WBC Qualifier 2: preview

mexicaliOn March 17 the second qualifier of the World Baseball Classic will start. Mexico will host the Czech Republic, Germany and Nicaragua during this four day event.

The stadium where the tournament will be played is generally known as Estadio Nido de los Aguilas but it goes by the name of its sponsor Estadio B-Air. The stadium was constructed in 1976 and serves as the home of the Mexicali Aguilas of the Mexican Pacific League (one of the winter leagues in Mexico). The stadium has a capacity of 19,500 and meets all the needs of the modern professional ball player.

Estadio B-Air (photo: aguilasdemexicali.mx)

 

Normally Mexico is the clear favorite to win this Qualifier.

Mexico

For a long time it was unsure if Mexico could send its strongest team as the LBE (Lega Beisbol Mexicana) and the FeMeBe (Mexican Baseball Federation) had a dispute. Because of this, the LBE did not allow its players to represent Mexico in international tournaments. This resulted in a Mexican team with mainly players from the US Minor Leagues, that represented Mexico during the inaugural Premier 12 tournament. Surprisingly this team made it to the semi-finals where it was beaten by team USA. Mexico then fell to Japan in the bronze medal game.

But unexpectedly, the LBE and the FeMeBe overcame the problems and now the Mexican League players are allowed to represent Mexico during the Qualifiers.

The Mexican roster contains the following players:

Pitchers: Jake Sanchez (Oakland Athletics organization, AA), Amando Aguilar (Leones de Yucatan), Andres Avila (Texas Rangers organization, AA), Arturo Barradas (Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz), Carlos Bustamante (Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Rookie), Carlos Fisher (Texas Rangers organization, AA), Gionvanny Gallegos (New York Yankees organization, AAA), Jesus Garcia (Toros de Tijuana), Stephen Landazuri (Seattle Mariners organization, AA), Oliver Perez (Washington Nationals), Hector Daniel Rodriguez (Orioles organization, AA), Mark Serrano (Toros de Tijuana), Javier Solano (Sultanes de Monterrey), Alejandro Soto (Guerreros de Oaxaca)

Catchers: Jorge Camillo (New York Mets organization, AA), Humberto Sosa (Rojos del Agula de Veracruz), Sebastian Valle (New York Yankees organization, AA)

Infielders: Adrian Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers), Walter Ibarra (Aguilas de Mexicali), Alex Mejia (St. Louis Cardinals organization, AAA), Agustin Murillo (Sultanes de Monterrey), Juan Perez (Cincinnati Reds organization, AAA), Issmael Salas (Rojos del Agula de Veracruz), Jorge Vazquez (Tigres de Quintana Roo)

Outfielders:  Sebastian Elizande (Cincinnati Reds organization, A Advanced), Leo Heras (Houston Astros organization, AA), Efren Navarro (Seattle Mariners organization, AAA), Esteban Quiroz (Tigres de Quintana Roo)

Even though the Mexican League  has allowed their players to participate, there are still a lot of minor leaguers on this squad. Even without the players from the AAA rated Mexican League, Mexico would have been the clear favorite but with these players the team will win this qualifier even blindfolded. Pitcher Jake Sanchez pitched for the Mexicali Aguilas last season, so he should feel at home in this stadium.

Projected finish: 1st.


Nicaragua

Nicaragua may be the big unknown of the four. Not much is known about the players. Sure the country has its own professional baseball league, but that contains only four teams.
In the past there have been some players from Nicaragua that reached the Majors. You will all know the most famous of them all, Dennis Martinez, the pitcher who played for the Orioles, Blue Jays, Indians, Mariners and Braves. Currently, J.C Ramirez is playing in the Mariners organization. Remarkable feat is that most of the players from Nicaragua that reached the Bigs , were pitchers.

Pitchers: Leonardo Crawford (Los Angeles Dodges organization, Rookie), Berman Espinoza (Philadelphia Phillies organization, Rookie), Fidencio Flores (St. Louis Cardinals organization, Rookie), Kevin Gadea (Seattle Mariners organization, Rookie), Juan Gonzalez (Alabama State University), Osman Gutierrez (Toronto Blue Jays organization, Rookie), Jonathan Loasigia (Novarra, Italian Baseball League), Diomar Lopez (San Diego Padres organization, Rookie), Gustavo Martinez (Philadelphia Phillies organization, A Full Season), Jhonny Polanco (Boston Red Sox organization, AAA), Jose Saenz (Philadelphia Phillies organization, Rookie), Carlos Teller (Pericos de Puebla, Mexican League), Junior Tellez (Gigantes de Rivas, Liga de Beisbol Profesional Nacional)

Catchers: Melvn Novoa (Gigantes de Rivas, LBPN), Janior Lopez (Oriental Granada, LBPN)

Infielders: Alex Blandino (Cincinnati Reds organization, AA), Darrel Campbell (Gigantes de Rivas, LBPN), Ofilio Castro (Oriental Granada, LBPN), Ronald Garth (Tigres de Chinandega, LBPN), Omar Obregon (Atlanta Braves organization, A Full Season), Elmer Reyes (Atlanta Braves organization, restricted list), Wuilliams Vasquez (Gigantes de Rivas, LBPN)

Outfielders: Jairo Beras (Texas Rangers organization, A Full Season), Dwight Britton (Gigantes de Rivas, LBPN), Ramon Flores (Milwaukee Brewers organization, AAA), Renato Morales (Oriental Granada

With only two pitchers at AAA level and the rest at rookie level or from the local professional league in Nicaragua, the pitching staff may be this team’s Achilles heel. Also the infield mainly contains players from the local league even though many have played in the minor leagues before. Two exceptions on this list of infielders are Alex Blandino, who played AA ball last season and Elmer Reyes, who played at AAA last year shortly before he was charged with rape. The Braves put him on the restricted list and it remains to be seen if he will ever play professional baseball in the US. Even though the pitching is rather inexperienced compared to the staff of Mexico, this Nicaraguan team must be able to reach the finals in which they will face Mexico for sure.

Projected finish: 2nd


Germany

In 2012, the Germans hosted three other nations in Regensburg for on of the four Qualifiers for the 2013 main tournament. The Germans reached the final but were no match for Canada that moved on and reached the second round of the main tournament.
This time the Germans will face two strong opponents in Mexico and Nicaragua. Even the Czech Republic may be a tough opponent, but normally the Germans should be able to keep the Czechs at bay.

The German roster will contain fourteen pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and five outfielders. The biggest part of the team is active in the German First Bundesliga. (German highest league). Pro players like Donald Lutz, Sven Schüller, Markus Solbach and Nadir Ljatifi received permission from their clubs to participate. Biggest absent is Max Kepler. The Twins prospect has a chance to make the Opening Day roster of the Minnesotans, so he chooses to stay at Spring Training camp.

Pitchers: Martin DeWald (Heidenheim Heideköpfe), Daniel Hinz (Paderborn Untouchables), Sacha Koch (Bonn Capitals), Enorbel Marquez Ramirez (Berlin Flamingos), Will Ohman (currently without a club), Sven Schüller (Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Rookie), Markus Solbach (Arizona Diamondbacks organization, A Full Season), Lukas Steinlein (Haar Disciples), Jan-Niclas Stöcklin (Mainz Athletics), Daniel Thieben (Paderborn Untouchables), Kevin Trisl (Haar Disciples), Maurice Wilhlem (Bonn Capitals), Luke Sommer (Heidenheim Heideköpfe), Lucas Dickmann (Mainz Athletics)

Catchers: Simon Guehring (Heidenheim Heideköpfe), Christopher Howard (Regensburg Legionäre), Bruce Maxwell (Oakland Athletics organization, AA)

Infielders: Eric Brenk (Bonn Capitals), Ludwig Glaser (Regensburg Legionäre), Lukas Jahn (Regensburg Legionäre), Nadir Ljafifi (Cincinnati Reds organization, Rookie), Donald Lutz (Cincinnati Reds organization, AAA), Christoph Ziegler (Haar Disciples)

Outfielders: Max Boldt (Mainz Athletics), Kevin Kotowski (Mainz Athletics), Sacha Lutz (Heidenheim Heideköpfe), Kent Matthes (Lancaster Barnstormers, Atlantic League ), Dominique Taylor (Kansas City Royals organization, A Advanced)

Since this team contains a majority of players from the German first Bundesliga, it lacks the experience for a big stage like this. The number of players with pro experience is simply too small to carry the team.

Projected finish: 3d


Czech Republic

In the last decade Czech baseball has made huge strides. When the Czechs beat the Dutch during the 2012 European Championship, everyone was surprised. But even at that time it wasn’t a matter if but merely a matter when the Czechs would beat the Dutch. Still the Czechs are quite behind the Dutch and the Italians but they keep improving. Proof for this was Draci Brno that reached the final of the preliminary round of the European Cup in Rotterdam. They gave host Curacao Neptunus a hard time and eventually lost, but for long it looked like they would advance to the championship series. This Czech team has a couple of players with professional experience, though the most did not get higher than A short season. Two exceptions are American born Alex Sogard, who reached AA and Marin Cervenka, who played at A Full Season last year with the Lake County Captains.

Pitchers: Boris Bokiaj (Arrows Ostrava), Jan Blazek (Kotlarka Prague), Petr Minarik (Draci Brno), Marik Minarik (Draci Brno), Marek Cervenka (Kotlarka Prague), Daniel Mraz (Technica Brno), Jan Novak (Baltimore Orioles organization, Rookie), Martin Schneider (Draci Brno), Michal Sobotka (Draci Brno), Alex Sogard (currently without club), Jan Tomek (Arrows Ostrava), Tomas Duffek (Eagles Prague), Lukas Ercoli (Kotlarka Prague)/John Straka (Sioux City Explorers, independent)

Catchers: Petr Cech (Arrows Ostrava), Martin Cervenka (Cleveland Indians organization, AA), Daniel Vavrusa (Kotlarka Prague), Jakub Vojak (Skokani Olomouc)

Infielders: Michael Cervenak (currently no club), Jakub Hajtmar (Draci Brno), Adam Hajtmar (Draci Brno), Jakub Sladek (Kotlarka Prague), Premek Chroust (Draci Brno), Tomas Polansky (Draci Brno), Petr Sila (University of Arkansas, Little Rock), Petr Zyma (Eagles Prague), Tomas Junec (Arrows Ostrava)

Outfielders: Jakub Malik (Arrows Ostrava), Mikal Ondracek (Draci Brno), Matej Hejma (Eagles Prague)

Even though this team has some professional experience, it is unlikely that they can compete with Mexico and Nicaragua. They may give Germany a hard time and even beat their neighbours but it is expected that they cannot keep the Germans at bay.

Projected finish: 4th

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