Ranking the WBC Lineups of the Top 5 Contending Countries

John Altamura@@JohnAltamuraBRContributor IIJanuary 18, 2013

Ranking the WBC Lineups of the Top 5 Contending Countries

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    Preliminary rosters for the third installment of the World Baseball Classic were announced on Thursday, and now the process of trying to figure out each team's projected lineup has begun.

    Which team participating in the World Baseball Classic has the best lineup on paper? How will MLB stars play for their home countries? Will stars from international leagues once again outshine talent from the states?

    These questions will ultimately be answered when WBC pool play kicks off in March.

    Here is an early look at the key players and projected lineups of the top five WBC contending teams.

5. Japan

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    The two-time defending WBC champions enter the 2013 tournament with a distinct homegrown flavor.

    Japan will only boast one former MLB'er, Kaz Matsui, as Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish have decided to sit the tournament out.

    Instead, the Japanese will rely heavily on members from the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPL) league to round out their squad.

    One player to keep an eye on is Atsunori Inaba, a right fielder for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League, who reached the 2,000-hit plateau in 2012.

    Another player to watch for is Hayato Sakamoto, a speedy, versatile shortstop who helped the Yomiuri Giants capture the Japan Series title in 2012.

    The Japanese also have several players with WBC experience, including catchers Shinnosuke Abe (2009 WBC) and Ryoji Aikawa (2006 WBC).

    It will be interesting to see how the Japanese fare against teams comprised mostly of MLB players. If history is any indication, Japan will be in the running for the 2013 WBC crown once again.

4. Puerto Rico

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Angel Pagan, CF
    2. Mike Aviles, SS
    3. Alex Rios, LF
    4. Carlos Beltran, RF
    5. Yadier Molina, C
    6. Carlos Rivera, 1B
    7. Andy Gonzalez, 3B
    8. Jose Molina, DH
    9. Ivan De Jesus, 2B


    Martin Maldonado, C         
    Irving Falu, 2B
    Luis Figueroa, 2B/SS
    Pedro Valdes, UT
    Jesus Feliciano, OF
    Eddie Rosario, OF


    The Puerto Rican team has a couple of established MLB stars like Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan, but is lacking in depth and experience. Both Beltran (32 home runs in 2012) and Alex Rios (25 home runs in 2012) will have to come up big if the Puerto Ricans have any chance at contending with the rest of the powers in the tournament.

    Aviles and Pagan will need to get on base and help manufacture runs. Pagan has shown the ability to steal bases, as he swiped 29 in 2012 for the San Francisco Giants. The real question mark for this team will be how the inexperienced players do on the international stage.

    Carlos Rivera and Luis Figueroa both have MLB experience but have not been in the majors for some time. Irving Falu and Ivan De Jesus are both young and have limited experience with their MLB clubs. It will be interesting to see how lack of big league experience translates over to the tournament.

3. USA

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    Projected Lineup

    1.    Jimmy Rollins, SS
    2.    Adam Jones, CF
    3.    Giancarlo Stanton, RF
    4.    David Wright, 3B
    5.    Ryan Braun, LF
    6.    Mark Teixeira, 1B
    7.    Joe Mauer, C
    8.    Ben Zobrist, DH
    9.    Brandon Phillips, 2B


    J.P. Arencibia, C           
    Jonathan Lucroy, C           
    Willie Bloomquist, SS
    Shane Victorino, RF


    Team USA brings a well-balanced lineup to the WBC. The success of the lineup will be dictated at the top by table-setters Jimmy Rollins (30 steals in 2012) and Adam Jones (.287 BA, 32 HR, 82 RBI). Their success at the top of the lineup will provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun and David Wright.

    Team USA manager Joe Torre will also have plenty of versatility to work with on the bench, as he has several players, like Shane Victorino and Willie Bloomquist, who can play a variety of positions.

    There is also a good chance that J.P. Arencibia and Jonathan Lucroy will share a significant amount of the catching duties. It will be interesting to see how much Torre uses Joe Mauer, who played in 147 games in 2012. With Mauer’s injury issues in the past, there is a good chance he will be treated with kid gloves.

2. Dominican Republic

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Jose Reyes, SS
    2. Melky Cabrera, LF
    3. Robinson Cano, 2B
    4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
    5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
    6. Hanley Ramirez, DH
    7. Nelson Cruz, RF
    8. Carlos Santana, C
    9. Carlos Gomez, CF


    Miguel Olivo, C
    Erick Aybar, SS
    Miguel Tejada, IF


    The Dominicans will bring a lot of speed to the table with Jose Reyes (40 steals in 2012) and Carlos Gomez (37 steals in 2012). This should give them a lot of opportunities to manufacture runs in close contests during the tournament.

    Speed is not the only weapon the Dominicans possess, as they have two players, Adrian Beltre (36 home runs) and Edwin Encarnacion (42 home runs), who put up solid power numbers in 2012 for their respective clubs.

    The real X-factors for this team will be Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera. It will be interesting to see how both players fare under the spotlight and scrutiny of the WBC tournament. Cabrera was having a stellar 2012 season until he was suspended for PED use. Cano had a dismal 2012 playoffs, batting .075 and contributing to the Yankees' ALCS ouster of the Tigers.

    The Dominican bench is thin, with Miguel Olivo and Erick Aybar slated to be subs. Questionable call in bringing in Miguel Tejada, who spent 2012 in the minors. May have been better bringing in someone younger and more versatile.                    

1. Venezuela

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    Projected Lineup

    1. Elvis Andrus, SS
    2. Marco Scutaro, 2B   
    3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
    4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B   
    5. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
    6. Miguel Montero, C   
    7. Asdrubal Cabrera, DH
    8. Martin Prado, RF
    9. Gerardo Parra, CF


    Ramon Hernandez, C
    Salvador Perez, C


    The Venezuelan lineup is loaded with major league talent from top to bottom. The lineup will be anchored in the middle by 2012 AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. He is joined by a pair of heroes from the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval will provide big game experience to this lineup.

    The Venezuelans also bring some speed to the table with Elvis Andrus (21 steals in 2012) and Gerardo Parra (15 steals in 2012). If there was one glaring weakness to the Venezuelan lineup it would be the amount of depth on the bench. They only have two catchers slated to be used in pinch-hitting duties. This lack of depth could play a factor in close games late in the tournament.