Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Little Island With Lots Of WBC Intrigue

The World Baseball Classic rosters have been officially unveiled now (check them out here), and as expected, the United States as well as the Dominican Republic teams are loaded. Vegas gives a slight edge to the American (2/1), but the reigning champion Dominican team is not far behind (2.5/1). That said, the most intriguing team for Twins fans may be the Puerto Ricans.

Coming off winning the Carribean Series, the Puerto Rican team is stocked with young talent flooding big league rosters. While it's traditionally been Cuba and the Dominican Republic seen as breeding grounds for exciting big league talent, Puerto Rico has really bolstered its presence in recent years. The Twins have a handful of talented Puerto Rican players both at the big league level, as well as throughout their farm system.

On the World Baseball Classic roster, Minnesota lends the likes of Jose Berrios, Dereck Rodriguez, Eddie Rosario, Hector Santiago, and Kennys Vargas. Joining them is former Twins Rene Rivera and J.C. Romero. The collection also includes studs such as Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Yadier Molina.

Forget the fact that a potential infield including Correa at third, Lindor at short, and Baez at second is must see, the Twins contingent is worth monitoring on its own. Berrios remains a high ceiling player for Minnesota and needs to settle into the top of the rotation starter he has always appeared to be. Rodriguez is coming off a strong 2016, and an offseason in which his dad was named a Hall of Famer. Rosario could be fighting for a roster spot after a poor campaign last year, and Santiago needs to put a better foot forward than how he started with Minnesota. Rounding out the group, Vargas has been given the reigns to the DH role, but needs to take it and run with it.

With the schedule for the World Baseball Classic, and the perceived reality that Puerto Rico makes a decent run in the tournament, the five competing Twins likely will miss a bulk of Spring Training. Not incredibly detrimental given that a higher level of baseball competition is being played, the group needs to get off to a good start, and stay healthy throughout the tourney as well.

It stands to reason that a strong showing in the Classic could help to springboard any one of the Twins participants into a quick start for 2017. Conversely, the hope would be that an ugly performance would simply be rust being knocked off as opposed to a sign of things to come in the early schedule. No matter which way the pendulum swings, Twins fans will want to be equally clued into the spring slate as well as the tourney happenings.

There's not much to gain casting your lots with the favorites like Team USA or the Dominicans. At the end of the 2017 World Baseball Classic though, I'd be far from shocked if the Puerto Ricans didn't find themselves as the last ones standing.

Other WBC notes:

  • Team Australia has 14 players with Twins connections, making the bulk of the roster significantly tied into the organization.
  • Team Canada has intrigue with Justin Morneau participating, but maybe the most eyebrow raising participant is 41 year old Eric Gagne. It's been 14 years since his 55 save season, and he hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008 (Gagne did throw 9.1 innings the past two years in the Can-Am League).
  • Here's who I have for each of the Pool winners: Korea (A), Cuba (B), USA (C), Puerto Rico (D).

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