On March 17 the third qualifier of the World Baseball Classic will start. Panama will host Columbia, France and Spain during this four day event.
The stadium where this four day event will be played is Rod Carew Stadium, which served as stadium for the 2011 World Cup final which was won by the Netherlands. Also the 2012 Qualifiers were played in this stadium as Brazil surprisingly beat Panama 1-0 in the final. The stadium’s official name is Estadio Nacional de Panamá. The stadium was constructed in 1999 and has a capacity of 27,000. Shortly before the Qualifiers start, the Yankees and the Marlins are scheduled to play two exhibition games at the stadium.
This group may have three favorites to advance to the main tournament: Colombia, Spain and Panama.
Lets’s start with the host country.
Despite having a rich baseball history, Panama never won a world title. A lot of fourth place finishes during the World Cups in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The best result that the country ever got was a second place finish in the 2003 World Cup. In the next edition (2005), Panama would finish in third place. In the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, Panama was ousted in the first round. In the final group game the team fell to the Netherlands after being kept hitless in 7 innings by Shairon Martis, who is still holding the first and only no-hitter of the WBC. In 2006, the team did not survive the first round either, resulting in hosting the 2012 Qualifiers in which they were ousted by Brazil in the final 1-0. Even though Panama has produced many MLB players of which Mariano Rivera is the best known, it has never been an international baseball powerhouse. Nevertheless this team will have a lot of talent on its roster.
Pitchers: Alberto Acosta (Nacionales de Panamá, Béisbol Profesional de Panamá), Dario Agrazal (Pittsburgh Pirates organization, A Short Season), Harold Auraz (Houston Astros organization, A Short Season), Alberto Baldonado (New York Mets organization, A Full Season), Euclides Bethancourt (free agent), Manny Corpas (Guerreros de Oaxaca, Mexican Baseball League), Angel Cuan (free agent), Paolo Espino (Washington Nationals organization, AAA), Saul Gonzalez (Caballos de Coclé, BPdP), Ariel Jurado (Texas Rangers organization, A Full Season), Humberto Mejia (Miami Marlins organization, Rookie), Eliecer Navarro (Nacionales de Panamá, BPdP), Andy Otero (Atlanta Braves organization, A Advanced), Davis Romero (Caballos de Coclé, BPdP)
Catchers: Jose Camarena (Caballos de Coclé, BPdP), Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia Phillies)
Infielders: Jorge Bishop (Aguilas Metropolitanas, BPdP), Ramon Castillo (Caballos de Coclé), Gerald Chin (Indios de Veraguas, BPdP), Javier Guerra (San Diego Padres organization, A Full Season), Edgar Munoz (Garden City Wind, Pecos League, independent), Carlos Quiros (free agent), Edmundo Sosa (St. Louis Cardinals organization, advanced rookie), Eduardo Thomas (Aguilas Metropolitanas, BPdP)
Outfielders: Anthohny Amaya (free agent), Luis Castillo (Caballos de Coclé, BPdP), Jorge Miranda (Indios de Veraguas, BPdP), Isaias Velasquez (Caballos de Coclé, BPdP)
On the roster of team Panama, there are ten players that play in affiliated ball, and quite a bunch that has played in affiliated ball. Catcher Carlos Ruiz and Padres no.1 prospect Javier Guerra will lead this team. Most of the team’s pitchers are playing in the local league or in the lower minors. Two of them are playing at AAA level. Espino is a starting pitcher who posted an ERA of 3.21 at AAA last year. Manny Corpas is a reliever who plays in the Mexican League. In 56 appearances he posted a 3.67 ERA and he got four saves out of six opportunities. Ariel Jurado is a top 20 prospect in the Rangers’ farm system. At A Full Season he posted a 12-1 record with a 2.45 ERA and 95 strikeouts. Even though the overall level may be not that high, this team has quite some talent.
Panama may benefit from the home field advantage, but compared to the Colombian team this team has less talent.
Projected finish: 2nd place
A long time ago, in 1955 to be exact, Spain won the European championship when it hosted the tournament. In that year, neither Italy nor the Netherlands participated in the tournament. Next to this first place finish, Spain had one second place finish (1954) and thirteen third place finishes. In 2012, the country surprised the baseball world by clinching a spot in the main WBC tournament by beating Israel 9-7 in the final of the Qualifier that was played in Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium. It must be said that both teams had a lot of imports. Many of Spain’s players came and still come from South and Central American countries and have many years of minor league experience under their belt.
So what can we expect this year from the team from the Iberian peninsula?
Pitchers: Rogelio Armenteros (Houston Astros organization, A Full Season), Jorge Balboa (CB Barcelona, Division de Honor), Richard Castillo (free agent), Jose Cruz (Rangers Redipuglia, Serie B Italy), Rhiner Cruz (Rakuten Golden Eagles, NPB), Ivan Granados (Division de Honor), Ricardo Hernandez (Caribes de Anzoátegui, Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional), Lazaro Leyva (Baltimore Orioles organization, A Short Season), Leslie Nacar (Tenerife Marlins, Liga de Honor), Antonio Noguera (CUS Brescia, Italian Baseball League), Andres Perez (Liga de Honor), Sergio Perez (Bravos de Margarita, LVBP), Richard Salazar (Caribes de Anzoátegui, LVBP), Carlos Sierra (Houston Astros organization, Rookie)
Catchers: Iker Franco (Tigres de Quintana Roo, Liga Mexicana de Beisbol), Rolando Merino (Tempiers de Sénart, French Division 1), Blake Ochoa (Valencia Astros, Division de Honor)
Infielders: Oscar Angulo (Valencia Astros, Liga de Honor), Jesus Golindano (CBS San Boi, Division de Honor), Luis Guillorme (New York Mets organization, A Full Season), Jesus Merchan (Yomiuri Gians, NPB), Yunesky Sanchez (Venados de Mazatlán , Liga Mexicana del Pacifico), Jesus Ustariz (Leones del Caracas, LVBP)
Outfielders: Engel Beltre (free agent), Lesther Galvan (Tenerife Marlins, Liga de Honor), Yasser Gomez (Joplin Blasters, American Association, independent), Daniel Martinez (CBS San Boi, Liga de Honor)
With the biggest chunk of the players coming from South and Central America, this team may be stronger than many may think. Did it come as a surprise to you that this team reached the main tournament in 2013? Well don’t be if they repeat to do this again. But it must be said that in 2012 the group that Spain played in was much weaker than this one. According to the website of the Spanish baseball and softball federation, this is a balanced group of players. In Richard Castillo Spain has a pitcher with one year of MLB experience under his belt. In the minors he was mainly used as a starting pitcher. Rhiner Cruz has a long career in the minor leagues, but had two stints with the Houston Astros as a reliever.
Jesus Merchan is leading the infielders when it comes to experience. He has played at AAA and is currently under contract of the Yomiuri Giants from the NPB. One name that is on the website of the WBC but not on the Spanish federation’s is Gabe Suarez. So his name is left from the roster in this outline. In Engel Beltre, Spain has a very experienced ball player who spent the biggest chunck of his career in the minors with a short stint with the Texas Rangers.
Projected finish: 3d place
Even in Colombia there is a professional baseball league. But just like the one in Nicaragua it is a small one with only four teams. Nevertheless the Columbians are playing professional baseball since 1948. But the league has been inactive several times.
Despite being a small baseball country, the sport is very popular in the South American country. The league is owned by the Renteria foundation (run by former MLB shortstop Edgar Renteria). Also other Colombian MLB players are sponsoring the league. Since 1902 there have been 17 players from Colombia that reached the Majors. Lou Castro was the first one in 1902. He played that season with the Philadelphia Athletics in an American Leasgue that was not recognized by the National League yet. The most famous MLB players from Colombia are the aforementioned Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera and Julio Teheran. in the history of the World Cup, Colombia won the World Championship twice: in 1947 and 1956. In both cases they were the hosts of the tournament. Furthermore the country had two second place finishes, two third place finishes and two fourth place finishes. But since 1974 the country hasn’t played a role of any importance.
Pitchers: José Quintana (Chicago White Sox), Horacio Acosta (Normal Cornbelters, Frontier League, independent), Kendy Batista (free agent), Randy Consuegra (Caimanes de Baranquilla, Liga Colombiana de Beisboll Profesional), Nabil Crismatt (New York Mets organization, A Short Season), William Cuevas (Boston Red Sox organization, AAA), Carlos Diaz (San Francisco Giants organization, AA), Kevin Escorcia (Chicago White Sox organization, Rookie), Jhonatan Escudero (St. Louis Cardinals organization, A Advanced), Yeizer Marrugo (Baltimore Orioles organization, Rookie), Arismendy Mota (Caimanes de Baranquilla, LCBP), Greg Nappo (Miami Marlins organization, AAA), Dewin Perez (St. Louis Cardinals organization, A Full Season), Yesid Salazar (Torros de Sincelejo, LCBP), Karlos Triana (free agent), Angel Vilchez (Caimanes de Barranquilla, LCBP)
Catchers: Luis Martinez (free agent), Jesus Posso (Philadelphia Phillies organization, A Short Season)
Infielders: Dilson Herrera (New York Mets organization, AAA), Ronald Luna (Torros de Sincelejo, LCBP), Charlie Mirabal (Torros de Sincelejo, LCBP), Mauricio Ramos (Kansas City Royals organization, A Advanced), Adrian Sanchez (Washington Nationals organization, AA)
Outfielders: Steve Brown (Trois Rivières Aigles, CanAm League, independent), Tito Polo (Pittsburgh Pirates organization, A Full Season), Harold Ramirez (Pittsburgh Pirates organization, A Advanced), Reynaldo Rodriguez (Minnesota Twins organization, AAA),
Jesus Valdez (Leones de Yucatan, LMB), Carlos Vidal (New York Yankees organization, Rookie)
This Columbian team may be better than the edition of 2012.It contains sixteen players that play in affiliated ball. With starting pitcher José Quintana, Colombia has the leading card on the mound. In his four year MLB career he has a decent ERA of 3.46. The batting average of his opponents is on the high side with .262 but in this field of contestants he should be able to keep Colombia in the game during his start. In William Cuevas, Colombia has a decent starter who posted a 3.40 ERA at AAA and kept his opponents to a .233 batting average. In Luis Martinez Colombia has a decent defensive catcher (threw out 40% of the potential base stealers in 2015) who played at AA and AAA last year. Dilson Herrera spent most of the season at AAA where he hit .327 but in 31 games in the Bigs he did not get any further than .211. If manager Luis Ureta uses Quintana and Cuevas in a smart way, he can use them in multiple games.
The number of minor leaguers will likely be decisive in this tournament. As written above, this Columbian team is stronger than four years ago. But so are the opponents.
Projected finish: 1st place
France belongs to the stronger countries in Europe but at a respectable distance from Italy and the Netherlands. The best result that the team ever had during a European Championship was in 1999 when France finished in third place. In 1991 and 1993 the French finished in fourth place. Baseball is still a small sport in France. Even this small that pitchers often can play another position as well (or fielders can pitch) because of the relative small rosters.
The French team is lacking high level players like team Panama and team Spain are having. The most dangerous hitter will be René Leveret. The slugger of St. Martin in the Caribbean has been a nightmare for the Dutch pitchers before. Another eye catcher on the French roster is Norbert Jongerius. Jongerius is playing in the Dutch Hoofdklasse and is a child of a Dutch father and a French mother. Therefore he could be placed on the 28-man roster of France.
Pitchers: Dan Camou (free agent), Leonel Cespedes (Leones de Industriales), Gregory Cros (Montpellier Barracudas), Pierrick Lemestre (Templiers de Sénart), Ernesto Martinez (Templiers de Sénart), Samuel Meurant (Stade Toulousain), Jonathan Mottay (Templiers de Sénart), Owen Ozanich (Rouen Huskies), Keino Perez (Rouen Huskies), Anthony Piquet (Rouen Huskie), Esteban Prioul (Rouen Huskies), Lucas Sefarin (Charlesbourg Castors (Quebec), Yoann Vaugelade (Rouen Huskies), Antoine Villard (Beaucaire Chavaliers)
Catchers: Dylan Gleeson (Rouen Huskies), Ernesto Martinez (Templiers de Sénart), Andy Paz (Oakland Athletics organization, A Full Season), Douglas Rodriguez (Chartres French Cubs)
Infielders: Felix Brown (Templiers de Sénart), Jorge Hereaud (Stade Toulousain), Maxime Lefevre (Rouen Huskies), René Leveret (Lincoln SaltDogs), Frederic Walter (Montpellier Barracudas)
Outfielders: Jacques Boucheron (Templiers de Sénart), Bastien Dagneau (Rouen Huskies), Frederic Hanvi (free agent), Norbert Jongerius (UVV, Netherlands), Jonathan Duforest (Concordia University)
In Rene Leveret, the French will have a bonafide slugger in their ranks, but despite a couple of players that play in the USA this team will not be strong enough to give Colombia, Spain and Panama a hard time.
Projected finish: 4th place