World Baseball Classic: Ranking the Favorites to Qualify for the First Round
Qualifying games for the World Baseball Classic are well underway, with teams trying to punch their ticket to the round robin stage.
There are four qualifying pools consisting of countries that either failed to win a game in 2009 or failed to qualify for the tournament entirely.
Two teams have already advanced from the qualifying stage.
Spain’s stunning 9-7, extra-inning victory over Israel in the last qualifying game of the stage on Sept. 23 secured the Spaniards a spot in the round robin stage.
Canada also advanced from their qualifier group, winning all three of their games. They outscored their opponents 38-9 and should be an extremely dangerous team come March.
Two spots remain up for grabs with eight teams left.
Qualifier groups three and four are set to begin play on Wednesday.
Here are the rankings for the remaining teams left in the qualifying stage:
1. Chinese Taipei
The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) has Chinese Taipei ranked eighth in the world rankings this year, the highest ranking among the remaining teams.
Chinese Taipei made a swift exit from the 2009 World Baseball Classic. They were trounced in the preliminaries by South Korea and eventual champion Japan.
Taiwan is a much more legitimate threat this year.
Houston Astros' minor league outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, likely the best talent on this team, will be looking to return his team to the classic. He hit .247 for Triple-A Pawtucket with 30 RBI and two homers. Lin was claimed off of waivers by the Astros in October.
Lin had three hits in seven at-bats for Taiwan in ‘09’s WBC.
Their pitching will center heavily around Yueh-Ping Lin, a pitcher for the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, a Taiwanese professional team; Cleveland Indians product Sung-Wei Tseng and Mariners Double-A prospect Kuo Hui Gao.
They should have little trouble claiming one of the final two spots to move on to the round robin stage.
Panama has plenty of Major League talent to choose from for this year’s WBC.
The Central American country currently ranks 15 in the IBAF rankings and brings some prominent All-Stars to the table, including Miami’s Carlos Lee and Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz.
This year, Panama will likely participate without their best player, all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
Rivera tore his ACL back in May shagging fly balls during batting practice. It would be in Rivera’s best interest to use the offseason to recuperate from the injury.
Mets shortstop, Ruben Tejada, who batted .289 last season, will be the catalyst behind this Panama lineup.
Some of their pitchers include the Mets Manny Acosta, Manny Corpas and the veteran Bruce Chen.
WBC newcomer Nicaragua has a chance to be the WBC’s dark horse in the Qualifying Round this year.
The ace of the Nicaraguan staff is 14-year veteran Vicente Padilla, a career hundred-game winner. Padilla was moved to the bullpen by the Red Sox this year but will likely start Nicaragua’s opening game against Colombia on Friday.
Other notable talents on this team include Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera. Cabrera will provide the Nicaraguans with an added speed element. The young shortstop quietly stole 44 bases this season, good for third in the league.
Nicaragua is currently ranked 14 in the IBAF standings and will pose the biggest threat to Panama in qualifier Group 3.
This Colombian team is chock-full of young talent but not enough to advance to the round robin stage.
The veteran leaders of this team will be shortstops Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera.
"People here in Colombia, they're excited to see the national team go to the World Baseball Classic," Renteria said. "And, to me, it'd be nice because I've been in a World Series before and now I have a chance to play for my country with Colombia."
Other notable Colombians include the Solano brothers, Donovan and Jhonatan, the Angels' dominant reliever Ernesto Frieri and the Braves’ prized pitching prospect, Julio Teheran.
WBC newcomer Thailand’s roster is up in the air for their game against the Philippines on Thursday, but we know who will be batting third.
Johnny Damon, the 18-year-veteran and future Hall of Famer, will be suiting up for Thailand in this year’s WBC, reported Joseph Hammond of The Diplomat.
Damon’s mother was born in Thailand, and Damon will honor her by playing for his mother’s country.
Thailand is currently ranked 23 in the IBAF standings.
Barry Larkin, former Reds shortstop and a Hall of Famer, will be coaching Brazil in this year’s WBC.
Larkin will provide some insight to a country where baseball certainly takes a backseat to soccer, volleyball and MMA.
While the chances of Brazil qualifying for the classic are minimal, they’ll be showcasing the first ever Brazilian-born player to play in MLB.
The 25-year-old Yan Gomes, the Blue Jays valuable utility man, will be leading his team against highly favored Panama on Thursday.
Also, while he hasn’t formally announced his intentions on playing in the WBC, 16-year-old pitcher Luiz Gohara recently signed a seven-year minor league contract with the Mariners and could make a definite impact on Brazil’s staff.
Brazil is currently ranked 26 in the IBAF standings.
Four players currently represent the Philippines in MLB, and one may come as a surprise.
Giants ace Tim Lincecum’s grandparents were born in the Philippines, which allows Lincecum to claim Filipino heritage and play for them in the WBC.
Will he? Probably not.
“The Philippine national team is not giving up on its bid to tap World Series-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants for the World Baseball Classic qualifiers,” reported Reuben Terrado of the Filipino sports network Spin.
This team can hope all they want, but for a guy like Lincecum, who’s coming off a rather disappointing season, the WBC Filipino team is hardly a priority.
Clay Rapada of the Yankees turned down the Filipino squad.
The Philippines currently rank 31 in the IBAF standings.
8. New Zealand
New Zealand is going to have trouble scoring runs against any of the qualifier teams this week.
The most prominent player on this squad is Boston farmhand Boss Moanaroa, who hit .262 with 49 RBI and five home runs for single-A Greenville.
He’ll be joining his brother Moko, along with five other sets of brothers, on the New Zealand roster.
Their ace will likely be Cincinnati farmhand John Holdzkom, “a 6-foot-7 right-hander who appeared in six games for the Reds' high-A affiliate in 2012 and has a fastball that has been clocked at 101 mph,” reported Cash Kruth of MLB.com.
New Zealand is currently unranked by the IBAF.