Pool C features three teams from the Caribbean and one of the big surprises of the tournament in Spain. They earned their way in through the qualifier, and they will face off with some of the most talent rich teams in the tournament. But never count them out.
Venezuela – World Rank 8
Venezuela has one of the most stacked teams in the tournament. They had a great 2009 WBC finishing in third place after winning Pool C. They finished the tournament 6-2 and look to continue that success this time around.
They are poised with a stout offensive attack full of MLB stars. The outfield features a pair of Arizona Diamondbacks, Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado, and the star of the Rockies, Carlos Gonzalez. That’s a group of guys that can do a lot on the field both defensively and offensively providing some power and speed on the bases.
The infield is even stronger. At the hot corner you have Pablo Sandoval, who got a head start on training by playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. Up the middle you have a combination of Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Omar Infante and Marco Scutaro. If you simply had those four as your infield, you would be doing pretty good. But Venezuela decided to add the reigning Triple Crown winner in Miguel Cabrera at first base.
Behind the plate they have just as much talent as they feature a veteran and two rising stars. Anchoring the catching staff is Ramon Hernandez. He will share time with former All-Star Miguel Montero and 22-year old Salvador Perez.
The pitching staff features a 22-year old already with 41 MLB starts, Henderson Alvarez, a 7-year veteran with a no-hitter to his credit, Anibal Sanchez, and a bevy of young relievers who all average about a strikeout per inning. It also features a few veteran free agents including former closer Francisco Rodriguez and 11-year veteran starter Carlos Zambrano who will look to impress trying to earn a new contract.
Puerto Rico – World Rank 12
While Puerto Rico might not have the Major League firepower of Venezuela, they do have a lot of talent and will be a team to contend with. They are led by their outfield who are all coming off better years in 2012 than they had in 2011 starting with Carlos Beltran. He will be joined by Alex Rios and Angel Pagan in the outfield.
The infield on the other hand doesn’t have near the same amount of MLB experience. Other than Mike Aviles, most of the infielders just have a smattering of MLB experience if any. Behind the plate they have a lot of experience with Jose Molina and Yadier Molina.
Where they lack the depth is in the pitching staff. The starters will be led by veteran Javier Vazquez who last pitched at the Major League level in 2011 with the Marlins. They will have a few other veteran leaders like Nelson Figueroa, J.C. Romero, and Javier Lopez, but after that they feature young guys with either just a little MLB experience or none at all. They have some good arms, but it will remain to be seen if they can pitch to the MLB caliber hitters they will face in the opening round.
Dominican Republic – World Rank 13
Again this is a team, like Venezuela, that is stacked with MLB talent. However, that didn’t seem to work too well for them in the 2009 WBC as they lost twice to the Netherlands and failed to advance. They will look to make amends for what was a disappointing show in the 2009 edition. And they are coming loaded with talent.
The outfield is led by Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, and Carlos Gomez. This is an outfield that can play with any other. They have speed, power, and they don’t even have to be the stars with their infield.
The infield took a blow recently as Adrian Beltre announce he wouldn’t participate, but they have enough without him to be a serious contender. With the likes of Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, Edwin Encarnacion, and Mr. Caribbean Series himself Miguel Tejada look for the Dominican team to do some damage in the tournament.
The pitching staff will give hitters fits as well featuring some of the hardest throwers in the game. Recently free agent Jose Valverde announced he would pitch for the Dominican as he searches for a new contract. He joins a bullpen with Octavio Dotel, Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, and Santiago Casilla. Edinson Volquez will lead the starters who won’t have to go long with that bullpen backing them up.
Spain – World Ranking 16
Spain surprised a lot of people when they qualified for the 2013 WBC by beating Israel in an extra inning affair at the Jupiter, Florida Qualifier. They don’t feature the big MLB stars, but don’t expect for them to just roll over. There is no doubt they are happy to be where they are, but that won’t be enough for them.
In the outfield, they have some quality young players including Fernando Martinez who has seen time in the Major Leagues with the Astros and Mets. They also feature a former highly regarded talent who has faded some in recent years but bounced back with a solid year last year at Double-A Frisco in Engel Beltre. He provides some pop and speed from the outfield.
Where the team might really struggle is on the mound. Most of the players have little to no experience at the Double-A level or beyond. A couple guys have been in the Major Leagues briefly including Paco Rodriguez and Rhiner Cruz. They really have their work cut out for them in this Pool, but we saw an overmatched Netherlands team come through not only once but twice in the 2009 WBC so we know anything can happen.
The good thing for Spain is they have nothing to lose. If they lose, they were supposed to. However, don’t be surprised if they steal one here or there because they aren’t expected to win so all the pressure is off them and on their opponents.
No matter how you slice it though, this is going to be a fun one to watch. It will kick off on Thursday March 7 at 7:30pm EST when Venezuela takes on the Dominican Republic.