With the Spring Training well on its way, the best baseball players of the world will take on each other in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Team Kingdom of the Netherlands will be in group A together with host Korea, Chinese Taipei and Israel. What are the odds for the Dutch to reach the next round?
First Chinese Taipei or Taiwan if you want.
So far not much is known about the team. The team will contain mostly players from its own CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League). But many unknowns, it doesn’t mean that this team will be weak. On the contrary. Taiwanese ballplayers are skilled defenders and know how to hit and to produce runs. They master the art of small ball and with this kind of baseball, the team managed to advance to round two in 2013. I expect Chinese Taipei to battle with the Kingdom of the Netherlands for the second spot in group A. Currently there are no players from Taiwan in the Majors, but Wei-Chung Wang is one of two with the most recent MLB experience. The 24-year old pitcher split the season between AAA and AA in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system. In five starts at AAA Colorado Springs, he was rather ineffective with an ERA of 4.85 and with his opponents hitting .302 with him on the mound. But it must be said that Colorado Springs is located at a very high altitude which does influence the effectiveness of pitchers in a negative way.
At AA Wang was a lot more effective as he posted a 3.52 ERA and limited his opponents to a .258 batting average.
Pitcher C. C. Lee is the other Taiwanese player with recent MLB experience. He pitched parts of the 2013, 2014 and 2016 season with the Cleveland Indians. In three seasons he posted a 4.50 ERA. In 2016 Lee spent the season with the NPB’s Seibu Lions. But in Japan he did not fare much better with an ERA of 6.48.
Even though the Taiwanese roster has not been published yet, it may be safe to say that these two players will be part of it.
As stated before, team Israel will mainly contain US Jewish players. So far only ten names of this roster are known. Four of them have played in the Bigs in 2016.
Corey Baker had a cup of tea at AAA but was sent down to AA Springfield on July 26. He started 20 games for the Cardinals and recorded 4 wins and 8 losses with a 4.91 ERA at AA.
Jeremy Bleich is also a minor leaguer. He started the season in the farm system of the Philadelphia Phillies at AA level. Despite a good start he struggled to keep his ERA below 4.00 and was released in July. He was picked up by the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. With the Patriots, Bleich did a lot better in seventeen appearances. He finished the season with a 2.45 ERA. In 22 innings he only walked three and struck out 28.
Jon Moscot appeared in five MLB games this year. He struggled at AAA, where he started nine games and posted a 4-4 record with a 5.26 ERA. During the season Moscot moved up and down between AAA and MLB. In five MLB starts, he recorded three losses with an 8.02 ERA.
Josh Zeid started the season with the New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League but was signed to a minor league contract by the Mets in June. After being sent from Binghamton (AA) to AAA Las Vegas and back again several times, he finished the season in Sin City.
At AAA he posted a 5.54 ERA with a 3-2 record.
Ryan Lavarnway spent the biggest part of the 2016 at AA with the New Hampshire FisherCats. The 29-year old catcher spent most of the 2015 season with the Atlanta Braves before he was released in the off season. With the FisherCats Ryan hit .262 and threw out 34% of the potential base stealers.
After parts of seven MLB seasons, Ike Davis was designated for assignment by the New York Yankees when the Bronx Bombers activated 1B Mark Teixeira from the DL.
Davis is a career .281 hitter who has a career .993 fielding average.
Ty Kelly split the 2016 season between the Mets and their AAA farm team in Las Vegas. He moved up and down several times. The 28-year old 3B hit .241 with the Mets and a respectable .328 with the 51s. He played several positions in 2016 (OF, 1B, 2B, 3B) but did not commit an error.
Danny Valencia is a veteran with seven years of MLB experience under his belt. So far he has a career batting average of .271 and a fielding percentage of .991.
Cody Decker is a career minor leaguer, who had a cup of tea with the San Diego Padres in 2015. Last season he split the season between the Colorado Rockies’, Kansas City Royals’ and the Boston Red Sox’ organizations. He finished the season with the AA Portland Seadogs where he hit a modest .232.
Sam Fuld has spent eight seasons in the Major Leagues as a journey man. He played for the Cubs, the Athletics, the Rays and the Twins. In eight years, he hit a modest .227. His fielding skills are quite okay as he sported a fielding perentage of .988 for all three outfield positions combined.
You can count on it that more MLB players will be added to this roster, but somehow MLB isn’t that quick with releasing the names.
As far as I am concerned, Korea may be the big favorite to end on top of this group. Sure not many names have been released yet, but without their MLB players, this team won the inaugural Premier 12 tournament in 2015 by beating Japan that had all of its NPB players on its roster. Only four names have been released by MLB so far.
Outfielder Sin-Soo Choo has twelve years of MLB experience under his belt. His career batting average is .280 with 146 homeruns, so he can be considered a dangerous slugger. But it remains to be seen if the 34-year old will participate as the Texas Rangers are mulling on denying him to participate in the 2017 WBC.
Outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim broke into the Majors with the Orioles in 2016. The outfielder had quite a debut as he batted .302 in 95 games.
Third baseman Jung-Ho Kang has played his second MLB season in 2016. In 2015 he debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Compared to 2015, when he hit a decent .287, his numbers declined as he hit only .255 in 103 games.
Dae-Ho Lee debuted in the Majors in 2016 with the Seattle Mariners. He played in 104 games but at bat he wasn’t really that succesfull as he hit a modest .253.
Next to these four, there are still four more Koreans who play in the Majors, but so far their names have not been released.
The roster of team Kingdom of the Netherlands will contain Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop and Andrelton Simmons for sure. The Texas Rangers have handed over a list to MLB. This list contains the names of the players that they want to deny the participation in the WBC. The name of Jurickson Profar is not on the list, so this means that the Dutch can add him to their roster too.
Next to these four MLB players, there are still a couple of others that will likely be added: Kenley Jansen and Didi Gregorius.
The Dutch may add one pitcher with MLB experience to their roster in Rick van den Hurk. The tall Dutchman has played in Korea and Japan in the past four years after stints with the Marlins, the Orioles and the Pirates. In parts of six seasons he posted a 6.08 ERA.
During his years in Korea he had a 3.95 ERA in 2013 and a 3.18 ERA in 2014 with the Samsung Lions. In 2015 Rick debuted with the Softbank Hawks halfway the season and finished the season with a 9-0 record and a 2.52 ERA. During the 2016 season he showed signs of fatigue and finished the season with an ERA of 3.84. Where Van den Hurk declined on participating in the 2013 WBC because he wanted to focus on the season with his new club (the Samsung Lions), he may now join the team as he has signed a three year extension with the Softbank Hawks.
But despite the possibility of having Van den Hurk on the roster, pitching may be the Achilles heel for the Dutch. Diegomar Markwell may be an exception. Four years ago he was masterful in the 5-0 victory over Korea. Perhaps he can repeat that performance. If Van den Hurk will participate, Markwell will likely be the second starter. The third starting pitcher will remain a question mark for now. Perhaps good old Rob Cordemans. But he was hit hard by the Japanese in 2013 and recently Cordemans wasn’t as sharp as he used to be as he recovered from an injury. And so far it is not even sure if he will be on the roster.
During the two practice games vs Japan last November, it became clear that the relief pitching was the weakest point of the Dutch team.
Another player that will participate for sure is Wladimir Balentien. The 32-year old slugger did not have a high batting average (.269) but still managed to hit 31 dingers for the Yakult Swallows of the NPB. Next to Balentien, the Dutch will have three MLB hitters that can hit for the fences in Didi Gregorius (20 homeruns in 2016), Xander Bogaerts (21 homeruns in 2016) and Jonathan Schoop (25 dingers in 2016).
Based on the current names that are known to participate, I expect this to be the final standing of group A:
2. Kingdom of the Netherlands
3. Chinese Taipei
But if Israel can send a shipload with MLB players, things may look completely different.