2017 WBC Preview: Pool A

 

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There is an odd theme that emerged as Pool A was announced with a number of teams that many people wouldn’t even expect to have a baseball team.

There are the countries from Asia that are not regularly among the top teams in the world or mentioned as great feeder systems to the MLB.

Just because they are not Japanese doesn’t mean they aren’t in love with their baseball though and there is tradition there for both.

Chinese Taipei may not be the team that many think of when they think of baseball in Asia but they have been a part of the international game for decades.

As they enter 2017 a new crop of players are coming through this long-standing program as they hope to make noise in the pool.

Right alongside them playing for their pride in Asia is Korea, who have not been a major power throughout the year either.

Yet Korea is beginning to make a name for themselves with stars making their way to the league and their main professional league becoming a destination for scouts.

Thanks to where they are they are both of these teams are ignored more often than not as Japan takes all of the headlines.

The Japanese has been the team to watch in Asia for years but Chinese Taipei and Korea are both looking to prove that they have just as much history in the sport as the Japanese.

They will be joined in Pool A by two of the teams that might turn the most heads in the World Baseball Classic.

There is the Netherlands, a country that is considered soccer above all and really remains soccer above all despite their participation in the World Baseball Classic.

The little-known fact about the Netherlands is that they own a number of islands in the Caribbean.

Their rise in international baseball has correlated with the rise of the Caribbean islands in the league.

Players from Curaçao and Aruba make up the majority of the stars on this team and a few of these players make up the new generation in the MLB.

They may have Caribbean roots but they will dawn the orange of the Netherlands making them more than just a gimmick in the pool.

Possibly the strangest team to see on the list of the best in the world is Israel who is not considered a power in most major sports.

Yet this year the Israeli baseball team is full of MLB talent and might be a sleeper to make an impact in the tournament.baseball-sidebar

The team has deep roots in American baseball and that is where they will get their main talent from as they are the latest team to depend on transplants.

Pool A is certainly not the typical group of contenders in any international tournament but that is the interesting part about the World Baseball Classic.

International baseball is not nearly as big as the other sports with a game that has not had time to grow in every spot.

There were no international tournaments aside from the Olympics and so there was never a lot of room to grow.

With this tournament, there is something to aim for and more teams will get better but for now, there is a collection of teams trying to figure things out.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t any contenders in this group though as they might not be as developed as some countries in the game but they do have talent.

There are MLB players throughout most of these rosters and if they aren’t in the league yet the league is certainly watching them closely.

Talent is in Pool A and whoever finds their way out will look to make a bigger impact on the tournament.

The pool is a group of teams wanting to make noise and prove that they are better than what most people believe them to be.

That kind of underestimation can make the difference for these teams as they can use that as motivation to propel them into being contenders.

Any of these teams will try to make that chip on their shoulders work for them as they look to move on to the next round with a chance to win the fourth WBC.

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Chinese Taipei is a country that has had a lot of history in international baseball but not a lot of success. They aren’t necessarily the worst team either, though, as they have seen some success with a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and multiple medals in the Asian Games. They are not a massive producer of MLB talent but through the World Baseball Classic tournaments, they have progressively been better. That is something they head into 2017 looking to do but it is not going to be an easy task. For teams like Chinese Taipei, they need the support of their main league because more often than not they don’t have enough MLB talent to fill a roster. That is trouble for this team as politics have become a big part of the team with the Chinese Baseball league boycotting the team. Taiwan and China have always had a troubled relationship and now it is affecting one of their top teams. Chinese Taipei will be without their biggest league leaving them with a much less deep pool of players to choose from. That leaves them without some of their more internationally experienced players but they won’t be entirely without talent. The team will rely on a deep group of pitchers, none of whom are overly dominant, that will need to work together as a group to help the team. Three of their pitchers are in MLB farm systems when the tournament starts and one was on an MLB roster as of last year. That one was Chien-Ming Wang who will come out of the bullpen after spending the last few years in the major leagues. He will be joined by Wei-Chung Wang, Ping-Hsueh Chen and Shao-Ching Chiang who are all MLB prospects. They will be an important part of this team as the pitching will need to step up the problem is that most of their best pitching will be coming out of the bullpen. It is going to be the key for them as the offence will be missing some of their best players thanks to the boycott. They will rely on some very inexperienced hitters but veterans from the 2013 team like Chih-Sheng Lin and Yung-Chi Chen will need to play a bigger role. Chinese Taipei isn’t entirely without talent but they are not a team with overwhelming talent. Getting out of the pool might be a tough task but it isn’t impossible based on how the other teams perform.

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israel

When it comes to the teams in this pool there are none that will come into the tournament with more question marks than the Israelis. They are a team that nobody associates with being a power in the game and yet they are one of the few teams that have connections to the MLB throughout the roster. There really is no big league to take players from in Israel as their baseball system is not the most mature. What most might not realise though is that the roots of Israel run deep throughout the USA and some of those people happen to be pretty good at baseball. Israel will take on the role of a team full of transplants as there will be few players actually born in Israel competing for the team. Instead, the team is full of American players with Israeli heritage most of who play in the MLB. That experience and the fact that this team is fairly the same as the one that qualified could help them make some noise this year in their first time in they have been in the main tournament. That MLB experience will help their offence in a big way as major league pitching is a different level. With players like Ike Davis and Ty Kelly, they will bring experience in hitting major league pitching which will help them. The power isn’t there though as the team will need to rely on the hitting ability of players like Davis and Kelly as well as Cody Dekker to get on base and bring the runners around. It isn’t all about the offence though as the team brings in some good pitching as well with players like MLB veterans Jason Marquis and Scott Feldman along with young reliever Richard Bleier, both Bleier and Feldman will start the tournament in the designated pitcher pool. For a team like this who will be making their first appearance in the main tournament, this type of experience is hard to get. That will make them better than many might expect as experience can carry them to at least a surprise win. Still, their experience isn’t paired with the most talent as many of their most experienced MLB players are more mid-level talents than superstars. They might surprise some with their performance but they aren’t talented enough to make their way out of the pool even if they launch a surprise win.

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korea

South Korea is one of the most exciting baseball countries in the world as they are coming up fast to be a new centre for Asian baseball. The Korean Baseball Organization or KBO is one of the most popular places for MLB scouts to find new talent. It is quickly becoming the new challenger to the MLB almost surpassing Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The KBO will be the key for this team this time around as an embarrassing finish in 2013 caused them to take a new path. This year they went with a team that is not too familiar than the ones in the past as most of their MLB talent has been left off of the roster. Stalwarts like Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun Soo Kim won’t make the trip to their homeland as the team will instead be made up of what some consider to be an all-star team from the KBO. They will bring one MLB player to the tournament as Seung Hwan Oh will play a key role from the bullpen for the team. He will join Won-Jun Jang and Hyun-Jong Yang as key parts to this pitching group although at first look Jang and Yang are not at the same level as some starters in the tournament. It could be their downfall as the pitching might not be able to stand up to some of the best bats in the world. Korea may have some of those bats though which will end up being the reason they move on. The KBO is beginning to be known for the power that they produce and Dae-Ho Lee, as well as Hyung-Woo Choi, prove that. Lee spent 2016 as a member of the Mariners organisation hitting 14 home runs with the big club and showcasing his power. Meanwhile, Choi was the runner-up for the KBO MVP race last season with 31 home runs and 144 RBIs. These two are MLB level hitters and the addition of a number of KBO players like Ah-seop Son, who got a lot of interest from the MLB last year. That offence is going to be the key as they seem like they are the team with the most talent from top to bottom in Pool A. They won’t win a pitcher’s battle but they will be able to get out in front early and often to overwhelm teams without the best pitchers. Korea will make it out of Pool A but beyond that their lack of pitching talent could prove to sink their chances.

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netherlands

It isn’t a name that usually comes up when you think of powers in baseball but the Netherlands has been one of the most dominant teams in international baseball. That dominance has concentrated in Europe where they have taken 20 European Championships, there have only been 32 championships in Europe. There is a big reason for this though and that reason does not reside in the boundaries of Netherlands. That reason is the fact that Curaçao is technically a part of the Kingdom of Netherlands. Curaçao is the main reason for the dominance of the Netherlands as it has turned into a baseball factory. That factory only took hold recently as some of the best young stars in the game have come out of the country and now play for the Netherlands. The young talent concentrates around the infield as they have one of the most talented infields in the tournament. The leader of the group will be Xander Bogaerts who will play alongside Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, and Jonathan Schoop who are all some of the best young talents in the MLB. They will all play for the Netherlands along with former top prospect Jurickson Profar. It is a great group with plenty of athleticism and a penchant for making great plays on the field, in the batter’s box and around the bases. There is a lot of talent in the infield and throughout the lineup but that talent is not quite the same on the mound. They will look to Jair Jurrjens who was once a Cy Young candidate before injuries halted his MLB career. Jurrjens and Rick VandenHurk will be relied upon in the starting rotation but will get massive support in the bullpen with closer Kenley Jansen. The Netherlands are an extremely talented team especially when it comes to their infield and that will drive them through the pool stage as they will challenge Korea for first place. What they still lack is a solid pitching rotation as both Jurrjens and VandenHurk are good but might not be able to pitch at their best. That pitching question might make it difficult for them to move beyond the pool stage though as another semi-finals berth could be too difficult for a team that isn’t entirely without issues. Still, this European champion is one of the better teams and anything less than coming out of the pool and competing is certainly a failure.

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Prediction:
Pool A will see plenty of Korean fans come out to cheer on their team and the Koreans have a good shot at doing well in the pool. They are a talented team but they may not be the most talented team in the pool. The Netherlands is a team with plenty of MLB calibre players on the team and they will take that deep roster to the top of Pool A. They will be followed closely by Korea whose only loss will likely be against the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Israel will surprise some with a win over Chinese Taipei who will struggle without their feeder system. They will sink to the bottom of the pool and lose that progress they have worked towards while Israel will impress in their first main tournament appearance.

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