Top 25 Players Playing in the World Baseball Classic
It’s been four years since baseball fans were treated to watching the game’s biggest stars compete in the World Baseball Classic, but the tournament is officially underway once again.
The 2013 version of the Classic will feature plenty of fresh faces. Many of them have spent the past couple of years rising to stardom at the MLB level. Craig Kimbrel, though just a youngster at 23 years of age, is already a two-time All-Star and one of, if not the, best relief pitchers in all of baseball.
Kimbrel will join Team USA in this year’s WBC, along with talented starter Gio Gonzalez, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and several other Americans making their debut in the tourney. USA is an early favorite to win the event, along with the Dominican Republic, but Japan is the two-time defending champion and will have plenty to say about those potentially meaningless odds.
Even with guys like Justin Verlander, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout opting not to take part in the festivities, there is no lack of star power in this year’s WBC. We’ll see 2012 AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera leading the charge for an extremely dangerous bunch that is Venezuela, for starters.
The Dominican Republic will field a team full of big names as well, including Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. Mexico will be paced by slugger Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Yovani Gallardo, and the Canadian squad by star first basemen Joey Votto and Justin Morneau.
Both Canada and Mexico could surprise, as they are darkhorses capable of providing an upset or two in the tournament. And despite not featuring any MLB players this year, you can never count out Japan (for obvious reasons), who will certainly bring spectacular pitching and defense to the Classic once again.
As the 2013 World Baseball Classic slowly kicks into full gear, let’s take a gander at the Top 25 players (ranked in order) showcasing their talents in this year’s event.
25. Edwin Encarnacion, Dominican Republic
Encarnacion turned into a power machine last season with the Toronto Blue Jays, smacking 40 homers in all. Despite having limited success at the major league level prior to 2012, the first baseman should turn some heads in this year’s Classic.
24. Mark Teixeira, USA
Teixeira has slipped a bit at the plate in recent years, but the five-time Gold Glove Award winner remains an excellent option for Team USA offensively and defensively. And when he gets locked in, he'll rack up homers in a hurry.
23. Wandy Rodriguez, Dominican Republic
Wandy is one of the best veteran pitchers yet to appear in an MLB All-Star Game, but his efforts in the WBC should draw plenty of well-deserved praise if the Dominicans live up to their potential.
22. Fernando Rodney, Dominican Republic
Rodney’s record-breaking campaign in 2012 was entirely unexpected, but the relief pitcher has turned his game up a notch and the Dominican Republic will benefit greatly from his presence. He, like all other relievers in the Classic this year, will likely see plenty of action due to a newly implemented pitch count, which does increase after each round but forces teams to dig deep into their bullpen.
21. Carlos Beltran, Puerto Rico
The 15-year MLB vet isn’t getting any younger, but Beltran knows his way around the WBC having played in each of the previous two tournaments for Puerto Rico.
20. Ryan Vogelsong, USA
Vogelsong’s return to the Major Leagues in 2010 came with great success. He was an All-Star with the San Francisco Giants in 2011 and then helped them win a World Series last season.
19. Asdrubal Cabrera, Venezuela
Cabrera is an All-Star shortstop who routinely makes jaw-dropping plays in the field and is starting to do a good amount of damage at the plate as well. He's hit 41 bombs over the past two seasons for the Cleveland Indians.
18. Brandon Phillips, USA
Another defensive standout, Phillips provides a huge boost for a USA squad in search of its first top-three finish at the WBC.
17. Yovani Gallardo, Mexico
Gallardo is a dominant strikeout pitcher and is far and away Mexico’s best starter in the Classic. He’s surprisingly solid at the plate, too.
16. Giancarlo Stanton, USA
This may be Stanton’s first appearance in the Classic, but it won’t be his last. The 23-year-old phenom outfielder loves to crush the baseball and has an extremely bright future in the game.
15. Hanley Ramirez, Dominican Republic
Ramirez, a three-time All-Star selection, will provide the Dominican Republic lineup with a rare blend of power and speed that he’ll be putting on display for us in the WBC.
14. Jose Reyes, Dominican Republic
Reyes is a base-stealing machine and will manufacture more than his fair share of runs for the Dominican Republic. You might think he’s a bit high on this list now, but you won’t when all is said and done.
13. Adam Jones, USA
Jones enjoyed a phenomenal season with the Baltimore Orioles a year ago, hitting 30 HR and stealing 16 bases while earning his second All-Star selection and Gold Glove Award in the process. USA manager Joe Torre is going to love having this guy on his squad.
12. R.A. Dickey, USA
What Dickey did with the New York Mets in 2012 was amazing. The 38-year-old’s knuckleball is sure to give his WBC foes some fits over the next two weeks.
11. Adrian Gonzalez, Mexico
Making his third appearance in the tourney, Gonzo hopes to help Mexico find some success in 2013. Though his power has disappeared in recent years, the 30-year-old slugger still hits for average, drives in runs and excels in the field.
10. Yadier Molina, Puerto Rico
Molina has long been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and he’s starting to reach that level offensively, too. The star catcher has claimed a Gold Glove in each of the past five seasons.
9. Joe Mauer, USA
Mauer is the only catcher in MLB history to win three batting titles, so that should give you a decent idea of what he can do at the plate. Oh, he’s also won three Gold Gloves.
8. David Wright, USA
Wright excels in just about every facet of the game and his success in the tourney will have a big say in how well Team USA performs this time around.
7. Gio Gonzalez, USA
Gio is no JV, but he is an absolute stud on the mound. The 27-year-old will get his chance to hold down the starting rotation for Team USA in this year’s Classic after dominating at the major league level in recent years.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, Venezuela
Gonzalez is a do-it-all outfielder who will do great things for Venezuela in all phases of the game.
5. Joey Votto, Canada
Votto is undoubtedly the best Canadian in the game today and has a chance to be one of the WBC’s top performers if he can show he’s found his way at the plate after suffering a mid-season knee injury in 2012 that required two surgeries.
4. Craig Kimbrel, USA
The 2011 National League Rookie of the Year has quickly become the best closer in baseball. He’s striking out batters at a rate matched by very few in baseball history. Kimbrel has 243 K's over the past two seasons in just 139.2 innings of work.
3. Robinson Cano, Dominican Republic
The cream of the crop as far as second basemen go, Cano is a superstar on all levels without any real weakness to his game. He doesn't steal many bases, but is rock solid defensively and hits for both average and power.
2. Ryan Braun, USA
Speaking of superstars, Braun is just that in every sense of the word and should have no problem destroying opposing pitchers for Team USA. The 29-year-old slugger hit a career-high 41 HR in 2012 and still managed to carry a batting average of .319.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Venezuela
Miggy is, well, Miggy. He’s the most fearsome hitter in the game and will go down as one of the all-time greats when his career comes to a close. It’s crazy to think this is Cabrera’s third time playing in the Classic and he’s still just 29 years old.