A pair of Atlanta Braves pitchers has a busy spring ahead of them.
Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel have been selected as members of the provisional roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, according to a Thursday morning release by Major League Baseball.
Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes that this means a heavily shortened Spring Training schedule for the two right-handers:
“Team USA will begin training in Phoenix on March 4 and then participate in first-round play at Arizona's Chase Field from March 7-10. This arrangement would allow the participating Braves players to be available for the first nine games of the exhibition season in Florida.
Their return to the Braves' camp in Florida will depend on how Team USA fares.
Team USA would participate in second-round play at Marlins Park from March 12-16. If the team advances, it would be in position to participate in the semifinals and finals at San Francisco's AT&T Park from March 17-19.”
If Team USA makes it to the finals, it would be the first time since the World Baseball Classic's inception in 2006.
Of course, playing in the World Baseball Classic has positives and negatives attached to it.
On the upside, Kimbrel and Medlen will have competitive in-game experience leading up to the regular season. The additional innings and live competition could put the two aces in mid-season form for the Braves April 1st opener against the Phillies.
On top of that, they have the opportunity to work closely with Braves legends Greg Maddux and Dale Murphy, who will serve as pitching coach and first base coach, respectively, under manager Joe Torre.
But early play could also lead to injury or perhaps an earlier regression at the end of the regular season, and given the Braves’ collapse in 2011 and early exit from the playoffs in 2012, Kimbrel and Medlen at full form will be key to the team’s success down the stretch.
Playing in the Classic also means there’s little time to prepare for the season. The first heat of spring has barely passed in early March and already players will be expected to play in full competitive form to win a title. The tournament has the atmosphere and pressure of a World Series, but is placed inconveniently before the start of the Major League Baseball regular season.
Assuming an appearance in the finals, Kimbrel and Medlen would miss at least 12 Spring Training contests, presumably rejoining the club in Orlando on March 20.
Given these concerns, many notable players turn down the opportunity to play for Team USA every four years when the event rolls around. This year’s list of No’s includes Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward, who according to Bowman wants to remain focused on the upcoming season by staying with the Braves through Spring Training.
This year’s Team USA roster is stacked with offensive talent, but it’s noticeably lacking great pitching. Aside from Kimbrel and Medlen, few ace pitchers stand out on the list.
Sure you have reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey on the roster, but aces like Justin Verlander, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver, and Matt Cain have all chosen not to participate.
There is one pitching slot that remains open, a spot which could go to Verlander, depending on how he feels throwing at the start of Spring Training in February.
Offensively, the roster features names like Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
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