The Puerto Rican squad will try to improve on their fifth place 2009 World Baseball Classic showing when they take the field at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan on Friday. The 2013 squad will have a mix of stars as well as prospects that could be making their major league debuts soon.
Here is a breakdown of what you can expect when the Puerto Ricans take the field against Spain on March 8.
Schedule (Round 1 Games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, PR)
Round 1, Pool C, Game 2
Fri, March 8
5:30 PM (EST)
Round 1, Pool C, Game 4
Sat, March 9
5:30 PM (EST)
Round 1, Pool C, Game 6
Sun, March 10
7:30 PM (EST)
The Puerto Ricans open up first round Pool C play this Friday against a weak Spain squad without any notable major leaguers on their roster. The Spaniards will be making their first appearance in the Classic and have the daunting task of not just having to play Puerto Rico on their home field, but also having to play perennial powerhouses Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. The most notable name on the Spaniards roster is Barbaro Canizares, who played briefly with the Atlanta Braves.
If the Puerto Ricans get by Spain as expected, they will face significant challenges from the Venezuelans and the Dominicans. The Venezuelan squad is led by 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and capable stars Pablo Sandoval and Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. The Puerto Ricans will catch a break though, as Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will be sitting out the Classic.
The next challenge comes in the form of the Dominican Republic squad with several established major league stars led by the New York Yankees' Robinson Cano. The Puerto Ricans will have to deal with Cano—as well as the speedy Jose Reyes and the always dangerous Hanley Ramirez.
The biggest challenge for the Puerto Ricans will come in the form of starting pitching. It was announced earlier that Javier Vasquez was not going to pitch in the Classic. The Puerto Rican squad will have to rely on unproven talent such as 18-year-old Minnesota Twins farmhand Jose Berrios to anchor their starting staff.
The Puerto Ricans open play with several notable major leaguers on their roster. One of the brightest stars is Carlos Beltran, who hit 32 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals last season. He is also joined by fellow Cardinal Yadier Molina, who will be a valuable asset for the young and inexperienced Puerto Rican staff. Other notables to keep an eye on include 2012 postseason hero Angel Pagan and versatile outfielder Alex Rios.
As mentioned before, they will be without Vasquez, but they will have major league arms Nelson Figueroa and J.C Romero ready to contribute.
The Puerto Ricans should be able to handle Spain in their opening round game on Friday. The real challenges, however, will come in subsequent games against the Venezuelans and the Dominicans. Manager Edwin Rodriguez does have a lot of former major league talent such as the likes of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Baerga and Ricky Bones to help guide the young club.
Having a capable coaching staff as well as arguably one of the best catchers in the majors in Molina should help. But you have to wonder whether or not the lack of depth on the pitching staff will haunt the Puerto Ricans as they square off against stiffer competition.
The Puerto Ricans will most likely win their first game and split their following two games. They should be in a position to advance to the second round in Miami. Ultimately, their lack of pitching depth will do them in, and they should have a difficult time advancing past the second round.