2023 World Baseball Classic: Ranking the top seven outfield groups

Japan won the first two World Baseball Classic championships, and it was only fitting that one of Japan’s greatest players was right in the middle of both titles.

Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki played for Japan in both 2006 and 2009 and had a combined .312 with five stolen bases, 10 RBIs and 14 runs scored in 17 games. But it was his last fight that sealed his WBC legacy. In the 3-3 tie in the 2009 championship game between Japan and Korea in the 10th inning, Ichiro went ahead with two runs on and two outs.

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With a 2-2 count, he slammed a classic Ichiro line drive down the middle, hitting both runners and helping lead his country to the championship. Because of course he did.

With the start of the 2023 World Baseball Classic less than a week away, let’s take a look at the top fielders for this year’s tournament.

But first, let’s look at the best individual defensive play in WBC history, performed by USA midfielder Adam Jones against the Dominican Republic in the 2017 WBC Quarterfinals.

7. South Korea

outfield player: Jung-Hoo Lee, Hyun Soo Kim, Sung-Bum Na, Kun-Woo Park

Why you are here: Lee has played six full KBO seasons and produced a career .342/.407/.575 slash line, and he added a little strength last year, with 23 homers with 36 doubles and 10 triples in 142 games. It was his season at the age of 23. Think of the WBC as his introduction to American baseball fans — if Korea makes it past the pool game, of course — because he’s scheduled to be hired after the 2023 season, meaning he’ll likely play in MLB next season. Kim and Na both regularly produce 20-homer KBO seasons.

6. Mexico

outfield player: Randy Arozarena, Alex Verdugo, Alek Thomas, Jarren Duran,

Why you are here: Well, we all know that Arozarena loves the big stage. Who can ever forget his epic 2020 postseason, when he hit 10 homers and hit 1,273 OPS in 20 games? Thomas and Duran are promising youngsters who have struggled a little in their short stint in the big boys but should benefit from this WBC experience. Verdugo hasn’t developed into the All-Star that Boston hoped for when it was a key element of Mookie Betts trading returns, but it’s solid.

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5. Japan

outfield player: Seiya Suzuki, Lars Nootbaar, Masataka Yoshida, and Kensuke Kondo

Why you are here: There is a lot of “evidence” for the three primary outfielders on this team. Suzuki had a good first season in the bigs, hitting 14 homers with 116 OPS+ for the Cubs, but he didn’t show the consistency that was his trademark in Japan. The Cubs expect him to be an All-Star and the WBC is a great way to start his 2023 season. Nootbaar enters the WBC hoping to pick up where he left off in 2022 as a key element of the Cardinals’ present and future outfield. And Yoshida? Yes, many eyes are on him after landing a big deal for the Red Sox this offseason.

4. Venezuela

outfield player: Ronald Acuna Jr Anthony Santander David Peralta

Why you are here: Acuna’s one hell of a headliner — he’s motivated to show what he can do in his first (hopefully) healthy season since 2019 — but Santander is coming off one of the quietest 33-homer seasons in recent memory. And Peralta? Punch pro through and through.

3. Cuba

outfield player: Luis Robert, Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Despaigne, Rodriguez, Yadir Drake Dominguez, Yoelquis Guibert Steven, Roel Santos Martinez

Why you are here: If this is the year that Luis Robert finally fulfills his potential as a healthy MVP candidate, a star turn in the WBC would certainly be a good place to start. And wouldn’t it be funny to see Cespedes showing that his racquet still has a little kick at 37? As with Japan, Cuba has plenty of evidence outfield and that’s good motivation for a showcase tournament like this. Oh, and WBC fans know all about Despaigne. He owns the record for most career WBC home runs with seven and has a .370 batting average with 16 RBIs and 12 carries in 17 career games.

2. United States

outfield player: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Kyle Tucker, Kyle Schwarber, Cedric Mullins

Why you are here: The truth is, if I ranked this again tomorrow, the US group could be number 1. So maybe we see them as 1A and 1B. Trout and Betts, you know your stuff. Former MVPs are still at or near the peak of their game. Tucker is coming off consecutive 30-homer seasons, Schwarber hit 46 homers last year, and Mullins has 46 homers and 64 stolen bases over the past two years. yes this will play

1. Dominican Republic

outfield player: Julio Rodriguez, Juan Soto, Teoscar Hernández, Eloy Jimenez, and Ketel Marte

Why you are here: This 1-2 combination of J-Rod and Soto is just ridiculous. Rodriguez is one of the few players in the AL talented enough to challenge Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge for MVP honors, and Soto, even in a “down” 2022, had a 149 OPS+ and 5.6 bWAR followed by a 175 OPS+ and 7.1 bWAR in 2021. Jimenez will likely spend most of his time at DH, with Hernandez — 56 homers and 193 RBIs in the last two MLB seasons — playing on the field.

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