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.
'09 finish: Fifth place, 4-2, Eliminated in second round.
First game: March 8 vs. Spain.
Biggest stars: Slugger Carlos Beltran is one of the bigger stars in the sport, though he's currently nursing a sore right little toe. Yadier Molina might be MLB's best all-around catcher. Angel Pagan was instrumental in helping the San Francisco Giants win the World Series, and Alex Rios was one of the better overall outfielders in the game in 2012. The staff is full of recognizable names, from manager Edwin Rodriguez to coaches Carlos Baerga, Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin and Ricky Bones. Here's the entire squad.
Notable absences: Right-hander Javier Vazquez, who might have been testing the waters on an MLB comeback, won't pitch in the WBC because of a knee injury. Giants outfielder Andres Torres also has pulled out. Ivan Rodriguez, an All-WBC pick in 2009, has retired. Bernie Williams and Carlos Delgado have as well.
Name you may not know, but should: Right-hander Jose Berrios, just 18 years old, is one of the Minnesota Twins top pitching prospects and is off to a terrific start in spring training.
Important questions to ask about Puerto Rico:
Can it overcome two of the most talented teams in the world? P.R. might start with a seemingly easy opponent in Spain (apologies, España), but its pool has to be the toughest in the tournament — it also includes Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. One of them won't make it to the second round, and the D.R. probably still has stinging memories of being upset twice by the Netherlands during pool play in 2009.
Do results from the Caribbean Series matter? Doubtful (Puerto Rico and Venezuela went 2-4), though P.R.'s Caribbean team had some of the same players who will play in the WBC.
Can they ride home-field advantage to the next round? The home fans could help by packing Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan and screaming their lungs out. It probably didn't hurt being home in '09 when Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands in the pool final.
Do they have enough pitching? Not having Vazquez available hurts a lot. Most of the bigger names on the roster are hitters, though right-hander Nelson Figueroa and lefty J.C. Romero are familiar to major league fans.