At 2:00am (UK time) on Sunday 12 March, GB players will line up at Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona for their first game of the World Baseball Classic 2023.
It is hard to imagine a tougher opening fixture for Drew Spencer’s players than to face the USA dream team. The roster with which US coach, Mark DeRosa, will attempt to retain the WBC trophy for the United States is possibly the greatest array of baseball talent ever assembled.
Well, that is how the US media portray it. In reality, the USA have serious competition from Japan and the Dominican Republic for the accolade of tournament favourites.
But it is the team from the USA that we will focus on today.
Assisting DeRosa is a trio of elite MLB names. Former White Sox and New York Mets manager, Jerry Manuel, is the bench coach, with Yankees legendary starter, Andy Pettitte, the pitching coach, and Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey Jr., the hitting coach.
When you see the quality flowing through the US roster, you might question exactly how much assistance Pettitte and Griffey Jr. can actually give
Mike Trout: Simply the greatest player of this generation. Despite only a 12-year career thus far, Trout leads all active players with 82.4 WAR. Last year, he overtook the great Nolan Ryan to claim 60th place in the history of the game, and this despite Ryan having the benefit of a 27-year career to accumulate his stats.
In 2012, Trout posted the greatest season by a rookie, ever. And has continued to live up to the hype by finishing first or second in MVP voting seven times. It is easy to see that Mike Trout’s early announcement of his intention to lead the USA served as the catalyst for the avalanche of stars to follow.
Over the last two seasons combined, Realmuto and Smith are the number one and number two catchers in the game. Ouch
Paul Goldschmidt: Since his All-Star campaign in 2013, Goldschmidt has scored more runs than anyone else. In fact, according to WAR, only Mike Trout has been better over the last 10 years. Oh, and he is the reigning NL MVP.
Pete Alonso: In a Mets roster of elite talent, it is Alonso who is the star slugger. He hit 53 home runs as a rookie in 2019 and hasn’t stopped going yard. Last season, the 28-year-old led the majors with 131 RBI, but there was no three-pete in the Home Run Derby as Alonso was eliminated in the semis during his attempt to become the first player to win three straight titles.
Mookie Betts: Until his need for an operation was announced last week, we presumed Trevor Story would man second base. If Trout and Goldschmidt are the best players over the last ten years, then guess who is third? You got it, Mookie Betts. The former MVP only plays a handful of games at second base each season, so he’s not a bad replacement for Story.
Jeff McNeil: The latest player to commit to the USA, McNeil finished 2022 as hot as anyone. His .356 AVG was the highest of all qualified hitters over the second half of the season. If McNeil gets the nod at second, then look for Mookie to move to centre with Trout shifting across.
Trea Turner: The Philadelphia Phillies had to commit $300 million last month to secure the services of the 29-year-old for the next 11 years. Turner is one of the true power/speed guys in the game; no one else has swiped 60+ bags and hit 60+ homers over the last three seasons combined.
Tim Anderson: If Anderson scores 10-out-of-10 for dynamism and charisma, he only manages seven-out-of-10 for ability to stay on the field. Injuries have robbed baseball fans of 122 games of the White Sox shortstop over the last couple of seasons, although the memory of his game-winning homer in the Field of Dreams game will stay forever.
Nolan Arenado: I’m already looking forward to watching Arenado in London in June. The Cardinals’ slugger finished third in MVP voting last season and leads all players with 968 RBI over the last 10 years. Oh, and he’s won the Gold Glove in every season he has been in the big leagues.
Bobby Witt Jr.: Just 12 months ago, Bobby Witt had not played a single game at MLB level. Now, he is fresh off a fantastic 20 home run/30 stolen base rookie campaign and looks like a Kansas City Royals icon in the making.
Mike Trout: Unfortunately for GB, Trout will not be a non-playing captain. Bizarrely, given that Trout has 350 career home runs, he has never gone yard at Chase Field. Don’t look up how many times he has played in Phoenix; just accept that he has never homered there.
Kyle Tucker: Another power/speed sensation. World Series winner, Tucker was the only player last season to hit 30 home runs and steal 25 bases. And at only 25 years old, his best is still to come.
Kyle Schwarber: Some players take a while to acclimate to their new surroundings, but Schwarber started repaying the Phillies’ faith in their $79 million, four-year contract with a home run in his debut. By the end of the season, his power helped guide Philadelphia to the World Series and secured Schwarber the NL home run title.
Cedric Mullins: The Orioles speedster broke out in 2021 and was the only player to go 30/30 (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) that season. Although he failed a repeat performance in 2022 (16 HR, 34 SB), his 9.5 WAR over the last two years leads all centre fielders.
Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction on his elbow has forced Bryce Harper to miss the WBC, but there is a rumour that Aaron Judge is still considering participation.
Clayton Kershaw: The Dodgers legend has faced more than 10,000 batters since he debuted as a 20-year-old in 2008. During this 15-year career, Kershaw has averaged 9.8 K/9 with an ERA below 2.50. He is simply the greatest pitcher of my lifetime.
REST OF THE ROTATION
Merrill Kelly: Threw 200 innings for the Diamondbacks in 2022 with a league-leading 33 starts for a 3.37 ERA (3.65 FIP).
Nestor Cortes: The moustachioed maestro was the seventh-best starter in the AL with an exceptional 2.44 ERA (3.12 FIP) and a 12-4 record.
Kyle Freeland: With 150 big league starts to his name, Freeland has made 78 of those at pitcher-unfriendly Coors Field. His career ERA is a full run lower away from Colorado.
Brady Singer: 2022 was a breakout season for the very impressive Royals starter. His 4.5 WAR was sixth-highest among AL starters, and he finished with a 10-5 record with a 3.23 ERA (3.58 FIP).
Logan Webb: The Giants’ right-hander proved that his stellar 2021 was no fluke with a sub-3:00 ERA 2022 season of 32 starts.
And then there is St Louis Cardinals talismanic starter, Adam Wainwright. Despite 17 years in the majors, Wainwright is still one of the most dependable starters in the game. Do you know how many pitchers have started more games than him over the last two seasons combined? One! Just NL Cy Young Award winner, Sandy Alcantara. Wainwright, now 41, has tossed over 2,500 major-league innings for a career ERA below 3.40. What a stud!
Ryan Pressly: Since he got the closer gig in 2020, only three pitchers have secured more saves than Pressly. The World Series winner faced 42 batters during the 2022 postseason without allowing a single earned run.
REST OF THE BULLPEN
Devin Williams: With 14.2 K/9, the Brewers closer is one of the top three or four relief pitchers in the game. Milwaukee hardly noticed the departure of Josh Hader.
Daniel Bard: The Hollywood fairy tale continues. Highly-touted prospect to Red Sox closer-in-waiting to failed starter to “Yips” victim to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery patient to young retiree to comeback kid… to WBC winner?
David Bednar: With 12.0 K/9, the Pirates’ closer was deservedly an All-Star in 2022 during the best season of his life in which he secured 19 saves for Pittsburgh. It might not sound like many, but it was Pittsburgh.
Dillon Tate: The former first-rounder makes up for the lack of an elite strikeout rate with exceptional control. His sub-1:00 WHIP has helped establish him as one of the Orioles’ most trusted relievers.
With the WBC starting in March before players are fully game ready, and with so many studs on the roster, expect the actual lineup to be different to what I’ve put above.
Want to keep on top of all WBC news? Make sure you are following @Shawn_Spradling on Twitter. He has become the WBC news guru.
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