The World Baseball Classic is almost here. The tournament starts March 2 and runs through March 19 with 16 teams hoping to rule the baseball world. Since international baseball brings new players and storylines, Big League Stew is helping you get ready this worldly clash with previews of each team.
Pool: C — San Juan, Puerto Rico
'09 finish: Went 1-2 in pool play and was eliminated after losing to the Netherlands twice.
First game:Thursday, March 7 — vs. Venezuela
Biggest star: With Pedro Martinez retired and David Ortiz not on this year's roster, Robinson Cano is the big man on the roster. He's joined on the roster by Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, giving the Dominican one of the best infields in the tournament.
Notable absences: Third baseman Adrian Beltre was on the provisional roster, but won't participate in the first round after struggling with soreness in spring training. He could re-evaluate his situation if the Dominicans advance to the second round. Pitcher Johnny Cueto was barred by the Cincinnati Reds from participating in the WBC after he finished last season with an oblique injury. Jose Bautista won't participate as he makes sure his left wrist is 100 percent for opening day.
Names you may not know, but should: Utility man Leury Garcia. He's the youngest player on the team at 21 and is currently competing for a bench spot with the Texas Rangers. Though he's not likely to see a great deal of playing time, Garcia still accepted a late invitation to represent his country, possibly at the expense of his standing with the Rangers.
Important questions to ask about Dominican Republic:
Because of that finish, there's sure to be a lot of pressure on the Dominican Republic team this time around. Like the United States, they've yet to reach a final and a title would mean a lot to the people of the baseball-crazed nation. But it's not going to be easy as both Venezuela and Puerto Rico will pose tough challenges in Pool C.
Will they have enough starting pitching? The Dominicans feature a strong bullpen with veterans like Fernando Rodney, Santiago Casilla, Octavio Dotel and Jose Veras waiting for the call. Their starting ranks, however, are a little thin. With Cueto's participation being nixed by the Reds and Ubaldo Jimenez sitting this one out, the team will rely on Edinson Volquez, Wandy Rodriguez and Sam Deduno, who has all of 15 big league starts to his name, to get them through. The first two are capable of turning in some good performances and they'll have to produce 5-6 strong innings each time out if the Dominicans want to have a chance.
What about the outfield? They're also a tad thin in the outfield too, yes. Nelson Cruz will be a rock for their lineup, but the other four outfielders are Alejandro de Aza, Melky Mesa, Ricardo Nanita and Moises Sierra. Almost makes you wish Sammy Sosa would take a break from Pinterest to make a WBC cameo.
Hey, is that Jose Valverde on the roster? Yup, the one spud and the same. With teams exhibiting no interest in the Big Potato's services after his dismal 2012 postseason, he'll be suiting up for his national team. Hey, it's one way to guarantee an audience for a tryout — at least if Tony Pena gets desperate enough to use him.
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