appearance in the tournament with the defending champions and a baseball factory. Japan and Cuba are two of the premier baseball countries and are back once again to highlight Pool A. The 2013 champion may very well come out of this pool but then again the unthinkable has happened before. This pool has almost been solved before the tournament has even begun with the Japanese and Cubans looking like early favorites. The Brazilians and Chinese are an almost forgotten entity in the pool but that is where the best stories come from. Brazil barely made the tournament but they are looking to continue their surprises from the qualification rounds. China earned an automatic berth into the tournament but are a team that has been overlooked and is looking to put themselves back on the map. Meanwhile Cuba and Japan will rocket to the top although they will need to be wary of coming up short. This is the type of pool where the two best teams could make way for two massive upsets if they are not careful. Pool A will work out one of two ways as two teams will dominate or one of the two major powers will come up short in a massive upset.

Brazil

Brazil

Brazil is a team seen by many as the perfect dark horse team in the 2013 tournament as not too much is known about them from the outside world. The Brazilians are making their first ever appearance in the WBC after a very wild qualification round. In the 3rd qualifier Brazil would be part of a group where that included a number of Central American teams that remained regularly on the periphery of the top teams. They would open their qualification with a big win against Panama who many considered the premier team of the group. The Brazilian team would then move on to win their next game against the Colombians and would once again beat Panama for their spot in the tournament. They beat one of the better international teams and now go into the major tournament with the same reputation they did in the qualification round. They are a team that many simply assume they will be crushed under the weight of the bigger teams in the pool. Still they did beat Panama, a team with a much richer pool of talent than themselves. If there was a team to bet on to be the dark horse and to create a big upset it would have to be Brazil. They have shown that their pitching can shut down good offences and that they can put up a number of runs with a truly team based attack. With no standout stars the Brazilians will need to work as a full team to pull off an upset and earn one of the two spots from Pool A and move into the second round.

 

Strength:
Surprise Factor
– The Brazilians are a team that can very easily be overlooked when the tournament starts as one look at the roster will easily show that they have less talent than most countries but that could be their strength as teams may realize they are not a bad team when it’s too late

Weakness:
Lack of Experience
– The surprise factor is a big one in the tournament but the fact is that the Brazilians have never been in this tournament and their players are not used to talent that they will face as only a handful of the Brazilian players have experience in the MLB system

Player to Watch:
Felipe Burin, 3B (Pulaski Mariners)
– Aside from Yan Gomes who will not be with the team Bruin could be their best bet to make an impact in the MLB as he currently resides in the Rookie League for the Seattle Mariners with a very good average at every level

China

China

The Chinese are not as unnoticed as the Brazilian team but they will also not sneak up on anyone this year. China is a team on the rise as they are regularly getting better with every tournament. The Chinese system is one that is dwarfed by their neighbours and their biggest rivals in Japan. The one big difference between them and Brazil is that the Chinese are a few years ahead of the Brazilians in their development. Where the Brazilians are beginning to find their way to the MLB the Chinese have already found their way to the league. There aren’t massive numbers but they have had some success including the biggest Chinese star in Bruce Chen. Since the Chinese won the 2008 Summer Olympics a focus on sport has been one of the main jobs for China. With the help of Japan and the USA the Chinese would completely change their development system and establish their own league. Now they are seeing the rewards and as they enter the 2013 WBC tournament they stand a better chance to pull off an upset. They are still in a tough spot with some good teams in the pool but they will use this tournament as a chance to show how far they have come. They will also look to show that they are not as bad as many people think they are as they have something to prove. Led by a few players who have seen the system the Chinese are hoping that they can pull off a few big wins to earn a spot in the next round but they will have to pull off a big upset to do that.

 

Strength:
Rising Program
– The Chinese are a program that has been on the rise as of late with their young national teams winning multiple championships and now they look poised to make a mark in the WBC as they can only be held back so long in this major tournament

Weakness:
Lack of Depth
– The Chinese are a team developing and that means that they do have some top-tier talent with a few players in the MLB system but they only have a few players in the system with the majority of their team a lot less experienced with top talent

Player to Watch:
Bruce Chen, LHP (Kansas City Royals)
– There is no doubt that he is the best player on the Chinese team as he is the only player to crack an MLB lineup and although his stats were not great in 2012 he will be leaned on to lead the Chinese team likely starting their most important games

Cuba

Cuba

The Cubans stand in a different position than the two teams I have talked about already as they are one of the favorites in the pool. Cuba is one of those few nations that can actually challenge the USA for a passion for the game of baseball. From childhood Cubans are recruited and looked at by everyone although they do stand in a unique position when it comes to the MLB. Cuba is a Communist country and still is considered an enemy by the USA and so the MLB is not allowed to go to Cuba to scout. As Americans scouts are not allowed to travel to Cuba the legends that live there are just that, legends. Players from Cuba that play in the MLB have all defected to the USA and therefore are not Cuban citizens. For the Cuban team this can mean trouble as the best players in the country including Aroldis Chapman, Kendry Morales, and even young talent like Adeiny Hechavarria are not allowed to play for the Cuban team. Luckily for the Cubans their talent pool is much deeper than a few good players as they are a farm for top talent. The Cubans will be without their top professional talent but they still have some major league talent on the team. The Cubans are built similarly every year as they thrive on the explosive plays in baseball. They throw hard, they run hard, the play flashy defence, and they hit HRs and because of all of this they are ranked #1 in the world. The Cubans will need to avoid falling into trap games though and if they can they should be on their way to a shot at the title.

 

Strength:
Deep Pool of Talent
– Even without the top talent from the country not allowed to play there is no doubt that the Cubans are full of great players just waiting to be the next can’t miss prospect from the country and there are a few on this team that are exactly that

Weakness:
Getting ahead of Themselves
– The Cubans are talented and ranked #1 but when everyone tells you that you are #1 and the most talented teams in the tournament it is easy to think that games against Brazil and China are automatic wins which means that either of these teams can sneak up on them

Player to Watch:
Frederich Cepeda, OF (Sancti Spiritus)
– It has been a strange and long ride for Cepeda who was off of the Cuban roster only a few years ago but he is on the roster this year and is the biggest offensive threat on the Cuban team and one of the best offensive players in the tournament

 

Japan

Japan

It wasn’t until the 2006 that the Japanese began to truly be taken seriously on the national stage. They had always been a good baseball nation but nobody was ready for what they would do in the first World Baseball Classic. The Japanese would come into the tournament as a bit of a mystery and leave as the first ever World Baseball Classic. They would follow that performance up in 2009 when they would enter the tournament as favorites but would no longer sneak up on anyone. Even then the Japanese would win the tournament once again proving once and for all that Japan is a true baseball nation. They are yet another country that can rival the USA for their enthusiasm for the sport and the World Baseball Classic has been their coming out party. Players like Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka have made their impact in the MLB only a few years after staring for their teams in the WBC. This year the Japanese are back although they will be without their top MLB stars as Darvish, Matsuzaka, and Ichiro Suzuki will all be off of the team. Japan always seems to come into the tournament with a few top international prospects that use this tournament as their launching pad to the MLB. This year is no different as the Japanese will have a few of these players on their team and will look to them to win yet another WBC tournament. The Japanese are a team that has always been underestimated but that is gone now as they are the two-time defending champions and are looking to do it again with a good shot at doing just that

 

Strength:
Experience
– The Japanese are not a team that will be overwhelmed by the stage of the World Baseball Classic and playing against the best players in the world because they have been through it and have won in this situation as they will find the limelight nothing new

Weakness:
The Big Three are Gone
– Yu Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Ichiro Suzuki have been big parts of the last two WBC championships but all three are no longer with the team as the cornerstones of the Japanese team will not be there to help

Player to Watch:
Kenta Maeda, RHP (Hiroshima Toyo Carp)
– With Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish both using the WBC as a platform to make the MLB the majors are looking for that next great Japanese pitcher and Maeda could be that man as he will be looked at to carry the load with plenty of scouts looking to see if he has what it takes

 

Prediction:
1. Cuba
2. Japan
3. Brazil
4. China

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