The 2023 World Baseball Classic


Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

After being delayed two years due to the pandemic, the World Baseball Classic has returned. The tournament begins March 8 in Taiwan, and the championship game will be held in Miami at LoanDepot Park, home of the Miami Marlins, on March 21. 


The WBC is the “World Cup” of baseball, with most of the world’s top talent representing their countries. This will be the fifth installment of the WBC since the tournament began in 2006. 


This version will have twenty teams, an increase from the last tournament, which had sixteen. The teams are divided into four pools, with five teams in each. The four semi finalists from the previous tournament have been separated into each group by the World Baseball-Softball Confederation organized the teams into pools to create competitive balance. Pool A has Chinese Taipei, Pool B has Japan, Pool C has the United States and Pool D has Puerto Rico. 


Pool A is held in Taichung, Taiwan; Pool B in Tokyo, Japan; Pool C in Phoenix, Arizona; and Pool D in Miami, Fl. The favorites to win include the four finalists from 2017, but expect teams like Venezuela and Mexico to contend. 


The reigning champion, Team USA, will be coached by former MLB player Mark DeRosa. His staff includes former stars Andy Pettitte as the Pitching Coach and Ken Griffey Jr. as the Hitting Coach. 

The lineup is a powerhouse led by the likes of former MVPs Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt and Mike Trout, and other big bats like Trea Turner and Pete Alonso. However, the pitching staff has taken a hit with the loss of Logan Webb and Nestor Cortes and, now, former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The staff has some upside with Brady Singer, Merrill Kelly and Miles Mikolas but it lacks true starpower. The bullpen is strong, with Devin Williams and David Bednar. 

The biggest threat to Team USA in their pool is Mexico, which has key Dodger pitcher, Julio Urías and rising star Randy Arozarena. Many countries, especially the United States, are missing superstars. Aaron Judge, Austin Riley, Corbin Burnes, Justin Verlander and many more aren’t playing. Unlike the World Cup or even basketball at the Summer Olympics, the World Baseball Classic lacks the game’s best American players. 

For some players, injuries are the reason for the absence. Bryce Harper was originally on the team but has since undergone Tommy John surgery. Some teams’ General Managers have pulled their players, especially pitchers, from the tournament. The timing of the Classic is difficult, given Spring Training and the 162 game length of the MLB season that follows.

The Dominican Republic is considered the favorite. They are in a tough pool with Puerto Rico and Venezuela, but the team is stacked. Juan Soto and Julio Rodríguez command the outfield. The infield has Rafael Devers, Manny Machado, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Wander Franco. This lineup is very much comparable to the late-1920s Yankees “Murderers Row.” The pitching staff has no shortage of firepower either, led by reigning National League Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, veteran Johnny Cueto and three World Series winners in Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, and Rafael Montero.


It’s hard to ignore Puerto Rico and Venezuela despite the DR’s stacked roster. Puerto Rico may have the best middle infield with Francisco Lindor and Javier Baéz. The pitching is bleak but reigning NL Reliever of the Year Edwin Díaz will be lights out from the bullpen. Venezuela has pop in the lineup with sluggers like Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Gleyber Torres and Ronald Acuña Jr. Pitching wise, Venezuela has the advantage. They have a complete staff in Ranger Suarez, Martín Pérez, Pablo López, and José Alvarado.

Japan, in its own right, has a loaded pitching staff led by one-of-a-kind, two-way players Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish and multiple Nippon Professional Baseball aces such as Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has won back-to-back Sawamura Awards, the equivalent to the Cy Young. The outfield is full of Major Leaguers, with Lars Nootbaar, Seiya Suzuki and newly-signed Masataka Yoshida. The Korean Republic could contend, with a strong duo in second baseman Tommy Edman and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, but Japan’s arms could win their pool for them.

Pool A may be a toss up. Chinese Taipei has a strong offense with reigning Chinese Professional Baseball League MVP Li Lin and Kungkuan Giljegiljaw, the league’s home run leader last year. The Netherlands has plenty of big league talent led by star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, veteran Jonathan Scoop, and 2017 All-Classic Team member Wladimir Balentien who had 16 hits and four home runs in the previous tournament. Cuban born players are now eligible to play for Cuba, allowing slugger Yoenis Céspedes and stars such as Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada to play. Italy has an exciting team with MLB players like Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Lopez, and prospect Sal Frelick. Panama rounds out the pool with a solid lineup including Jonathan Arauz and Ruben Tejada. 


It is an exciting time for baseball fans, with Spring Training only a week away and the World Baseball Classic less than a month away. Based on the lineups, Cuba, Japan, the United States and the Dominican Republic all have a chance to be one of the final four teams. If the championship is Japan versus the Dominican Republic, then the final could be good with the potent Dominican lineup battling a resilient Japanese rotation.