What To Watch For: 2017 WBC

08_16_6140_pkIn 24 days, the 2017 edition of the world’s finest global baseball competition takes center stage, as pool play of the World Baseball Classic kicks off March 6 across North America and Asia.

Sixteen of the top baseball countries in the world have been divided into four pools, and some of the world’s top talent will be highlighted from Seoul to Tokyo and Miami to Jalisco, Mexico.

In total, 21 players who have donned a Sky Sox jersey have made their country’s rosters, and have the opportunity to compete against the world’s best this March.

Here’s who is representing Colorado Springs in this year’s Classic:

GROUP A

Chinese Taipei: The classic gets underway Monday, March 6, at 2:30 a.m. MT from Seoul, South Korea. The host nation and their first opponent, Israel, have no Sox on its roster.

After facing South Korea, Team Israel will play its second game in as many days against the second Asian nation in Group A. Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is headlined by former MLB pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, but the roster also has several minor league prospects, including Milwaukee’s Wei-Chung Wang. The 24-year-old lefty has appeared in 14 games for Milwaukee in 2014, made one appearance in the Springs in 2015, and was promoted again in August of 2016, where he went 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA and 23 strikeouts.

Netherlands: The fourth and final team to play in Group A ball has a lineup filled with MLB talent, thanks to the baseball hotbed of Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean territory. Jair Jurrgens, a Sky Sox pitcher in 2014, had an eight-year professional career, spending five of those years in the Atlanta Braves system. During his final season with the Rockies, he posted a 4.50 ERA in eight appearances with the Sky Sox.

GROUP B

Australia: After qualifying for pool play on their home soil, the Aussies head north to Tokyo to play in Group B with Cuba, China and Japan. The other three teams feature a combined zero players with Sky Sox ties, but the Southern Thunder do feature one former Sky Sox outfielder. David Kandilas was promoted to Colorado Springs from Tulsa in late August of 2014 and played in one game for the Sox before heading to the Australian Baseball League for the next few years. Australia opens pool play Wednesday, March 8, at 3 a.m. MT.

GROUP C

United States: On a roster filled with perennial All-Star talent, the Centennial State does have one of its own manning the hot corner. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado has burst onto the MLB scene as both a Mile High slugger and a gold glove third baseman, but he was slugging at Security Service Field before he went up I-25 to Coors Field. Arenado played in 23 games over two seasons for the Sky Sox, batting .364 with 21 RBIs in 2013.

Canada: Our friendly neighbors to the north come to South Florida and open Group C pool play against the defending champion Dominicans March 9, but field a roster full of veterans—including a team-high five former Sky Sox. 15-year veteran Justin Morneau (2014) and infielder Pete Orr (2015) join pitchers Jim Henderson (2015), Chris Leroux (2015) and Dustin Molleken (2011-12) in an effort to spring an upset or two at Marlins Park.

Colombia: Playing in their first World Baseball Classic after defeating Panama on the road to qualify, the debutants are up against a loaded group C, but do sport some MLB playing experience. Starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran highlight the pitching staff, but Sky Sox fans may remember Guillermo Moscoso from the 2012 season. The right-hander started 18 games for the Sox, posting an 8-6 record while striking out 85 batters. Colombia’s first WBC matchup comes against the host Americans at 4 p.m. MT on March 10.

Dominican Republic: The 2013 WBC Champions are sure to enter pool play with a rowdy fanbase and a loaded roster, having gone undefeated during the last Classic. Led by a who’s who of MLB All-Star talent, the DR packs a powerful punch from the plate (Cano, Beltre, Bautistia, Machado, Cruz…) and some stud arms on the mound (Betnaces, Cueto, Volquez, Colon…). Two of those arms coming in relief that almost get lost in the star power are former Sox Samuel Deduno (2009-10) and Wily Peralta (2016). Deduno went 3-1 in 2010 with a 2.93 ERA in six outings, while Peralta appeared in 10 games last season, striking out 39 in just over 41 innings of work.

GROUP D

Mexico: As much as Group C figures to sport quite the high-level talent, Group D may be the tightest of the four groups. Italy comes to North America with no former Sox on their lineup and they also have to go up against the Group D host nation, led by Edgar Gonzalez, the older brother of Mexican star Adrian Gonzalez. The Gonzalez Brothers lead a Mexican squad that looks to counter the group’s offensive power with some shutdown pitching. Leading the charge is former Rockies and Sky Sox starter Jorge De La Rosa (2010,12) and former Sox pitcher Carlos Torres (2012).

Puerto Rico: The American territory may be led by a trio of quality infielders in Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, but their pitching staff shouldn’t be overlooked. For fans of the Sox, a trio of names will help lead the Puerto Ricans into a huge primetime showdown March 10 against Venezuela for their first taste of pool play. Veteran reliever J.C. Romero pitched for Colorado Springs in 2011 and will be joined by a pair of recent Sox starters looking to make it to Milwaukee. Hiram Burgos (2015-16) led the Sox in wins and strikeouts and threw the only complete game in 2016, while Jorge Lopez (2016) struck out 66 batters in 17 games in his first Triple-A season.

Venezuela: The final team in Group D gears up for a spot in the knockout round with a slew of talent, led by perennial All-Stars Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve and MLB great Omar Vizquel as manager. On top of that, Venezuela  sports four former Sky Sox in its lineup, led by three-time All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (2009,11,13,14). Milwaukee prospect Hernan Perez (2016) spent most of last season in the MLB, but did play 16 games at Security Service Field, while former Rockies veterans Franklin Morales (2007-10) and Jhoulys Chacin (2009,10,12,14) lead the Venezuelan arsenal.

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