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: Pool B, Taiwan
'09 finish: Second, 6-3, lost to Japan in finals.
First game: March 2 vs. Netherlands
Biggest star(s): Seung-Yeop Lee, known as "The Lion King." He's regarded as one of — if not the — greatest hitters in Korean baseball. He's a five-time MVP who hit 300 home runs quicker than even Alex Rodriguez. Now more an elder statesman of Korean baseball, Lee anchors a talented Korean lineup that also includes Tae-Kyun Kim, Jung-Ho Kang and Hyun-Soo Kim, among others.
Notable absences: No major leaguers on the Korea team this year. Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (Los Angeles Dodgers) and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo opted to skip the World Baseball Classic for MLB spring training. Another Korean hero, Bum Ho Lee, who hit .400 in the 2009 WBC is out as well.
Name you may not know, but should: Dae-ho Lee, who put up triple crown numbers in 2010 in the Korean Baseball Organization. Look at these: 44 homers, 133 RBI and .364 /.444/.667. He left the KBO to play in Japan in 2012, hitting 24 homers and driving in 91 runs.
Important questions to ask about Korea:
Can they win the whole thing? We're not talking about pool play. Korea should move on easily. The real question is whether it can make it back to the finals and avenge 2009, when it finished second. It has a strong lineup that opposing pitchers won't be eager to face.
How much does familiarity help? Unlike a team like Netherlands that is young and blooming, Korea is made up older players who all mostly play in Korea and are familiar with each other. Eleven of them played on the 2009 team. With national pride on the line here, them being a familiar unit could be an advantage.
Will WBC spygate hurt them? Chinese Taipei was caught spying on Korea earlier this week. Will it hurt? Doubtful. Korea plays in all the international tournaments. There's not a shortage of information out there about the team.
Can they have success on their rivals' home turf? Pool play is in Taiwan, where the Chinese Taipei team will be hungry to knock off Korea. If (when?) Korea advances, it'll play in Japan, home of its other rival. But, hey, that's the fun of a tournament like the WBC.