2017 WBC Preview: Pool D

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No matter the tournament there is always one group that is somewhat less inspiring than the others.

It isn’t that there is no talent on the teams involved but when putting together a tournament there are often not enough great teams to make everything interesting.

The same can be said for the World Baseball Classic as there are some very good teams in the tournament but those teams are not the majority.

Baseball is a very international game but a lot of the talent is concentrated in small pockets of the world.

The USA will always continue to produce more top talent than anywhere else while places like Japan, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic follow closely behind.

There are a lot of players from different places but these are the countries that produce the majority of the talent.

Other players from multiple countries contribute and putting them all on one team would equal the talent on the top teams.

Splitting them into their own countries is a little different though as none can put together teams that resemble the all-star rosters of the top teams in the tournament.

In almost every pool there are two clear favourites to win the pool and move through to potentially get the title.

That is every pool except Pool D where the all-star teams are few and far between despite the talent in the pool.

The four teams that make up this pool have talented players including a number of very good MLB players.

None are as deep as any of the top teams in the other three pools though and for some, that means that this is clearly the forgettable pool.

In fact, this is likely the best pool in the tournament simply because all of the teams seem more even than in any other pool.

There are a couple of teams that stand out among the pool though as Mexico and Venezuela have had a tradition in the tournament.

They both have produced MLB players and will bring some top MLB talent into the tournament.

They will enter pool play as the likely favourites to win the pool, especially when taking into consideration their history in baseball.

That isn’t entirely the case though as looking through the rosters for every team in this pool there are good players on each team.

There is no one team that is fielding a team with so much talent and so much depth that they are going to blow everyone else away.

They are teams with talent that can take them far but holes in their teams that could sink their chances of doing anything.

That is what makes this pool such a fun pool as every team has a shot to take the top spot in the group.baseball-sidebar

The Italians might not be a team that screams baseball power but they have plenty of experience in the World Baseball Classic.

They are also a team with a lot of talent from the USA with Italians roots running deep throughout the country.

They will try to take that talent to the top while Puerto Rico has seen talent come and go from the MLB as much as many teams in their region.

They will take on the two favourites and in reality, there is no team that can’t beat another.

It could make for the most entertaining pool in the tournament as every game is going to be that much more important.

In the other groups, there are teams that could drop a game and still find their way to the next stage.

More than that though there are teams that can simply walk through a game and not play their best but still take the win.

Pool D is not that way at all as every team will need to be on top of their game from the first game to the last.

If they falter at any point it could make the difference between ending their tournament early or moving on.

It makes every game an important one and despite the fact that no power is in this pool it doesn’t mean it will lack for entertainment.

italy

The Italians are another team that benefits from the rich roots it has in the USA as the team is often made up of Americans. Much like the Israelis, the Italians will rely heavily on players that were born in America but have those Italian roots. It isn’t a new phenomenon as the Italians are not a new team on the block for the World Baseball Classic. They have been to every one since the beginning but have yet to see a lot of success in the tournament. Last year was their best as they made it out of the pool stage for the first time with a few big surprises. This year they are trying to do that again as they look to move out of the pool stage and closer to a championship. It won’t be easy in a pool with plenty of talent but they do have a shot at surprising a few teams this year. The roster is lacking some of their biggest contributors from the 2013 tournament which is sure to hurt them. The pitching staff will have a few MLB players but not nearly as many as they did in 2013. Most of that talent will be located in the bullpen with Tommy Layne, A.J. Morris and ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte. They will also look to a top prospect in the St. Louis system, Trey Nielsen along with a few other players that are a part of MLB systems. They are without their top talent from the league but they will have some players to rely on to get them past the better teams. On offence there are a few more permanent MLB stars as Francisco Cervelli and Chris Colabello will be the main leaders on that side of the ball. They will also look to Mets’ prospects Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo who could help in their run production. The fact is though that the 2013 team was a team that had a number of MLB players helping them get out of the pool stage. The 2017 team no longer has those players and although there is still talent on the team this version is not as deep. That will hurt them as the Italians might be able to launch a surprise or two this year but making it out of the pool stage is going to be tough. Expect them to fight for qualification this year rather than fighting to move to the next round.

italy-facts

mexico

Mexico is a country full of passion and that passion really comes out when it comes to their sports and the support of their teams. Although soccer is the top game in the country baseball has a strong place in the country especially with the USA just to the north. There is a long history of the sport in the country and the Mexicans love their baseball. So in 2013 when the Mexican team only took one win the entire tournament and couldn’t make it out of the pool stage it was not a good day for Mexican baseball. They were expected to move forward especially in a pool with USA, Canada and Italy as they were considered to be the big challenge to the Americans, not a last place finisher. That is where they ended though and they didn’t even automatically qualify for the 2017 tournament. After a regroup, the Mexicans are back and once again there is plenty of talent on the roster. The pitching staff will be a good mix of MLB players and young prospects that are moving their way up. The unquestioned leader of the group is Yovani Gallardo who is only 31 but has proven to be a solid starter. Meanwhile, their bullpen is full of fireball throwers like Toronto’s young closer Roberto Osuna along with Sergio Romo and Joakim Soria. If this team can play with a lead for most games the prospect of hitting against this bullpen is not an easy one. Playing with a lead is not going to be an easy thing though as the Mexicans do lack a deep group of big bats. They will be led by a long-time Mexican representative in Adrian Gonzalez who is still their best player but is not a young player. Depending on him to lead their offence is not the smartest move but they might need to with a lack of any other major bats on the roster. They will also try to get Alex Verdugo involved a lot as the young top prospect could make up for some of the gaps. Mexico has talent but like the rest of this pool, that talent doesn’t blow anyone away. They will need to fight to get out of the group and although they might not be fighting for first they should have good shot at making it into the next round.

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puerto-rico

IT was a bit of a coming out party in 2013 for the Puerto Ricans who surprised some with their performance throughout the tournament. That is the year that they found their way out of the pool and just kept going all the way to the finals. They even beat the two-time defending champion Japanese on their way to the finals but that is where their great tournament ended. They ran into a powerful Dominican team and had to take second place. Still, it showed just how good this island is at producing talent and their roster shows the proof of that. There are plenty of these players making a big impact in the league right now and this will be a good deep team in a pool full of talent. The batting order shows just how deep this team is with veterans and young stars that will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina are the leaders on the team while Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor make up their young corps. All are great hitters and have great defensive ability and are sure to make things interesting around the bases. It will be their strength as their offence and defence have more than a few options to get things going and to prevent runs. Molina will play an even more important role with the pitching staff as they don’t have a number of big names in the group. J.C. Romero is likely the biggest name but he hasn’t pitched in the MLB since 2012 while Giovanni Soto has only barely seen the MLB. They will also look to Jose De Leon who is one of the top prospects in the league and could be an important starter for the team throughout the tournament. The Puerto Ricans are full of big names and young talent and they are sure to be in the fight in this pool. Like every other team in the pool though the path out is far from easy and any weakness will be exposed. Their pitching staff is simply not as good as others in the tournament but that won’t prevent them from getting out of the pool stage. Expect them to fight for second place and possibly make it out but if they do find their way out it will be much tougher this year than last to find their way to the finals.

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venezuela

If there is one team that seems to have the most talent in this pool it has to be the Venezuelans whose roster reads like an all-star team. It is somewhat surprising that the team has become this great in only four years as they ended the 2013 tournament with only one win. They got their spot for 2017 but they couldn’t move past the pool stage. This year the expectations are much bigger as a veteran group that has been a part of these teams for years are being joined by a new wave of young talent. Players like Miguel Cabrera have been trying to get the Venezuelans to the next level with mixed success. Now he has a number of great players around him that should make them a team to watch in this year’s tournament. It all starts with the offence that is led by Cabrera who remains one of the best hitters in baseball. With other veterans like Salvador Perez, Carlos Gonzalez and Victor Martinez this team has plenty of experience. Young stars like Jose Altuve, Ender Inciarte and Rougned Odor provide even more great hitting to the lineup. It is a tough one to crack as they are another team that can hit for power and for average throughout the tournament while major league pitching won’t phase them. Their pitching staff will be led by the man known as King Felix, Felix Hernandez alongside  Jhoulys Chacin while Francisco Rodriguez will play the shutdown role in the bullpen. The staff is not as deep as some other but they do have a number of big pitchers who have made MLB players look stupid for years. That should be a big help in this group where there isn’t really an easy game as even the Italians have proven to be upset minded. The Venezuelans do seem like they are the class of this group and will be tough to get past. Their depth is better than most in the pool and that will be the difference as there aren’t many weak spots to take advantage of for their opponents. That will help them reach the top of the pool and move on where a deep run is possible but also a tough task against the best in the world. They are only one upset loss away from sinking though and if they don’t focus they won’t make it out in a repeat of last tournament.

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Prediction:
Pool D is widely considered one of the most unpredictable in the tournament as there are four teams with a lot of talent throughout their rosters. That makes it one of the most fun to watch as every team seems to have a shot. When looking at the rosters and comparing them though the Italians do seem to be the odd team out. They could launch a surprise against a team but more likely they will fall into the final spot and miss the qualification spot. The interesting battle could be for second where Mexico and Puerto Rico seem to be headed. Both are talented bu not as deep as the likely winners of the pool in Venezuela. Ultimately the Mexicans’ lack of offensive depth will send them to second while Puerto Rico takes second place and moves on alongside Venezuela.

poold-prediction

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