World Baseball Classic: Team USA Breakdown

By Will Cheney – Last Word On Baseball

Team USA has experienced a love/hate relationship with the World Baseball Classic. Although sprinkled with a few magical moments throughout the first three tournaments, they came up short every time. As the country that started the tournament (and features the highest level of competition), not bringing home a WBC title in three tries can, frankly, be classified as a disappointment.

For the fourth edition of Team USA looks to succeed where the three previous rosters fell short. The 2017 roster certainly does not lack anything in the talent department. Manager Jim Leyland will have to do some shuffling to get every player a healthy number of at-bats – because after all, this is taking place during spring training.

World Baseball Classic: Team USA Breakdown

Catchers

Buster Posey, Giants

Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers

A.J. Ellis, Marlins

Team USA is carrying three backstops (a combined 25 years of big league experience between them) in 2017. Posey is a proven winner and has shown the ability to handle a pitching staff and is one of the best hitting catchers the game has ever seen. Lucroy is among the best in baseball and framing pitches and is no stranger to doing damage at the plate, as well. Ellis brings a veteran presence to the team and can provide a calming influence to the team’s young pitchers. After all, he meant the world to former Dodgers battery mate Clayton Kershaw.

Infielders

Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Alex Bregman, Astros

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Brandon Crawford, Giants

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Eric Hosmer, Royals

Ian Kinsler, Tigers

Daniel Murphy, Nationals

At first glance, the thing that stands out about this group of infielders is defense. Team USA brings 12 Gold Glove Awards to the infield in 2017 (Arenado 4, Hosmer 3, Crawford 2, Goldschmidt 2, Kinsler 1). Catching the baseball is paramount when playing against the best players in the world. That said, they also bring the lumber to the ballpark. This group averaged a 125 OPS+ in 2016. Once again, at-bats may become a factor during the tournament. Carpenter is moving to first base for the Cardinals in 2017 and may struggle to see innings over there in close ballgames. Kinsler is a superior defender at second base and could take innings away from Murphy, who has statistically been one of the worst second basemen in the game. Look for Arenado to anchor the hot corner, being spelled from time to time by Bregman, and Crawford at shortstop. Bregman will surely see innings at short, as well. Carpenter and Murphy will most likely gain at-bats from the DH role.

Outfielders

Adam Jones, Orioles

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Christian Yelich, Marlins

This group of outfielders is going into 2017 with something to prove. McCutchen just endured a tumultuous offseason in which the Pirates were openly shopping him and eventually booted him out of center field. He will certainly look to kick off this season with a strong WBC performance. Stanton has played in 150 games only once in his career, so staying healthy will be a major concern. Yelich will be moving from left field to center for the Marlins this season, so he’ll probably see the bulk of his innings up the middle. The metrics say Jones has lost a step, but the four-time Gold Glover has been one of the most consistent players in the game over the last seven years. He will be an asset to this team with his performance on the field and his presence in the clubhouse.

Pitchers

Chris Archer, Rays

Tyler Clippard, Yankees

Sam Dyson, Rangers

Mychal Givens, Orioles

Luke Gregerson, Astros

Nate Jones, White Sox

Jake McGee, Rockies

Andrew Miller, Indians

Pat Neshek, Phillies

David Robertson, White Sox

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

The group of pitchers for Team USA goes with the theme of young starters and veteran relievers. Archer and Stroman provide electric stuff and the elusive intangibles to the staff, while a deep bullpen can hope to ensure late leads won’t crumble in games as they have in past tournaments. Miller is coming off an historic postseason in which he was Terry Francona’s Swiss Army knife out of the bullpen. Look for him to be used whenever necessary by Leyland. A plethora of late-inning arms highlight this bullpen. Team USA could very well go as far as Dyson, McGee, Robertson and Gregerson can take them.

Designated Pitcher Pool

Bret Cecil, Cardinals

Danny Duffy, Royals

Michael Fulmer, Tigers

Sonny Gray, Athletics

J.A. Happ, Blue Jays

Tanner Roark, Nationals

Drew Smyly, Mariners

Alex Wilson, Tigers

Each team may name up to 10 pitchers to a Designated Pitcher Pool. These pitchers are eligible to participate; however, no more than two of the 10 may be on the active roster at one time. This and the complete list of WBC rules for 2017 can be seen on MLB.com. What this rules accomplishes is flexibility with starting pitching while (fingers crossed) limiting the possibility of injuries, which can be prevalent in Spring Training without October-like games.

The list of breakout starters for Team USA could prove invaluable. Duffy, Fulmer, Gray, Happ and Roark aren’t exactly Scherzer, Bumgarner and Kershaw, but it would be foolish for other teams to look past them. Outside of the deep list of starters in the pool, Cecil could prove to be an asset against strong lefty bats in late innings (Carlos Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Rougned Odor, etc.).

Verdict

This roster, compared to past USA rosters, features some of the most young talent the tournament has ever seen. The same could probably be said for several nations. With young, electric starting pitching, followed by an experienced bullpen and what looks to be one of the two or three deepest lineups in the world, Team USA can once again be penciled as one of the favorites to win it all. Pool C also features the Dominican Republic, Canada and Colombia, so Team USA will be put to the task of proving themselves from the very beginning.

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