Flashback to 2017: The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is underway in Los Angeles. Javy Báez and Marcus Stroman are the stars of the show as the United States defeats Puerto Rico in the gold medal game. Six years and one pandemic later, the most electrifying baseball tournament in the world is back.
While the top four teams from each pool in 2017 earned automatic berths into this year’s tournament, Panama, Czechia (Czech Republic), Great Britain, and Nicaragua had to earn their spots by competing in a qualifying tournament in 2022. Each team is composed of the best baseball players their country has to offer, with some exceptions for injuries, insurance issues, and personal reasons.
The 2023 WBC is set to open on March 8 with Pool A match-ups taking place between Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), Cuba, Italy, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Panama in Taichung. Pool B, comprising Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Czech Republic, will begin game play on March 9 in Tokyo.
Pool C will open on March 11 with Canada, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, and Great Britain playing in Phoenix, while Pool D, comprising the Dominican Republic, Israel, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, will hash things out on the same day in Miami.
During pool play, each team will face off against the other four teams in its pool once and the two teams with the best records will advance to the quarterfinal round. The advancing teams will be placed in a single-elimination eight-team bracket, where the last two teams standing will play in a championship game in Miami. Most importantly, the tournament will not include pitch clocks, bigger bases, limited pick-offs, limited timeouts, or a shift ban—all new rules adopted for the 2023 MLB season.
While missing some of the country’s top stars such as Joey Votto and Josh Naylor, Canada’s WBC roster has no shortage of talent. Finishing 15th overall in 2017, Canada is ranked 12th overall heading into this year’s competition.
The team is filled with young talent. Montreal’s very own Otto Lopez will likely be the Canadians’ starting shortstop. Owen Caissie, a second-round draft pick in the Chicago Cubs system, hopes to slot in as designated hitter or in the outfield, while Texas Rangers prospect Mitch Bratt hopes to find himself as the number two in the starting rotation after the Cleveland Guardians’ stud, Cal Quantrill.
As for players with greater accolades, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman, a six-time all-star and former Most Valuable Player, will serve as the team’s first-baseman. Tyler O’Neill, the St. Louis Cardinals’ two-time gold-glover, will prowl the centrefield while Matt Brash, a cheeky righty with the Seattle Mariners, slices up hitters on the mound. Along with Quantrill, the Cleveland Guardians will lend rookie catcher Bo Naylor, the second of three baseball-playing Naylor brothers, for the tournament as well.
While not in the running to win it all, the plethora of young talent leaves plenty of hope for the future of Canadian baseball.
Who else to watch?
With a mix of superstars from MLB and the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB)—Japan’s professional baseball league—the team is overflowing with talent. From MLB stars Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, we know what we’re going to get: Five pitch mixes, dirty strikeouts, and remarkable two-way play from the unicorn, Ohtani. It doesn’t end there. The batting lineup is supported by reigning NPB Most Valuable Player, Munetaka Murakami—a 23-year-old lefty slugger who slashed .318/.458/.711 with 56 home runs last season. Other names to follow are NPB pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the winner of back-to-back Sawamura Awards (NPB’s Cy Young equivalent) and Rōki Sasaki who pitched a 19-strikeout perfect game in April 2022.
Team Dominican Republic
As the favourite for many heading into the tournament, the Dominican Republic may have put together the best WBC roster ever. Rafael Devers. Manny Machado. Juan Soto. Jeremy Peña. Wander Franco. The list goes on and on, and that’s just the bats. The pitching staff hosts reigning National League Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara along with World Series champion Cristian Javier. Needless to say, the Dominican Republic is a must-watch when they take the field this year.
Games will be available on Sportsnet in English and TVA Sports in French.