The 2013 World Baseball Classic is already underway, with two qualifying rounds taking place in Florida and Germany this weekend. Eight teams are battling to claim two of the final four spots available, with the remaining slots being filled during November's qualifiers.
In a double-elimination format, the qualifying rounds open things up to a lot of potential surprises. The eight teams in action this weekend are far from baseball superpowers, though they do boast interesting talent up and down the roster.
As a way to get you ready for all of this weekend's action, here are our predictions for the winners in both qualifying rounds.
Qualifying Group 1
I keep going back and forth on this particular bracket. You can get rid of South Africa and France, as they just don't have the talent on paper to win enough to make it out of this round.
However, Spain and Israel are both very dangerous in this tournament. Spain have a stronger pitching staff, led by Chris Manno and Richard Castillo, and some offensive upside with players like Engel Beltre, the toolsy Rangers prospect, and big first baseman Barbaro Canizares.
Israel have a deeper lineup that should score a lot of runs, as they did against South Africa on Wednesday. This team has power and experience to break through in this format.
It's going to be close, but I will give Spain a slight edge.
Prediction: Spain defeat Israel in final
Qualifying Group 2
Unlike the first group, this one strikes me as much more clear-cut. Canada is by far the best and most-talented team in this particular field. They have a lot of experience in high-pressure environments and can beat you in multiple ways.
According to Baseball America, the Canadians feature 14 players who were on the Pan-Am-winning team in 2011. There are three high-upside MLB prospects in Tyson Gillies, Andrew Albers and Kellin Deglan who should shine against this field.
Germany are probably the biggest threat to Canada, with some pop in the lineup from Donald Lutz and Max Kepler. The problem is, there isn't enough pitching. They don't have any true power arms who will miss bats, and a lot of them struggle to throw strikes.
Prediction: Canada defeat Germany in final