The United States will begin its journey to dethrone two-time champion Japan at the 2013 World Baseball Classic on Friday in Phoenix, Arizona, where it will take on North American rival Mexico in its Pool D opener.
In addition to a plethora of All-Stars, some past MLB MVPs will suit up for the United States. Mexico's roster pales in comparison to that of the United States on paper but, if the WBC has taught us anything over the years, it's that a loaded roster doesn't guarantee a title.
Here, we'll showcase some of the players fans should be watching for on Friday.
Ryan Braun, United States, OF
2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun will suit up for the United States in the outfield this spring. The Milwaukee Brewers star is entering the prime of his major league career, as evidenced by his career-high 41 home runs and 112 RBI a season ago.
On defense, Braun is nearly as stellar. He's quick and athletic enough to get to tough balls and isn't afraid to extend himself for an out.
Look for Braun to lead one of the best group of outfielders at the World Baseball Classic this year. The US roster also includes Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton and Shane Victorino
Adrian Gonzalez, Mexico, 1B
Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez will take center stage for Mexico on Friday. The San Diego native is among the best infielders in the majors and, no doubt, the face of the Mexican team in 2013.
Gonzo hit .299 last season while playing the first half with the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Dodgers. In addition to providing a big bat at the plate, Gonzalez very rarely makes an critical errors at first base, offering leadership to a team viewed as the underdog in this matchup.
If Mexico is going to take down the United States on its home soil on Friday night it will need Gonzalez to be at his best, but definitely at the plate as R.A. Dickey could be on the mound for the United States.
Joe Mauer, United States, C
A former American League MVP in 2009, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer is the best player suiting up at the position for the Americans at the World Baseball Classic.
The 29-year-old is just as impressive at the plate as he is behind it on defense. Mauer hit .319 last season for Minnesota, recording 174 hits and 85 RBI with a career-high 545 at-bats. Mauer isn't going to blast a ton of home runs at this spring's tournament, but he will be a productive bat and find ways to get on base.
As mentioned, Mauer is a stud behind the plate and will more than hold his own on the defensive end against Mexico and the rest of the Untied States' Pool D opponents.
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