World Baseball Classic 2017: Can Israel surprise in its debut?

Big League Stew

From now until the World Baseball Classic begins on March 6, we’ll be helping you get to know each team involved in baseball’s global tournament. Today’s entry: Israel. 

There is no bigger uncertainty in the 2017 World Baseball Classic than Team Israel. While the team does have some talented players casual fans will recognize, this is the first time the club has qualified for the tournament.

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Team Israel did not enter the first two World Baseball Classics, and failed to qualify back in 2013. This time around, Israel swept the competition in the qualifying round, earning a spot in the Classic.

Their reward? A spot in the same Pool as Netherlands and former finalist Korea. It’s not exactly the best position, though Israel does have some interesting talent.

The team will be led by former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jason Marquis, but will also feature Ike Davis, Craig Breslow and Sam Fuld. Every one of those players has experienced success in the majors.

Normally, a team making its debut in the tournament would enter with no expectations. While it’s tough to get too excited over Team Israel, there are talented players on the roster. Whether that will be enough to push the team to Round 2 is impossible to predict.

Team Israel is ready to make its mark in the WBC.
Team Israel is ready to make its mark in the WBC.

Schedule details: Team Israel is part of Pool A, and will kick off the tournament March 6 against Korea. The game will take place at 4:30 a.m. ET in Seoul. Later that day, Israel will take on Chinese Taipei at 10:00 p.m. ET. The team will finish Pool A play Wednesday, March 8 against the Netherlands.

’13 Finish: N/A. This is actually Team Israel’s first appearance in the tournament.

Biggest stars: Marquis probably had the longest and most successful major-league career of anyone on the team. After posting a 6.46 ERA over 47 1/3 innings with the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, Marquis did not play in 2016. This will provide an opportunity for the 38-year-old to show he’s still capable of handling major-league hitters.

If you’re looking for current players, both Craig Breslow and Ike Davis fit the bill. Breslow signed with the Minnesota Twins in the offseason. Davis joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have 18 years of major-league experience between them. Sam Fuld is also around, he’s probably a familiar name to some.

Notable absences: Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is the biggest loss here. His absence is understandable, though. While Braun has averaged 137 games played the past three seasons, he’s dealt with significant hand injuries. He appears to be healthy now, and is still capable of putting up All-Star numbers, but he probably doesn’t want to take any risks playing in the tournament.

Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson played in the qualifier for Team Israel back in 2013, but will not take part in the event in 2017.

Player you should get familiar with: Brewers outfielder Cody Decker only has 12 major-league plate appearances under his belt, but he’s worth watching. While Decker hasn’t made his mark in the majors just yet, he’s hit a solid .262/.341/.520, with 173 home runs, over eight minor-league seasons. The quality of pitching Decker will face in the WBC should be similar to what he’s seen in the minors, meaning he could stand out and do some damage in the middle of Team Israel’s lineup. If he can do that, he’ll be one step closer to reaching his dream of securing a major-league roster spot. 

Team Israel will finally get a chance to show off its skills in the World Baseball Classic. (Getty Images/Alex Trautwig)
Team Israel will finally get a chance to show off its skills in the World Baseball Classic. (Getty Images/Alex Trautwig)

THREE BIG QUESTION ABOUT ISRAEL

Beginner’s luck? This is Team Israel’s first appearance in the WBC, so it’s tough to project how the team will fare once the games start. While the team doesn’t feature overwhelming major-league talent, there’s enough here to make things interesting in Pool A. Problem is, Israel is matched up in a tough Pool to kick things off. Team Netherlands looks to have a solid club, and Korea has made the finals in the past. That’s going to make it difficult for Israel to shock the world and advance to Round 2.

Is the pitching good enough? Other than Marquis, you probably aren’t going to recognize any of the team’s other starters. And while Marquis had a long, successful career in the majors, he didn’t play last year and is now 38. The team desperately needs him to still have something left in the tank if they hope to advance to Round 2. If they lose with Marquis on the mound, things get a lot tougher.

Will more MLB players join Israel in the future? If Israel can go on a run and surprise people, it’s worth wondering whether players who bowed out of the event this time around would have more interest in participating during the next WBC. Team Israel could actually put together a formidable team if enough players decided to change their minds. On top of Braun and Pederson, Ian Kinsler, Kevin Pillar and Alex Bregman are all eligible to suit up for Israel. Having any of those players sign up next time around would greatly increase the team’s chances.

Also in this series:
Australia
Canada
 China
Chinese Taipei
Colombia
Cuba
Dominican Republic 
Italy
Japan
Korea
Mexico
 Netherlands
Puerto Rico
— United States
— Venezuela

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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