Alex Liddi hopes to lead Italy to the second round in what is a deep Pool D in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

World Baseball Classic: Pool D Features Five Former MLB MVPs

Pool D might have the most MLB talent of all with the USA having a full roster of players on Major League rosters. It is full of All-Stars, MVPs, and future stars alike, but will the talent and depth take the teams as far as they want? Or could we see an upset or two along the way?

Italy – World Rank 9

Italy enters the 2013 WBC with high hopes. In the 2009 Classic, it finished 10th which was better than Canada, Chinese Taipei, and Panama.

They enter with a little more MLB talent than most people think. They are led by veterans Nick Punto who has spent 9+ seasons in the big leagues. Along side him in the infield are young guys who have had a little taste of the big leagues and who show a lot of talent and promise. At first base will be Anthony Rizzo who hit 15 home runs for the Chicago Cubs a year ago. Across the diamond is highly touted youngster Alex Liddi who has spent some time with Seattle. The rest of the infield has just a few days total in the Major Leagues.

The outfield is led by big leaguer Chris Denorfia, who put up good numbers last year for the San Diego Padres. He will be joined by Mairo Chiarini who plays for Rimini in the top Italian league where he finished third in both home runs and RBI. While the outfield might not have top MLB talent at all positions, they have international experience.

The pitching staff features a few Triple-A pitchers along with current MLB pitcher Jason Grilli who had a nice season in 2012 with the Pirates. They also feature the first Italian born pitcher to sign in Alex Maestri who, while he never made it to the big leagues, pitched last season in Japan for the Orix Buffaloes. Both Grilli and Maestri pitched in the 2009 Classic along with Chris Cooper who, after years in the US minor leagues, was one of the top pitchers for the Italian Baseball League champion San Marino in 2012.

What the team lacks in MLB talent, it makes up for in international experience. Don’t be surprised if once again they pull an upset like they did in 2009 when they defeated Canada.

A player to watch is Juan Carlos Infante. The infielder, originally from Venezuela, has been playing in the top Italian league for the past several years where he has made a name for himself as one of the better players.

Mexico – World Rank 11

Mexico is back looking to have a better showing than its 8th place finish in 2009. That year Mexico advanced to the second round, but didn’t play great ball.

The outfield features only one former MLB player in Karim Garcia, who might be more famous for being hit by Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS. He is a journeyman who has played in the US, Japan, Korea, and Mexico, but he has a powerful left-handed bat that will fit in well in the lineup.

Most of the hitting talent can be found on the infield led by four-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez. He will be joined by his brother and former Padre Edgar Gonzalez, Dodgers third baseman Luis Cruz, and former big leaguer Jorge Cantu. The rest of the infield includes Ramiro Pena, Gil Valazquez, and Efran Navarro who have all played a short time at the Major League level.

The pitching staff is full of MLB talent led by veteran starter Rodrigo Lopez. He’s is joined by some great young arms including Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada of the Milwaukee Brewers. And don’t sleep on the Royals Luis Mendoza. He had a great winter league and was the MVP of the Caribbean Series helping lead the Yaquis de Obregon to the title.

The bullpen is full of live arms as well including Sergio Romo, David Hernandez, Oliver Perez, and Alfredo Aceves. This is a team, that if they get hot, can do a lot of damage and possibly make a deep run in the tournament.

Canada – World Rank 6

Canada had to win its way into the 2013 Classic after finishing winless in the 2009 edition. They are back with a strong club looking to improve on the 13th place finish from ’09.

The team is led by 2010 N.L. MVP Joey Votto who hit .556 in the 2009 Classic. He is joined by fellow former MVP Justin Morneau. The infield is full of powerful bats as the Blue Jays Brett Lawrie joins the two MVPs. The rest of the infield has high minor league or some big league experience including the likes of Pete Orr, Taylor Green, and Jonathan Malo. The problem that many have pointed out is who will play shortstop?

The outfield will feature speedy center fielder Michael Saunders and power hitting Adam Loewen. Behind the plate will be veteran, and newly signed Pirate, Russell Martin.

The pitching staff features a lot of power throwing right-handers including Brewers closer John Axford, Jessie Crain, and Jim Henderson. There are a lot of young inexperienced guys on the staff as well, but if they can get the team to the back of that bullpen, they can do some serious damage in Pool D.

Interestingly, two of the players on the roster for Team Canada were two of the three players traded from Seattle to Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee deal in 2009, pitcher Phillippe Aumont and outfielder Tyson Gillies.

United States – World Rank 2

There is not a more star studded team than the USA. Every one of the 28 players on the roster have big league time including three former MVPs (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Braun, and Joe Mauer), the current N.L. Cy Young Award winner (R.A. Dickey), and the only pitcher to ever strike out more than half the batters he faced in a season (Craig Kimbrel).

The team features power with six hitters who hit more than 20 home runs in 2012 led by Braun’s 41 and the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton with 37. They have speed with five players with 15 or more stolen bases led by Shane Victorino with 39. And they can hit for average with five players hitting over .300 for 2012 including catcher Jonathan Lucroy at .320.

The pitching staff is just as impressive. Following Dickey in the rotation will be Ryan Vogelsong, Ross Detwiler, Derek Holland, and 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez. The bullpen might be the most impressive part of the team.

Combined the bullpen saved a total of 145 MLB games in 2012, led by Kimbrel’s 42, and it is full of big strikeout pitchers. Vinnie Pestano, Glen Perkins, Chris Perez, Luke Gregerson, Tim Collins, Steve Cishek, and the venerable Heath Bell.

This might be the best team the USA has put together for the Classic, but that doesn’t mean that they will win it all. They always head into the tournament as one of the favorites, but so far have been unable to come out on top. They have finished 4th (2009) and 8th (2006), so they will be looking for their first title.

This is a deep pool with the US, Canada, and Mexico, but don’t count out Italy. The games will kick off with Italy facing Mexico on Thursday March 7 at 1:00 pm.

Tags: World Baseball Classic

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