The 2013 World Baseball Classic begins on March 2, but it's never too early to start thinking about which nation will bring home the trophy from the 16-team tournament on March 19.
There are a number of squads that have the look and personnel to get the job done, but anything could happen in baseball’s epic tourney that combines the intrigue of March Madness with the patriotism of the World Cup.
Let’s take a look at three contenders that have the best chance to walk away from this summer classic a winner.
Japan won the inaugural WBC in 2006 and successfully defended the championship three years later. It will be looking to three-peat in 2013 and has already set a gold standard for every other nation to live up to in this event.
With a roster that includes notable players like Shinnosuke Abe and Masahiro Tanaka, plus a solid stable of pitchers and positional players, there is no doubting that the Japanese have a great chance of playing for the title at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
However, the absence of Daisuke Matsuzaka—MVP of the first two World Baseball Classic events—Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish may be a bit much for this team to overcome.
Regardless, Japan is a proud unit that takes this competition extremely seriously, and its willpower alone makes it the nation to beat in 2013.
The Dominican Republic is absolutely stacked this year, fielding a roster that includes great players like Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Edinson Volquez and Wandy Rodriguez.
The team possesses a top-flight infield loaded with all-around talent, but it will struggle a bit with starting pitching and lacks a great bullpen.
This star-studded squad should be able to overcome those issues against some of the non-contenders, but it could come back to haunt them later on when they are up against the likes of Japan, USA, Venezuela, Korea and more.
This prolific group is going to bat and defend their way into the latter stages of the tournament and should have no problem matching up with anyone with so many MLB stars in the lineup.
Watch for the Dominican Republic to make a run to California in 2013.
The Americans are once again coming into the WBC with a loaded roster, chock-full of quality talent.
You’d think that a lineup that includes Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Shane Victorino, Mark Teixeira, Brandon Phillips, Jimmy Rollins, David Wright, Joe Mauer, RA Dickey, Gio Gonzalez and Craig Kimbrel couldn’t be beat, but the USA has lost in the past and has to be careful in order to avoid another upset.
With Joe Torre managing, hopefully this team can avoid the usual pitfalls that have plagued the stars and stripes, including lack of effort and poor conditioning.
As long as a good majority of these superstars care about winning and bringing home glory to the United States, this team is going to be a major force in the World Baseball Classic.