Time for more bobblehead madness. In case you missed part one on the AL West, check it out here. Again, each bobblehead will be rated 1-5 stars based on quality of subject, originality, number available, and overall awesomeness. Teams will be ranked by total stars, so the more giveaways (especially quality ones) the better. Which bobbleheads in the AL Central will be crowned the king? Let’s find out!
Cleveland Indians (amount of giveaway varies)
Saturday, May 3rd, Orel Hershiser: Interesting choice for a throwback bobblehead as Hershiser had a 4.21 ERA in his three seasons with the Tribe. He is a big name though. This giveaway is for 10,000 fans. ** 1/2
Saturday, May 31st, BrOhio: I have no idea where this is going, but it has potential to be the most creative bobblehead in Cleveland’s crop. They also up the giveaway to 12,500 for this one. *** 1/2
Tuesday, June 3rd, Michael Bourn: Pretty standard stuff here. Back down to 10,000 fans on this giveaway **
Tuesday, July 8th, Jason Kipnis: See, Michael Bourn. But a slightly better player and 12,500 fans get this one. ** 1/2
Monday, September 1st, Michael Brantley: Another average to slightly above average player getting his bobble on. Still 12,500 fans for this one, but still a low number compared to other teams. A lot of quantity, but not much quality from the Indians in 2014. **
Total: 12 1/2 stars
Minnesota Twins (10,000 fans)
Friday, June 20th, Harmon Killebrew 1965 All-Star Game: I had a feeling the Twins would go the route the Mets did in 2013 and honor players that appeared in All-Star Games with the team. The Twins are hosting the 2014 All-Star Game. This would be a huge boost if the Twins also featured the three Minneapolis stadiums to host the All-Star Game as well. Killebrew is one of my favorite players of all-time. ****
Friday, July 4th, Lou Gehrig: This giveaway is with the Yankees in town and corresponds with the 75th anniversary of Gehrig’s farewell speech. Great tip of the cap to history by the Twins. ****
Saturday, July 5th, Tom Brunansky 1985 All-Star Game: Brunansky picked a great year to be the only Twins All-Star and make his only appearance in the Midsummer Classic. The career .245 hitter does have a sweet mustache, but it’s not enough to probably be the worst bobblehead of 2014. *
Saturday, September 6th, TBD 2014 All-Star Game: Fake Vegas odds on who this bobblehead will be. Joe Mauer -2000, Glen Perkins +500, anyone else +1500. If it’s Mauer…….. ***
Total: 12 stars
Kansas City Royals (10,000 fans)
Saturday, June 28th, James Shields: This is going to be tough to dole out stars with a measly 10,000 fans getting each bobblehead. Shields is a solid pitcher, but not a big star. **
Saturday, July 12th, Salvador Perez: Perez isn’t even on Shields’ level, yuck. * 1/2
Sunday, August 10th, Alex Gordon: Gordon is the “star” of the team. We’ll see if they make it with a Gold Glove variation, that’d be a nice addition. ** 1/2
Saturday, August 30th, Mr. Royal: This one could actually be fun! This throwback mascot will get a bobblehead on retro night. I’m in. *** 1/2
Total: 9 1/2 stars
Detroit Tigers (amount of giveaway varies)
Thursday, June 5th, Max Scherzer 2013 Cy Young Award: No picture yet of the the bobblehead, but I’d suspect it’ll be him holding the Cy Young award. Maybe they’ll throw in the WWE Title belt that Scherzer was given for winning Cy Young. This giveaway is for 15,000 fans. ***
Thursday, August 14th, Justin Verlander Mini-Bobblehead: Mini-bobblehead? Can’t give him a normal sized one? I’ll only accept this if there’s a mini-Kate Upton on it too. This giveaway is for just 10,000 fans. Dislike. * 1/2
Friday, August 15th, Miguel Cabrera 2-Time MVP: Apparently to get a normal-size bobblehead you have to win an award the previous season. I want Cabrera to be wearing his Triple Crown crown while holding two MVP’s in his arms. I’d bet it won’t look like that. This giveaway is also for 10,000 fans. ****
Total: 8.5 stars
Chicago White Sox (20,000 fans)
Saturday, May 24th, Chris Sale: Sale is the current and future ace of the White Sox. The extra 5,000 fans that get to take this home compared to the Yu Darvish bobblehead in part one, gives this an extra 1/2 star. ***
Saturday, August 30th, Tony LaRussa: Many people forget that LaRussa started his managing career on the Southside. In his Hall of Fame induction year, I like that they’re giving him a bobblehead. I hope it’s in this classic throwback uniform. *** 1/2
Total: 6.5 stars
That’ll do it for the AL Central. I’m quite disappointed that there were no pictures of any 2014 bobbleheads in this division. The Indians win on quantity, but the Twins win on quality. Unless, it’s Tom Brunansky of course.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Coming fresh into a new season the Three Up, Three Down crew jumps right into the opening series with a lot to talk about. A few extensions were handed out to players such as Elvis Andrus, Justin Verlander, and Paul Goldschmidt and who could forget watching Clayton Kershaw slicing and dicing the San Francisco Giants while taking one deep? Was that better than Yu Darvish’s almost perfect performance against the Houston Astros? Not only are the pitchers doing well, two hitters have made a statement this early in the season as Chris Davis and Michael Morse are smashing the ball, but who would you rather have the rest of the season on your fantasy team? Take a listen and choose wisely!
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Last season, the AL Central was not only the weakest top to bottom in the American League, but you could also argue it was the weakest in all of baseball. While no team last surpassed 88 wins, the AL representative in the World Series came from the Central. Will Detroit win the division for a 3rd straight year? Or will the White Sox be able to fend off a Tigers push? Will Cleveland’s new manager Terry Francona bring back playoff baseball for the Indians? Are the Royals finally ‘there’?
Chicago White Sox: Chicago looks to be primed to make a run at an AL Central title this year and it starts with their rotation. The 1-2 punch of Chris Sale and Jake Peavy will provide solid outings all year but the injury to John Danks might prove to be too costly. It’ll be up to Dylan Axelrod to step up in Danks’ absence. The two biggest question marks for the lineup are will Adam Dunn mash all season long again and can Paul Konerko stay healthy and lead the way in what may be his last season?
Cleveland Indians: The Indians have a lot to be excited about heading into this season and it starts with accomplished manager, Terry Francona. The sheer experience Francona brings to the clubhouse will propel Cleveland past last season’s 68 wins. New additions Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, and Mark Reynolds provide the ability to score runs with Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana. The real concern with the Indians will be the starting rotation. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers are going to have to carry the load if this team is going to be successful in 2013.
Detroit Tigers: The defending AL Champs have everyone back from last year with a key addition in Torii Hunter and a healthy Victor Martinez. This team is built to win now and should run away with the division. But there is one giant hole; the role of closer. The Tigers will start the season with a closer by committee strategy that will rotate Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, and Octavio Dotel. The rotation is the best in the league with a perennial Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez., and Rick Porcello. Expect to see this team deep in October.
Kansas City Royals: Every year for the past 5 years, the talk about the Royals has been “they are 1 or 2 years away”. This organization has plenty of young talent but its put up or shut up time. James Shields and Ervin Santana join 2012 mid-season acquisition Jeremy Guthrie to form the 2nd best pitching staff in the Central. If Butler, Moustakas, and co. can stay healthy, the KC Royals will be playing meaningful games through September and might see some post-season action.
Minnesota Twins: When you’re Opening Day starter is Vance Worley, you have seen better days. To make this season a success, the Twins need to break up the M&M boys. It makes more sense for Morneau to be dealt purely based on contract size, unless the Twinkies want to absorb some of Joe Mauer’s $23M/year deal. Josh Willingham provided much of the offense last year while having a career year. The only way I can see this team avoiding a 100-loss season is if Willingham duplicates his 2012 stats AND they do not trade Mauer or Morneau. It might be more beneficial to bite the bullet this year and start stocking up for 2014.
Adam Dunn – Chicago White Sox
Michael Bourn – Cleveland Indians
Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers
Billy Butler – Kansas City Royals
Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham – Minnesota Twins
Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer – Detroit Tigers
James Shields – Kansas City Royals
Rookie of the Year
Aaron Hicks – Minnesota Twins
Will the Tigers run away with this division? Is this the last time you can see the M&M boys in Twins uniforms? Comment below!
– Angelo Fileccia (@GODF_TH_R)
The day started off like any other in the MLB world, teams were settling in after Grapefruit and Cactus League games ended, Opening Day was right around the corner and then one tweet from Buster Olney sent us into a frenzy.
Hearing rumblings of major news… More to come.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 29, 2013
What did it mean? Was the Biogenesis investigation over? Did another player get busted for performance-enhancing drugs? A blockbuster trade? JUST TELL US BUSTER!
The suspension fears were alleviated when Tigers ace Justin Verlander followed by tweeting.
Today is going to be a great day. Big news coming!
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) March 29, 2013
Big news certainly did come starting with the 2011 American League MVP. The Tigers signed Verlander to a new contract worth seven years and $180 million, with a vesting option for an eighth year that would make Verlander the first ever $200 million pitcher. He will make the same $20 million for the next two seasons and then get bumped up to $28 million for each season from 2015-2019. The deal makes Verlander the highest paid pitcher in MLB history, surpassing the $175 million given to Felix Hernandez this offseason.
We weren’t done with just one MVP getting copious amounts of money. The Giants got in on the action handing defending N.L. MVP Buster Posey a nine-year contract worth $167 million. It is the longest and richest contract in the history of the San Francisco Giants. The deal ensures that Posey will be a Giant into the next decade, there is a team option for the 2022 season with a $3 million buyout and includes a no-trade clause. The deal is also the 2nd largest ever for a backstop, just behind Joe Mauer’s eight-year $184 million deal he received from the Twins in 2010. When you lead a team to two World Series titles and an MVP award in your first three seasons, you deserve to be the highest paid player with less than four years of service time in MLB history.
Lost in the shuffle of the Verlander and Posey deals is a savvy five-year, $32 million contract for up-and-coming first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt will stay in the desert through 2017, with a club option of $14.5 million for 2018. Arizona has looked to lock up it’s current talent with Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero, Martin Prado, and Aaron Hill all signed long-term. He broke out in 2012 with 20 home runs and a .286 batting average. The extension will keep Goldschmidt around until he’s at least thirty years old.
Some guy named Tony Romo got a $100+ million extension too, but ain’t nobody got time for that.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
We’ve finally reached the pinnacle. You’ve climbed the mountain and finally get to see who I think is the best player in baseball right now! Or if this is the first one you’ve read, in that case check out 20-16, 15-11, and 10-6 that got us here. If you’d like to see the entire MLB Network “Top 100 Right Now” list, click here. Time for the top five, with a player who I think is underrated by MLB Network’s list.
I ended the last blog with a Dodger and starting this blog with a Dodger. Matt Kemp has the potential to be the best player in the game. We saw it in 2011 when he put together a near 40-40, Triple Crown season, while leading the NL in runs and RBI. That wasn’t enough to get him an MVP award, which is why I have the next player ahead of him. Hopefully, Kemp’s hamstring woes are behind him and he becomes the dominant, durable player he was before 2012. Ridiculous random list that this player is on! Players since 1980 to lead their league in runs scored, runs batted in, and home runs in the same season: Mike Schmidt (1981), Ken Griffey Jr. (1997), Alex Rodriguez (2007), Albert Pujols (2010), and Matt Kemp (2011).
What more does Ryan Braun need to do to get respect? He wins the NL MVP in 2011. Braun then loses his protector in the lineup in Prince Fielder to free agency, but has his first 40-homer season. The Hebrew Hammer also adds in 30+ plus stolen bases for good measure. Five-straight all-star appearances, five-straight Silver Sluggers, and he’s led the National League in OPS each of the past two seasons. The defense might not be spectacular, but you can make the argument that the other tools make Braun the best hitter in baseball. Ridiculous random list that this player is on! Players in the history of Major League Baseball to have a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season, while leading the league in OPS: Hank Aaron (1963), Dale Murphy (1983), Barry Bonds (1990, 1992, and 1995), Larry Walker (1997), and Ryan Braun (2011-2012). Braun is the ONLY player to achieve the feat in back-to-back seasons.
I have no qualms with Verlander being MLB Network’s runner-up, but I’m lowering him down to #3 only because I devalue pitching. I almost even dropped him behind Braun. Enough negative stuff though, Verlander is the clear best pitcher in the game today. There is no pitcher (Kershaw could get there) where you’re watching every start, because there’s a real chance a no-hitter will be thrown. That’s what Verlander brings to the ballpark every fifth day. Verlander also does so much for the Tigers bullpen by leading the league in innings pitched the past two years. He even went 63 straight starts pitching at least six innings. Verlander in 2011 was the first starting pitcher since 1986 to win an MVP award and does more to help his team than any pitcher in the game today. Ridiculous random list this player is on! Pitchers since 1946 to lead their league in innings pitched AND earned run average: Sandy Koufax (1965-66), Greg Maddux (1993-95), Randy Johnson (1999 & 2002), Johan Santana (2008), Felix Hernandez (2010), & Justin Verlander (2011).
What batter would you want to have up with your World Series on the line? Too soon, Tigers fans? Cabrera is the best slugger in the game and proved his with his monstrous 2012 season in which he became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. He doesn’t run much and the defense is still so-so adjusting to third base, but man can he hit. He’s not just a slugger with eight 30-homer seasons in his first nine full years, but also hits for average! Cabrera has never hit below .292 in a full season and has back-to-back batting titles on his mantle. He’s still in his prime too! I can’t imagine if he actually IMPROVES on his Triple Crown season. No random list, but here’s a fun stat: Every MLB Triple Crown winner, also led their league in OPS, maybe it should actually be the Quadruple Crown?
#1, Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (MLB Network’s #1)
It’s pretty anticlimactic that I actually agree with MLB Network’s best player in the league right now. The term “five-tool player” gets thrown around a lot, but in one season Trout has proved he’s the best all-around player in the game. Whether it’s home run-robbing catches, speed on the base paths, hitting for average, or blasting 30 home runs despite not being called up in the first three weeks of the season, there is nothing Mike Trout can’t do. Even if he regresses in his sophomore season, his numbers will still be eye-popping. If I told you last year that a kid that wasn’t even going to start the season in the Majors would be #1 on this year’s list you’d have thought I was crazy, but that’s where we are. One last time! Ridiculous random list this player is on! Players in American League history with 30+ home runs and 47+ stolen bases in the same season: Mike Trout (2012), that is all.
The list is complete! Who would top your list of the best players in MLB right now? Let me know in the comments or tweet me using the link below with #MapesRightNow!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
The World Baseball Classic returns for the 3rd time starting March 2nd. Fellow blogger Jeremy Dorn gave his rankings of every team in the WBC last week. (I haven’t figured out how he has South Korea 11th either) I wanted to delve more into team USA’s chances and how the roster stacks up.
Who’s In: Joe Mauer-Twins, J.P. Arencibia-Blue Jays, and Jonathan Lucroy-Brewers
Who’s Out: Buster Posey-Giants and Brian McCann-Braves
Interesting that the deepest offensive position with three players is at catcher. They clearly want to rotate these guys so they don’t get too banged up before the MLB season begins. Not being able to score the defending NL MVP in Buster Posey is a tough blow to team USA, but having hitting machine and former AL MVP Joe Mauer lessens the blow. He could even be the designated hitter option, when Arencibia or Lucroy are behind the plate. Arencibia’s inclusion seems to coincide with R.A. Dickey’s appearance on the roster. The two are now teammates in Toronto and have been working together to have knuckleball success. I’m sure the Blue Jays will be pleased with them getting reps together in high pressure situations. Lucroy had his best season at the plate last year, but was hampered by injuries. He’ll be a solid offensive piece down the lineup. Getting Posey on board would’ve made this an easy A, but alas. Grade: B+
Who’s In: Mark Teixeira-Yankees
Who’s Out: Prince Fielder-Tigers, Paul Konerko-White Sox, Adam LaRoche-Nationals, and Freddie Freeman-Braves
I would’ve much preferred the bat of Prince Fielder, but I have no qualms with Teixiera joining team USA for the 2nd time. He’s not the hitter he once was, but does have pop, will provide for some interesting decisions with his switch-hitting ability, and is one of the best defensive first baseman in the game. He’s going to get a lot of work in as the only true first baseman on the roster, but could get spelled by Mauer and maybe even Ben Zobrist. Grade: B-
Who’s In: Brandon Phillips-Reds and Ben Zobrist-Rays
Who’s Out: Dustin Pedroia-Red Sox, Ian Kinsler-Rangers, and Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks
Pedroia and Kinsler are probably better hitters than Zobrist, but the Zorilla’s ability to play mulitple positions makes him a suitable choice. I don’t think we’d see any of the other possibilities manning right field or shortstop the way Zobrist does for the Rays. Brandon Phillips will get the majority of time at second base and the three-time Gold Glove winner will flash plenty of leather for the red, white, and blue. The only better second baseman in the tournament is Robinson Cano for the Dominican Republic. Grade: B+
Who’s In: Jimmy Rollins-Phllies and Willie Bloomquist-Diamondbacks
Who’s Out: Derek Jeter-Yankees, Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies, and Ian Desmond-Nationals
One would have to believe that Rollins is on the roster over Desmond just based on experience and leadership ability. Jeter’s ankle may not be 100% in time for the WBC and with Tulo’s injury history it was clear he wouldn’t risk it. Rollins is the defending NL Gold Glove winner at the position and played in the last WBC for USA. He’s not the hitter we once was, but can provide speed atop the lineup. Bloomquist is the questionable pick for the roster, but he’s a clear utility player and can play numerous positions in case of injury. When compared to the players team USA could’ve had if healthy, I can’t give out a great grade. Grade: C
Who’s In: David Wright-Mets
Who’s Out: Chase Headley-Padres, Ryan Zimmerman-Nationals, and David Freese-Cardinals
This was the easiest call for team USA. Wright is the best third baseman in America right now. The only problem for the Stars & Stripes is that Venezuela (Miguel Cabrera) and the Dominican Republic (Adrian Beltre) have better options at the position. Grade: A-
Who’s In: Ryan Braun-Brewers, Adam Jones-Orioles, Giancarlo Stanton-Marlins, and Shane Victorino-Red Sox
Who’s Out: Mike Trout-Angels, Bryce Harper-Nationals, Andrew McCutchen-Pirates, Josh Hamilton-Angels, and Matt Holliday-Cardinals
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Even without Trout and McCutchen, I love this outfield. Braun is the best left fielder in the game and a perennial MVP candidate. Jones is a budding superstar that helped turned the Orioles around and is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Stanton is a straight masher that you can’t pitch around in middle of the lineup. Victorino doesn’t have the name of some of the other players that aren’t playing, but his ability to play all three oufield positions, while filling in as pinch-runner and possibly designated hitter is good enough. I know Mike Trout wanted to have a traditional spring training entering his 2nd full season, but I think that he’s going to come to regret not being around this talented group. Grade: A
Who’s In: R.A. Dickey-Blue Jays, Kris Medlen-Braves, Ryan Vogelsong-Giants, Derek Holland-Rangers
Who’s Out (for now): Justin Verlander-Tigers, David Price-Rays, Jered Weaver-Angels, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee-Phillies, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner-Giants
It’s pretty easy too look at those two lists and get a lump in your throat. There is one spot still open for a starting pitcher that’d presumably would go to Verlander if he wants it. Let’s look at what is definite right now. Team USA sports the defending NL Cy Young winner in Dickey, who’s knuckleball will give batters fits seeing it for the first time this season. Medlen was arguably (and I’d argue was) the best pitcher in the 2nd half last season. When he’s on his game, he’s unhittable. Vogelsong is a fantastic story since returning to MLB from Japan and can be useful as he might have some inside knowledge on the Japanese hitters. Holland is a decent southpaw, great in the clubhouse, and let’s be honest we’re all secretly hoping he faces the Netherlands. If Joe Torre has a sense of humor, it’ll happen. It’s not the best, but it’s certainly not the worst. Grade: B-
Who’s In: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants, Tim Collins-Royals, and Glen Perkins-Twins
Who’s Out: Sean Marshall-Reds, Eric O’ Flaherty and Jonny Venters-Braves, Darren Oliver-Blue Jays, and Sean Burnett-Angels
No offense to Tim Collins, but I’d rather have all five pitchers in the “Who’s out” list than him. Affeldt is a great big-game pitcher as he proved in the 2012 postseason. He’ll have to come through in big spots as the best of this bunch. Perkins has become a solid lefty. He’s climbed his way up the ranks to become the Twins closer. Seeing a lot of quality lefties staying in their spring training homes is a little disheartening though. Grade: C+
Who’s In: Heath Bell-Diamonbacks, Mitchell Boggs-Cardinals, Steve Cishek-Marlins, Luke Gregerson-Padres, Craig Kimbrel-Braves, Chris Perez, and Vinnie Pestano-Indians
Who’s Out: Jim Johnson-Orioles, Jason Motte-Cardinals, Jonathan Papelbon-Phillies, Joel Hanrahan-Red Sox
As long as the words “Heath Bell in a high pressure situation” aren’t used I really like the bullpen that Greg Maddux has to work with. Craig Kimbrel is the best relief pitcher in the world right now and should lock down any game in the 9th inning. Perez and Pestano work well together in Cleveland. Boggs was a revelation in St. Louis this past season. Cishek will be a change of pace reliever with his submarine delivery. Cishek did really well filling in as the Marlins closer when Heath Bell fell apart last season. Gregerson is one of the leagues most underrated relievers because he pitches in San Diego and has never had an ERA over 3.24 in his four seasons. Having Kimbrel on the roster is such a boon for this bullpen. Grade: A-
Final Thoughts: Team USA will have a real shot at knocking Japan off the top of the WBC mountain. The coaching staff with Joe Torre, Greg Maddux, Dale Murphy, Gerald Perry, Larry Bowa, Willie Randolph, and Marcel Lachemann is top notch. The only real question marks are at shortstop and left-handed pitching to me. I believe that if the starters can get a lead to the bullpen though, USA will be dangerous. I expect at least another run to the semi-finals and a trip to San Francisco. Every team at that level is so talented, it’s going to come down to the little things to decide the champion.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
In about six weeks, the World Baseball Classic will be upon us again and Team USA will look to win its first title in the competition’s history. They’ve got a good shot — manager Joe Torre released his roster on Thursday, and they are absolutely loaded.
Unfortunately for fans of Team USA, one glance at a few competing rosters will stop the celebration in its tracks. Can someone unseat two-time defending champions, Team Japan? Will Team USA improve upon their 4th-place finish in 2009?
We can’t predict the results down to the wire, but we’re here to do what we do best at Three Up, Three Down. We rank the rosters! So strap in, baseball fans, and see if your favorite team stands a chance:
**The “Stick to Soccer” Group**
Notable player(s): Barry Larkin, Manager (and Hall of Fame Reds SS)
International Baseball Federation (IBAF) Ranking: 20
Breakdown: Good thing for their dominance on the international soccer scene, because Brazil isn’t going anywhere in the Classic. Yan Gomes was the first Brazilian player to ever reach the big leagues, and the country itself only has 14 players signed to Major League contracts. How they will win: They won’t. Why they won’t: See “How they will win.”
Notable player(s): Bruce Chen, SP, Royals
IBAF Ranking: 18
Breakdown: The Chinese baseball team is a decade away from being a serious contender, but they are headed in the right direction. They’ve made steady improvements over international tournaments since a decent showing at the 2009 WBC, in which they eliminated Chinese Taipei. How they will win: Hustle, starting pitching. Why they won’t: Not enough of either.
Notable player(s): Paco Rodriguez, RP, Dodgers/Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers
IBAF Ranking: 16
Breakdown: I’m not sure what to think about Spain. They lack star power, but did knock off Israel and South Africa in qualifiers. The roster is dotted with promising Major League prospects, but I don’t foresee Spain winning more than a game, maybe two in the WBC. How they will win: Breakout tourney from Beltre. Why they won’t: Their Pool C competition is stacked (Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic).
Notable player(s): Jason Grilli, RP, Pirates/Francisco Cervelli, C, Yankees/Nick Punto, IF, Dodgers/Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs/Chris Denorfia, OF, Padres
IBAF Ranking: 9
Breakdown: Not only did we miss out on a Hall of Fame induction for Mike Piazza, but he won’t be participating on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic either. Props to the Italians for back-to-back Euro Championships, but the competition is pretty weak over there right now. I think they will be humbled in the WBC. How they will win: Play with a chip on their shoulder. Why they won’t: Even the MLB-level hitters are thin.
#12: KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS
Notable Player(s): Jair Jurrjens, SP, MLB Free Agent/Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox/Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers/Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Orioles/Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves/Roger Bernadina, OF, Nationals/Andruw Jones, OF, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 7
Breakdown: The Dutch soccer team is one of my favorites to watch. And for the first time in recent memory, so will their baseball team. They just missed my “dark horse” cut, due to sheer overall talent of the rest of the field. But the Major League potential of some youngsters on this roster is extremely intriguing. They’ve won 20 of 32 Euro Championships ever played. How they will win: Infield of dreams breaks out. Why they won’t: Not all the youngsters will perform.
**The Dark Horses**
#11: SOUTH KOREA
Notable player(s): Jae Seo, SP, former Met, Dodger, Ray in MLB
IBAF Ranking: 4
Breakdown: I feel ridiculous ranking Korea this low, considering their past successes in the WBC. But, it’s the third time this tournament has been played and each team has scouting on the opposition now. I don’t think South Korea will sneak up on anyone this time around. How they will win: High on-base percentage, good defense. Why they won’t: Too much good competition.
Notable player(s): Peter Moylan, RP, Dodgers
IBAF Ranking: 10
Breakdown: There’s a handful of good Major League players (like A’s closer Grant Balfour) who hail from the land down under, but there isn’t a whole lot of MLB experience on this roster. Team Australia still has a shot at advancing, but they may have more trouble than in years past. How they will win: Pure grit. Why they won’t: Not enough runs, upstart opposition in Pool B.
Notable player(s): Jesse Crain, RP, White Sox/John Axford, RP, Brewers/Jameson Taillon, SP, Pirates/Russell Martin, C, Pirates/Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays/Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
IBAF Ranking: 6
Breakdown: We all know that Canada produces some bona fide stars in MLB (Joey Votto, anyone?), but not all are present and accounted for on this roster, similar to Team Australia. They still have the talent to make a run with Lawrie, Morneau and Martin in the middle of the lineup though. How they will win: Dominant bullpen, good middle of the lineup. Why they won’t: Too much youth in the rotation.
#8: CHINESE TAIPEI
Notable player(s): Chien-Ming Wang, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 5
Breakdown: There’s a reason that Team Chinese Taipei is a top-five ranked country right now. But their proudest current professional representative (Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen) is not on the team yet. This team is still legit, and has a very winnable pool group. How they will win: Small ball. Why they won’t: Overall talent is lacking.
**The “Justtttt A Bit Outside” Group**
#7: PUERTO RICO
Notable player(s): Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals/Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals/Angel Pagan, OF, Giants/Mike Aviles, IF, Indians/Javier Vasquez, SP, MLB Free Agent
IBAF Ranking: 12
Breakdown: There may be no more high-ceiling-yet-average team in the WBC this year. Team Puerto Rico has finished fifth at both tournaments preceding this, and killed Team USA in 2009 before being ousted by them two games later on a walk-off hit. Even with players such as Molina, Beltran and Pagan, they won’t even be favorites in their own pool. How they will win: The Major League talent they have is relentlessly good. Why they won’t: Lack of depth in the rotation.
Notable player(s): Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers/Luis Cruz, 3B, Dodgers/Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers/Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals/Sergio Romo, RP, Giants
IBAF Ranking: 11
Breakdown: In their pool, Team Mexico will have to deal with Team USA, but other than that they should be favored to top Team Canada and Team Italy to move on. They have a decent infield, top-of-the-line ace, and one of the best closers in baseball. How they will win: Adrian Gonzalez goes off, Gallardo is dominant. Why they won’t: Romo is neutralized unless they have a lead late.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 1
Breakdown: Don’t let the lack of notable players deceive you — this team is good. Really good. They have played in the IBAF World Cup 29 times and won 25 gold medals, finishing second the other four times. In the WBC, Team Cuba has finished second and fourth (which, at the time, was their lowest finish ever in international competition). They just can’t legally have players like Aroldis Chapman or Yoenis Cespedes on their squad, otherwise they might be even better. How they will win: Hard-throwing starters, handful of five-tool prospects. Why they won’t: The top four teams are just too stacked.
Notable player(s): None
IBAF Ranking: 3
Breakdown: Again, don’t let the lack of Major League firepower fool you. Much like Cuba, Team Japan has been a hotbed for MLB stars over the years (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish). Even though none of them joined the fray in 2013, this team is stacked. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of future MLB players come off this roster after good WBC performances. After all, they are two-for-two in WBC titles up to this point. How they will win: Ichiro-style on-base scavengers, deceptive pitching. Why they won’t: Not having Ichiro and Darvish, among others, will end up costing Team Japan.
#3: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Notable player(s): Santiago Casilla, RP, Giants/Octavio Dotel, RP, Tigers/Alexi Ogando, RP, Rangers/Fernando Rodney, RP, Rays/Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Pirates/Edinson Volquez, SP, Reds/Carlos Santana, C, Indians/Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers/Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees/Edwin Encarnacion, DH/OF, Blue Jays/Hanley Ramirez, IF, Dodgers/Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays/Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers/Melky Cabrera, OF, Blue Jays
IBAF Ranking: 13
Breakdown: The only reason Team Dominica is ranked so low by the IBAF is because all those notable players are stars in the big leagues, and don’t regularly compete internationally for their country. But now that the WBC has rolled around again, this is one unbelievably good team. My only concern is their starting pitching depth. How they will win: Scoring 15 runs per game (no…really). Why they won’t: Like I said, starting pitching depth. Will Volquez and Rodriguez be enough?
#2: UNITED STATES
Notable player(s): Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants/R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays/Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves/Kris Medlen, SP, Braves/Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants/Chris Perez, RP, Indians/Joe Mauer, C, Twins/Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds/Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies/David Wright, 3B, Mets/Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees/Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers/Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins/Adam Jones, OF, Orioles/Joe Torre, Manager
IBAF Ranking: 2
Breakdown: I didn’t even pick all the “notable players” I could have for this team. It’s Team USA’s equivalent of the MLB Dream Team, and Justin Verlander still is undecided as to whether he’ll join the rotation. This team is already a favorite with a balanced lineup and very strong pitching staff, but adding JV would be a coup. Check out fellow Three Up, Three Down host Bryan Mapes’ grades-by-position for Team USA. How they will win: Veteran experience, explosive pitching. Why they won’t: The bane of their existence, Team Japan, will come along eventually.
Notable player(s): Anibal Sanchez, SP, Tigers/Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners/Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MLB Free Agent/Ronald Belisario, RP, Dodgers/Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks/Salvador Perez, C, Royals/Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers/Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians/Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B, Tigers/Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants/Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants/Carols Gonzalez, OF, Rockies/Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks
IBAF Ranking: 8
Breakdown: The quantity of star power on Team Venezuela might not match up to Team USA or Team Dominica, but the quality is far and beyond. When you start your rotation with Hernandez and stack the middle of your lineup with the reigning Triple Crown winner between Gonzalez and Sandoval, you are a very, very scary team. Even though their WBC pool is very tough, it would be a momentous upset to not see Team Venezuela make moves in the 2013 tournament. How they will win: A large margin of victory. Against anyone. Why they won’t: Slumping hitters or being outplayed by one of the other favorites.
And that’s a wrap. This writer believes Team Venezuela is the team to beat, with Team USA, Team Dominica and Team Japan not far behind. But in all honesty, there are about 10-11 teams who could potentially take home the title in 2013. Root for your team and country to take home top honors, and stay tuned to Three Up, Three Down because we’ll have all your World Baseball Classic coverage.
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)