The World Baseball Classic is almost here. The tournament starts Saturday 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 C, Puerto Rico.
'09 finish: Third place, 6-2. Lost to South Korea in semifinals.
First game: March 7 vs. Dominican Republic.
Biggest star: Maybe you've heard of this guy named Miguel Cabrera. He plays for the Detroit Tigers. Won the Triple Crown last year. Yeah? Well, Venezuela has him. He's decent. And he's just the start of their loaded roster of bats, which also includes Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Notable absences: Felix Hernandez, because the Baseball Gods deemed it unfair to have King Felix and Miguel Cabrera on the same team. Just kidding. He bowed out while working on his recent mammoth contract extension with the Seattle Mariners.
Name you may not know, but should: There aren't too many names you don't know on Team Venezuela, but one that you'll be hearing more from in 2013 is Henderson Alvarez, a 22-year-old Miami Marlins pitcher. He was part of the blockbuster Marlins-Blue Jays trade and now will be watched keenly in South Florida.
Important questions to ask about Venezuela:
Will the Venezuelans have enough pitching? Hitting, stacked. But pitching is the question mark here. Had Felix Hernandez or even Johan Santana played with Venezuela as expected, things would look better. As it is, Anibal Sanchez is the ace of the team. Alvarez will be counted on, but he was only 9-14 last season in Toronto. Jhoulys Chacin is around, coming off an injury-shortened 2012.
How wild are Venezuela's wild cards? Two free agent pitchers — each trying to prove themselves again — could be helpful. You know them: Carlos Zambano (who puts the "wild" in wild card) and Francisco Rodriguez (do we still call him K-Rod?). Both guys have good stuff, as well as issues. On a team that needs pitching, a return to form would be surely be appreciated.
Will Pablo Sandoval bring his A-game? The San Francisco Giants slugger is great when he's on (see 2012 World Series, Game 1), but when he's not, he can be a drag. There have already been concerns about his weight this spring. Can he deliver for Venezuela? Giants fans are probably hoping so, because it would mean good things ahead of them too.