March 8th sees the start of the fifth World Baseball Classic (WBC) competition. The FIFA Soccer world cup style tournament, which has historically featured some of the best players from around the world of baseball, will this year showcase some of the biggest names from the MLB and kick off another exciting season of baseball!
The Seattle Mariners organization will feature heavily across the tournament and we’ll now take a look at some of the players likely to feature…
Jerry Dipoto (President of Baseball Operations for the Mariners) recently announced that starting pitcher Luis Castillo will not feature for the Dominican Republic team (much to the consternation of many fans!) and will instead be heading to camp in Arizona when pitchers and catchers report for their first official workout on February 16th.
However, we will see 2022 American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez represent his country which will help raise the profile of the tournament as fans get a first chance to see the uber-talented outfielder in 2023. He will be part of an incredible looking line-up!
On a team that is many people's pick for the title, the Dominican Republic could also feature new Mariner Teoscar Hernandez, acquired during the off-season in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Mariners relief pitcher Diego Castillo (53Ks and a 3.64 ERA in 2022) is also in the mix and could be part of a fearsome pitching troupe that includes starters Sandy Alcantara, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and former Mariner reliever Rafael Montero.
Alongside the DR team as one of the well-fancied outfits is Team USA. Although there are no Mariners on the final roster, the team will benefit from the experience of former Mariner and centerfield legend, Ken Griffey Junior, who will be operating as team hitting coach.
Last week it was confirmed that reliever Matt Brash (62Ks over 50.2 innings with the Mariners in 2022) will be pitching for Canada once the tournament gets underway. During an interview with Seattle Sports 710AM, Dipoto clarified his position with the team and the expectations for him with Canada.
""Matt is going to come to spring training as a reliever and not stretch out as a starter. We didn't want him to crank up [with us] as a starting pitcher and then go pitch as a reliver for the WBC and then come back as a starter. He is committed to play for Canada in the WBC, and we're going to do that as a reliver and keep that as a steady thing"."- Jerry Dipoto
Infielder Eugenio Suarez, who slugged 31 home runs and drove in 87 RBIs with the Mariners in 2022, is slated to start for Venezuela. The South American team lost all 3 matches in the second round last time out in 2017, but will be hoping to do better this year with a star-studded line-up that includes Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, 2022 AL batting champion Luis Arraez and Texas Rangers lefty Martin Perez.
It is unclear as to whether flame-throwing reliever, Andres Munoz, who underwent right foot surgery at the end of October, will be fit enough to make the final roster for Mexico. Munoz, who is scheduled to begin throwing from the mound once camp begins, faces a race against time and the priority will surely be to have him ready for the Mariner's Opening Day matchup in late March with the Cleveland Guardians.
Italy, who will be managed by New York Mets legend Mike Piazza, have included spark-plug utility player Sam Haggerty and right-handed pitcher Matt Festa on their final roster. Haggerty, who suffered a grade two adductor strain during the run-in of the regular season, hit for a .256 average, knocking in 23 RBIs and scoring 29 runs over the season. Festa went 2-0 during 53 relief appearances striking out 64 hitters over 54 innings.
Australia have yet to name their final roster but could include left-handed pitcher Blake Townsend. The young Australian spent much of the year with A Modesto, striking out 20 batters over 13 games. He also pitched 2 games in relief at AAA Tacoma recording 6 strikeouts over 2.2 innings. More recently, Townsend competed with the national team in the U23 World Cup of Baseball which was held in Taiwan during October.
Finally, one of the Mariner's prize prospects, and 12th overall pick during the 2021 draft, catcher Harry Ford will surely be a leading light for Great Britain. Whilst each country that played in the 16-team 2017 World Baseball Classic had an invite to return for 2023, GB joined the Czech Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama as the 4 additional teams in this year's 20-team competition. This came courtesy of two exciting qualifying tournaments which concluded in October. Ford helped GB beat Spain 10-9 in extra innings in the first tournament, hitting his 3rd home run of the tournament in that final. Spain, featuring former Mariner shortstop Noelvi Marte, then went on to lose to the Czech Republic in the lower final.
Mariners Manager Scott Servais will no doubt be hoping that his talented group return healthy in time for the start of the 2023 MLB season. His concerns could be well-founded after the loss of starting pitcher Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery when he represented the USA in the 2017 competition.