2023 World Baseball Classic team draft
The 2023 World Baseball Classic is upon us, and you know what that means: it’s time for a team draft. MLB.com’s Will Leitch and Mike Petriello have teamed up to pick their favorite rosters for the upcoming tournament, which begins March 8th. There are 20 teams in the mix, so Will and Mike will draft the top 10 and then pick a dark horse from among the remaining group.
Mike gets to go first, and he’ll grab fast…
Petriello: Well, Chris Bassitt just said “it’s probably going to be the best line-up ever”, so that’s a pretty good start, isn’t it? He couldn’t be wrong, even without José Ramírez and Starling Marte, both of whom will miss the tournament following off-season surgeries. I mean just look at this team. Imagine a top of the lineup that says “Julio Rodríguez, Juan Soto, Manny Machado.” Then imagine following this group with, I don’t know, Rafael Devers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco. Then recognize you quiet have Jeremy Peña, Willy Adames, Teoscar Hernández, Ketel Marte, Jean Segura and Nelson Cruz. You can’t even find enough space for everyone.
Here’s the thing though. Any look at this team starts with: Oh my god, that lineup. Which, fair. But also note that they have reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara in the rotation ahead of Cristian Javier and Johnny Cueto, who topped a World Series no-hitter. Realize that if these guys don’t last long in the games — which most starters probably don’t do early in spring training — manager Rodney Linares will have to dive into a bullpen that has too many flamethrowers to name. But you know, if you can choose between Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Camilo Doval, Diego Castillo, Carlos Estévez, Gregory Soto and Héctor Neris to get through the last few innings… you’ll be fine. you will be amazing
leitsch: First of all I’m happy someone here loves america, mike. I would argue that it’s a pretty good sign of where baseball is in 2023 that I can build a lineup that includes Trea Turner/Mookie Betts/Mike Trout/Paul Goldschmidt/Pete Alonso/Nolan Arenado/Kyle Tucker/JT Realmuto/ Jeff McNeil, and it’s probably him second-best lineup available here. It’s an open question how those games will play out, but Team USA’s definite weakness is their initial pitching. Is the #1 starter on this team…Adam Wainwright?
I’m not sure if that will matter in the end The much, though; It’s not like anyone is going to throw any full games in this tournament. The bullpen, led by Devin Williams, is much stronger. Get this team a lead – and it sure looks like they’ll get some leads – and this bullpen should shut it down. I think there are clearly two top-flight teams in this tournament that everyone else is a step or two behind. I would be shocked if anyone other than these top two won. But we should keep drawing anyway.
Petriello: Three, Will. Three top teams. Like everyone else, I’m disappointed to see Seiya Suzuki get injured and have to sit out the tournament and yes, that raises some questions about the length of the lineup. On the other hand, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani at the top of your rotation? Ohtani may be the best player in the world but he doesn’t even think he’s the best player on this team.
It’s hard to believe, but Samurai Japan probably has the largest group of senior non-MLB players, although American fans may not be particularly familiar with, say, infielder Munetaka Murakami (who just hit 56 home runs) or pitcher Roki Sasaki ( who threw a perfect 19 strikeout game last season when he was 20) or pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (who has won back-to-back Sawamura Awards, a Cy Young-esque pitcher honor) risk overlooking just how much talent there is out there. I agree with you that I’m taking the Dominican Republic and America over Japan, but the gap here isn’t huge. There are three great teams.
leitsch: Also, here’s your reminder that everyone’s favorite fantasy sleeper Lars Nootbaar is in Japan too! I may have underestimated this team. But whether you look at the top two teams or three teams, it’s definitely a step down to Puerto Rico, which, yes, let’s get it out of the way here, is actually a part of America. In fact, Team USA could use some jump-starts from Puerto Rico, including Marcus Stroman, who’s the ace here (having served for USA in the last Classic). Francisco Lindor is the biggest star here and this looks like the kind of event Javier Báez will be fueling.
It can be just as funny to see manager Yadier Molina deal with a call that goes against his team. As we’ve learned from his previous stint as the owner of a Puerto Rican basketball team, he tends to get a little annoyed!
Petriello: The more I look at this list, the more I like it. No, there are no Ohtani, Trout or Superstars like you’ll see throughout the Dominican lineup, but there’s just a deep group of good, solid players on either side of the ball. You could do worse than Julio Urías, Patrick Sandoval and Taijuan Walker in your rotation, right? You can get some production out of Randy Arozarena, Rowdy Tellez, Joey Meneses and Alex Verdugo, right? It’s a solid team. You will win some games. But mostly there is this: Check out the list. Check out the pitchers: 41-year-old Oliver Pérez is there. If he gets into a game, the whole tournament is a success.
leitsch: They fell so far with a pretty good feeling: This is a good team! Jose Altuve is the obvious leader here but it will be exciting to see Miguel Cabrera play for his home country in his last season. The wild card here is Ronald Acuña Jr., who had to fight for his place in this squad. Three years ago we would all have placed Acuña on any list of baseball’s greatest players, but injuries — and the fact that the Braves won a World Series without him — have actually put the phenomenon on the back burner. Having a big classic for Venezuela – who finished third at that tournament – would be a great way to start a potentially resurgent campaign.
The rotation here – with Pablo López, Martín Pérez, Jesús Luzardo, Eduardo Rodriguez and Luis Garcia is terribly deep – and they’ll pitch to Salvador Perez, who hopefully doesn’t injure (gulp) the Classic this time. This is my official sleeper team.
Petriello: For the first time, Cuban Major League players are allowed to represent their home country, making this group look very different from the lineup we saw at the 2017 Classics. That means we’ll see Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada – and unlikely Yoenis Cespedes too – although it’s not quite the powerhouse group you would have expected years ago, particularly with Arozarena representing Mexico and Yordan Alvarez, José Abreu and Co Gurriel -Brothers don’t attend. We are happy to see outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, also at the age of 36; He has hit more than 440 career home runs in various international leagues and is the all-time home run leader in the Classic. Have I neglected to mention a single jug? Apparently I did.
leitsch: Way back in 2017, during the last Classic, Freddie Freeman was an excellent Braves first baseman who was dependable, consistent and unspectacular – a guy you’d like to have on your team, but not someone you build that team around would. Since then, Freeman has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting for five consecutive years and has established himself as a top-notch Superstar. He’s now the anchor of a Canadian side that never made it past the first round.
There’s another fascinating talent here, from Tyler O’Neill to Cal Quantrill to Bo Naylor. But the two best things about the Canadian team? First off, it’s helmed by Ernie Whitt, one of the most Canadian guys of all time. Secondly, John Axford is on this team! Axford, who has pitched exactly a third of an innings in the majors since 2018, turns 40 in April, but he’s here playing for Team Canada. I hope he bats every inning of every game. (Looking at this staff, he might have to.)
Petriello: Should I have let Team Italy stay until the Dark Horse section? Almost certainly, yes. Did I risk you sneaking in to take Vinnie Pasquantino from me, Leitch? I was not. My only goal from the start was “to conquer the Italian team” so my still alive, almost 102-year-old, Sassano-born and well-known Cubs-fan great-uncle, Frank Petriello, wouldn’t let me hear all about it. Where was I? Team Italy is a bit tight on the pitching end, but Pasquantino is a potential 2023 All-Star, and David Fletcher, Nicky Lopez and Sal Frelick add some competence to the lineup. Maybe manager Mike Piazza can take a few hits.
Also, Italy is in Pool A along with Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba and Panama. It’s probably the weakest grouping of the first round. It is not The hard to see that they’re actually making a little early noise here.
leitsch: They’ve had some travel issues lately — and hey, we can all understand that — but Korea will always be one of my favorite teams at this tournament, if only because I haven’t forgotten how the KBO saturated my baseball fix with the early days of the pandemic. There are a few major league players here, notably the Cardinals’ Tommy Edman and the Padres’ Ha-Seong Kim, but the main attraction is undoubtedly thug Jung-Hoo Lee, the KBO MVP who’s likely to be baseball’s next in the majors will start year. Korea could absolutely get out of Pool B, which means we could see Jung-Hoo in the US on the biggest stage available.
The first 10 teams will be selected. Of the remaining 10, who are the standout dark horses to watch?
Long live Honkbal! Xander Bogaerts and Kenley Jansen are the headliners, but as far as Dutch names go, catcher Sicnarf Loopstok is the undisputed champion here.
I’m pissed that I couldn’t write Honkbal — although apparently I did anyway — so I’m going with Colombia instead because they’ve got some pitchers, you know (Julio Tehran, José Quintana), and some Major League bats in Gio Urshela , Jorge Alfaro, Harold Ramirez and Donovan Solano. I take it.