We're just ten days away from the start of the World Baseball Classic, the international tournament that non-participating players, MLB executives and fans will be watching with one eye on great moments on the field and the other on who's headed to the trainer's office. As many as nine Phillies could participate in the event, which runs through March 20; Chase Utley (USA) and Bobby Abreu (Venezuela) are the team's only big names involved, but a handful of notable Phils prospects are set to play as well. This group includes pitchers Scott Mathieson (Canada) and Robinson Tejeda (Dominican Republic provisional roster) as well as catcher Carlos Ruiz (Panama provisional roster).
Of the big guys, I'm happy that Abreu likely will get the recognition due as a national hero (though I'm not looking forward to the WIP sniping if/when he delivers a huge clutch hit for his patria). As for Chase, I don't see the harm of him getting to hang out with so many "gamers" for a couple weeks; for younger players like Utley and Mark Texiera, the U.S. team, with guys like Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek, is probably best considered as a cross between an all-star weekend and an extremely advanced baseball camp with Hall of Famers.
The guy whose participation makes me a little nervous is Scott Mathieson. The soon-to-be 22 year-old is easily the best right-handed pitching prospect in the Phils' system, and his raw stuff is of sufficient quality that Canada manager Ernie Whitt could be tempted to overuse him. Canada is actually semi-loaded with young pitching talent: in addition to Mathieson, they've got Baltimore's Erik Bedard and Adam Loewen, Twins setup man Jesse Crain, and Rockies prospect Jeff Francis. (A's ace Rich Harden and Dodgers closer Eric Gagne are both sitting out the tourney rehabbing injuries.) Aside from Justin Morneau and Jason Bay, though, they don't have much hitting to speak of. Rheal Cormier, who's somehow set to begin his sixth season with the Phillies, is also on Team Canada; this strikes me as a good thing from a Phils viewpoint, as Cormier will either show that he's recovered from his horrid 2005, or give Charlie Manuel an early hint that he'll need to find another bullpen arm to handle 7th-inning duties. Journeyman Aaron Myette is the Phils' third Canadian hurler.
Tejeda, who might or might not make the final 30-man cut for the Dominican Republic, actually voiced concerns about injury in Sunday's Inquirer. I agree this is worth worrying about (and the Phils, like every other team, clearly are), but I'm also not sorry to see him get to spend a little time with the likes of Pedro Martinez. Nobody questions Tejeda's stuff, but he needs to hone his command. Maybe The Best Pitcher Ever can help out on that score.
Utley and the three Canadians are confirmed; Abreu, Tejeda, Ruiz, Tomas Perez (Venezuela) and Eude Brito (Dominican Republic) are all on their countries' provisional rosters.