WBC 2013: Power Ranking Baseball's Top 5 National Teams
The World Baseball Classic is set to return for its third go-around in 2013, and the field is as open as it has ever been.
Japan will look to defend its title and complete the three-peat in March, but various national teams from around the globe are on a mission to win their inaugural title.
The tournament is scheduled to run from March 2 to March 19. Sixteen teams divided into four pools will play at the Fukuoka Dome in Fukuoka, Japan, the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Chase Field and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Phoenix, Ariz. (via the official WBC website)
With over three months remaining until the competition begins, you might be getting a bit antsy while waiting for your favorite international baseball stars to take the diamond just before the MLB season kicks off.
For those who fit into that category, you're in luck, as we have power ranked the top-five teams participating in the 2013 WBC.
It may come as a surprise that the Canadian national baseball team slides into the fifth spot of our World Baseball Classic power rankings, but Ernie Whitt's upstart club is sure to make some noise in Pool D.
Historically known for hockey more so than baseball, Canada doesn't get much respect from the casual baseball fan, but it is on the International Baseball Federation's (IBAF) radar and won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
Canada's most recent achievement, a 2-1 victory over the United States in the 2011 Pan American Games, showed its southern neighbor that winning Pool D won't be as easy as previously thought.
First baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand put on a show in the qualifier that was reminiscent of one that his hitting coach, Larry Walker, would have put on back in his day. In 13 at-bats, Van Ostrand slugged four homers, 10 RBI and scored nine runs en route to finishing with a .538 batting average.
The pitching staff isn't some of the best the tournament has to offer, but Andrew Albers and Shawn Hill combined to allow just two earned runs in 11.2 innings in the qualifier.
Japan's success on the international baseball stage is well-documented, as the team has won the only two World Baseball Classics to have been held, along with numerous other gold medals.
In 2009, Tatsunori Hara's club topped Korea 5-3 in a 10-inning affair to defend its first title.
The man pictured above, Daisuke Matsuzaka, was a huge part of his country's success in the first two World Baseball Classics. His most recent WBC performance, in which he went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 14.2 innings, amounted to a second consecutive Most Valuable Player Award.
Those numbers were bettered only by his 2006 campaign when he put together a 3-0 record and a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings on the bump.
One huge question for Japan is whether Matsuzaka will play in the 2013 WBC, and if he does, will he be anywhere near as effective as he was in the previous two competitions?
Japan could be thin on the bump, as Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish recently released a statement saying that he won't be representing his country in March (via CBS Sports' Dayn Perry).
Without the talents of their top-two pitchers, the Japanese side is going to need to mash at the plate in order to win its third straight title.
The Korean national team showed that it is one of the best in the world, but the No. 4 ranked team in the world (according to the International Baseball Federation's rankings) definitely wasn't satisfied with its silver medal in the 2009 World Baseball Classic after losing to Japan.
Manager In-Sik Kim will be without his only major league player from 2009, as Shin-Soo Choo has chosen not to participate in March's tournament. Without Choo's bat in the middle of the lineup, the other members of the team will have to pull their weight, which shouldn't be a problem.
Shoo's absence will be felt, but the team has put together solid rosters in the past. Every player but one, Lim Chang-Yong, who played in Japan, played for a team in the Korea Baseball Championship.
The team will be tested early in Group B, as the Netherlands, Chinese Taipei and Australia are all ranked in the top-10 of the IBAF rankings.
Korea's baseball is put next to some of the best in the world, so In-Sik should be able to rally his troops and lead this club to a respectable finish in the tournament.
Cuba's performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic was one to forget, but the country has skyrocketed to the top of the International Baseball Foundation rankings. The roster will be led by Victor Mesa, who has been named the manager for the 2013 WBC, replacing Higinio Vélez.
Aroldis Chapman is the face of a team that has won three gold medals and two silver medals in the past five Olympics. However, it remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old fireballer will be playing for the Cuban national team given the Cincinnati Reds protective nature of their most prized arm, as well as his status as a defector.
The country has had success in international tournaments over the last two years, finishing second and third at the 2011 IBAF World Cup and 2011 Pan American Games, respectively.
Cuba won't have a problem escaping pool play, as the top two teams in each group advance. Japan will give Cuba a run for its money, but China and Spain won't be much of a challenge.
1. United States
The 2009 World Baseball Classic didn't go as planned for the United States team. A fourth-place finish, following a loss to Japan in the second semifinal game, can hardly be looked at as an impressive performance for the country with the top baseball circuit in the world.
Joe Torre will manage the team in 2013, so the United States has a leg up on everyone else in terms of managerial experience.
Opposing teams shouldn't just worry about the skipper, though, as the American roster is laden with talent from top to bottom. ESPN's David Schoenfield wrote an article detailing what the team could look like in 2013, and the names are far superior to any of the other countries.
The likes of Justin Verlander, Buster Posey, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and a slew of lively arms could all grace the baseball world with their presence.
Take one look at those names and it isn't hard to tell who should be the favorite heading into the biggest international tournament baseball has to offer.
Of course, baseball is based on factors more than just reputation alone, so we'll have to wait another three months before we name a champion.