Pool C: Canada, Italy, United States, Venezuela.
...now with Tiger-metrics!
Hat Tip to The Monotonous Life for the photo
Also: some notes from some recent exhibition games.
2006 Performance: Canada went 2-1 in Pool B last year, but so did Mexico and the US, and Canada lost the tie-breaker (RA/9). They beat the US, but lost to Mexico rather badly.
2009 Outlook: Canada has some good MLB players on their roster, but also a couple of MLB AAAA journeymen and no established pitching. The offense won't be such a problem with Russell Martin, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and our own Joey Votto at the plate. (Canadian coaches have indicated that Votto will mostly be handling the DH spot, but he might also see time in the outfield and at 1B.) Mark Teahen (OF, former 3B for the Royals) actually only got his dual canadian/us citizenship recently, but has always been eligible to play because his father is from Canada. Guys like Pete Orr and Adam Stern aren't exactly game-changers, but they round out the lineup sufficiently. Canada's real problem is pitching. There are a couple decent looking prospects, but most of them are 21 and haven't pitched above A ball. (Scott Diamond (Braves), Phillippe Aumont (Mariners))However, there's no tiebreaker this year – so Canada's dearth of pitching won't hurt them this year like in '06 – that is, as long as they can win games. I personally see them as overmatched by both the US and Venezuela. (Venezuela looks to be a little bit of a closer match – but their pitching is phenomenally better than Canada's). Of course, Canada beat the US last time around, and they could certainly do it again – baseball being what it is. Sadly, with the corps of pitchers Canada could potentially call up (Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, Eric Bedard, Eric Gagne), I think that Canada could beat anyone – but none of those players have chosen to participate, for various reasons.
2009 Players to Watch: Jo-eh, of course. Interestingly, does anyone know for sure– is he ethnically Italian? Because that could be interesting, playing for the country you're from against the country you play in now, and the country your family comes from.
Brett Lawrie was drafted 16th overall in 2008. He plays catcher now, but is somewhat defensively versatile (I gather that he play 2B, 3B, and the OF), and is valued primarily for his bat, which scouts have considered pretty major-league ready. He really made a name for himself playing for Canada's Junior Team last spring in summer – one day, playing a doubleheader against Dominican summer league teams, he hit 5 home runs in a single day, sprayed across the entire field.
Stubby Clapp was an Astros minor leaguer for-kinda-ever, and was dubbed 'the mayor of Memphis' due to his time with the Memphis Redbirds. Although Stubby has moved on to coaching – with the Lexington Legends, and now with the Greenville Astros, he is only 36 continued to play for Canada in international tournaments. This is probably his last run though – and he might be the front-runner for Team Canada's Stubby Clapp award.
2006 Performance: Went 1-2 in Pool D, winning emphatically over Australia (poor Australia), and losing respectably to DR and Venezuela.
2009 Outlook: Unfortunately, as hopeless as being in a Pool with DR and Venezuela is, they've got it even worse this year. But it's not hard to see why Italy performs better than most of the countries-we-don't-think-of-as-baseball-countries. (CWDTOFBCs). Italian-Americans have always played a significant role in MLB, and, as it happens, some of them are eligible to play for Italy. Of course, there aren't any DiMaggio's on Italy's squad this year – but they clearly have it better than poor South Africa.
2009 Players to Watch: Chris Denorfia, the former Reds prospect, is playing for this year. (We traded him to the A's at the beginning of 2007, when he needed Tommy Johns, and received Marcus McBeth in return.) As we know, he can potentially be a solid player, with good OBP, if not-much in the way of power.
Francisco Cervelli is a catcher in the Yankees system, rated in 2007 as their best defensive catcher.
Will we hear any more weak shit from Jason Grilli? Obviously Jim Leyland (and theoretically Jim Flealand) hopes not. (If you look at none of the other silly links in here, look at Jim Flealand. It is so full of win.)
Also, I'm think Lenny DiNardo and Bronson Arroyo were BFFs in their Red Sox days. Which I think meant that Lenny was Bronson's wingman when he went trolling for co-eds.
You may also recognize such names as Frank Catalanotto, Nick Punto, and Mark DiFelice, but I don't have much to say about them in particular. Oh, and Mike Piazza is a hitting coach for them.
2006 Performance: The US team snuck into Round 2 last year, placing second in the three-way tiebreaker between Mexico, US, and Canada. In Round 2, they lost to Japan and South Korea, and did not proceed to the final round.
2009 Outlook: So, last time around, the US didn't do all that well. Why not? They certainly had plenty of stars (And Gary Majewski. Sign.) And, I'm still pretty high on the US for this year. They've got Peavy and Oswalt starting, and Putz and JP Howell bring some relief. Brian McCann (Atlanta) and Chris Iannetta (Colorado) are both impressive young catchers. The infield boats Jeter, Pedroia, Rollins, Wright, Chipper Jones, David Wright, and Kevin Youkilis. I actually have a lot less to say about the US, just because you all know most of the players on the roster. Well, I do think that the US will make it to Round 2. But Pool 2 is rough. DR, PR, US and Venezuela, However, Cuba made it out of the same pool three years ago, and perhaps the US can do so as well. I mean, obviously MLB's website is calling the US the team to beat, but I'm not totally sure I buy it. The starting pitching is good, but shallow, and I think the outfield doesn't look as good as it used to. (It would hardly even be a question if there were full participation: Sabathia, Webb, Lincecum, BJ Ryan, Hamels, Papelbon, Holiday, Longoria, Hamilton, Teixeira, and Mauer, are all names you could have seen on the roster – and you could make a WBC championship team just out of those.)
Note: Hawpe, Fuentes (1st round), Joe Nathan, and Grady Sizemore all pretty recent drops. Hawpe's not that much of a loss considering his absolutely abysmal outfield defense. But Grady Sizemore really cuts. Good news? They were replaced with Shane Victorino and... ADAM DUNN. Alright! It's time for the 'I miss dunner' tag, fer sure.
2009 Players to Watch:
What? Why? Because he's nice to look at. Duh.
2006 Performance: Venezuela got into Round 2 in 2006, but lost there to the DR and Cuba (hardly shameful). They also shut out the other team in each of their three wins (Italy, Australia, Puerto Rico)
2009 Outlook: Johan Santana is not pitching for Venezuela, which is a disappointment for them, and neither is Carlos Zambrano. But unlike Canada, they still have the Tigers' Armando Galarraga (had a 3.73 ERA pitching 180 innings in 2008), Seattle's King Felix, Carlos Silva and K-Rod taking closer duty. ( Their lineup boasts Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and perhaps Carlos Guillen. (It's a Tiger-y lineup). So their pitching is alright, and their offense is solid – enough in my mind to get them past Canada (but could be a close call), but not enough. Former Met Edgar Alfonzo (who now plays for the Yomiuri Giants of the NPB) is not with the team – he was actually one of the best hitters for Venezuela in the last classic. Pitching is still a concern in late innings, as outside of K-Rod, there's not a lot of relief available. (I wrote this before the addition of Ramon Ramirez – I'd probably start him – but someone else might prefer Carlos Silva's superior experience.)
2009 Players to Watch: Well, Ramon Hernandez is one of the Reds player on the Venezuela roster, and will likely get playing time. I'm sure most of us would rather him in camp working with our young pitchers, but most of our young pitchers won't be in camp either. Maybe he'll see them from the batter's box instead.
Max Ramirez is one of the Rangers' young catching prospects though, and had a very good season in 2008, OPSing 1.096 at AA Frisco.
And you all know Felix Hernandez, the Mariners' very young ace. Maybe I was just a little out of the loop last year, but King Felix put together a pretty nifty season last year, with a 3.45 ERA in 200 innings. He also threw a perfect inning (striking out three batters on nine pitches), and hit a grand slam (he's the first AL pitcher to do so in interleague play.)
Pool C notes: Overall, this group is really crippled by all the non-participations. Most of the late withdrawals seem to be due to injury, but whatever the case, it is a shame to see teams that aren't all they could be.
Japan lost to the Seibu Lions (NPB) on Saturday, Komatsu Satoshi gave up four runs in the eighth. Ichiro was 0-4 in that game, and went hitless again against the Yomiuri Giants (NPB) on Sunday. However, Japan prevailed against the Giants in 10 innings, with Daisuke Matsuzaka throwing 3 scoreless innings.
Korea won against the Seibu Lions today, 4-2, but may have lost one of their relievers, Lim Chang Yong, to injury. Some of the Korean players went to watch Team Japan in action and told reporters that the Japanese weren't in peak condition yet.
Chinese Taipei also played the Yomiuri Giants on Saturday – they lost 7-6.
China got creamed by the Lions, 11-1.
(Pool D Previews and more exhibition round-ups will be up by Thursday night)