World Baseball Classic 2013: Key Players Team USA Needs to Step Up
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To redeem their 2009 fourth place finish, Team USA will rely on a roster that looks unfamiliar to many casual baseball fans.
There are household names on the roster such as Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer, David Wright and Mark Teixeira, but the roster is littered with players unheard of by many American fans. Willie Bloomquist made the squad as a backup infielder and the pitching staff includes the likes of Ross Detwiler and Ryan Vogelsong.
Team USA may not have the most accomplished players on their roster, but here are a look a a few players who will be the keys to a lengthy tournament run.
Baseball purists will take his name as an obvious choice, given his third place finish in the 2012 Cy Young Award voting, but Gio Gonzalez remains unheralded to many Americans. He's been lost in the shuffle as he's played most of his career on the West Coast in Oakland, but Gonzalez is one of the pitchers Team USA will rely on the most during the WBC.
The United States' starting rotation consists of R.A. Dickey, Gonzalez, Derek Holland, Ryan Vogelsong and (if they use a fifth starter) Ross Detwiler. After the top two, the rotation is very thin. Holland and Vogelsong have had good seasons the past two years, but both are equally capable of laying an egg at any time.
Therefore, the production of Dickey and Gonzalez will be key if Team USA wants to advance.
Gonzalez has the talent to do just that, as he was able to win 21 games while striking out 207 batters in 2013. His propensity for strikeouts is one of the best qualities he has as it allows him to get out of sticky situations.
Gio Gonzalez is, perhaps, the most gifted pitcher on the Team USA roster, but if he is able to pitch under pressure will be one of the key questions for the red, white and blue.
Adam Jones, too, isn't a superstar known by many, but he will be one of the key factors if Team USA wants to be successful.
The 27-year-old had a breakout season in 2012, finishing with 32 home runs and 82 RBI, and will look to continue that momentum into the World Baseball Classic.
Jones will likely be hitting at the end of an overcrowded lineup, but it is at the bottom of the order where Team USA will need him. He has never been an on-base guy, lifetime .323 on-base percentage, so for Team USA he will be most valuable at the tail end of the lineup.
His defense will also be key for Team USA. While he won a Gold Glove in 2012 (an award that should have gone to Mike Trout, let's be honest), advanced metrics had Jones playing below-average defense.
He was 16 out of 20 qualifying outfielders with an ultimate zone rating of -6.7 and was dead last in defensive runs saved with -16. The Gold Glove suggests he plays good defense, but if he wants to help Team USA he must improve significantly.
He will be the quarterback of an outfield that consists of one above average left fielder, Ryan Braun, and a right fielder in the lineup because of his bat, Giancarlo Stanton. Jones is a rangy centerfielder with his speed, but if he wants to stay in the lineup ahead of Shane Victorino he must improve his defense.
As spotty as Team USA's starting outfield play may be, their infield play is exceptional. From David Wright at third, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Brandon Phillips at second and Mark Teixeira at first, every infielder is sure handed. Even when utilityman Ben Zobrist comes in to the game Team USA will have another exceptional defender on the field.
Phillips' defense, in addition to his clubhouse presence, will be why he is so important to Team USA. He may not exactly be a leader of this team, but his attitude will allow players around him to relax and have fun. Something which is so important during a stressful tournament such as the WBC.
He also has some pop at the plate and is capable of getting big hits during crunch time. While he may be over aggressive at times, he still has been able to hit for a good average and set the table for the rest of the Reds' lineup in the past. He will be asked to do the same for Team USA.
Phillips is by no means a superstar, but his all-around game combined with his fun loving attitude will go a long way for Team USA.
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