The World Baseball Classic! Is it cool? It is, and you’re not, and we’ve all just been deciding which one of us should tell you.
Sorry. Half of WBC fandom is convincing people it’s not stupid. I had to take up that very cause earlier this winter with John Stolnis on The Felske Files, and John doesn’t need much to like a baseball-centric thing. Fortunately, I as able to sway him, bringing another ally to our ranks. Soon, our secret society will have installed followers of our beliefs into countless world leadership positions. One day, you will look around and discover that, quite shockingly you are outnumbered, and resistance will be fruitless.
But until then; hey, look! A free Baseball Olympics!
Plenty of MLB stars are foregoing some of their training to participate this time, including Manny Machado, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Robinson Cano, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera. Team USA, coached by Jim Leyland, assuming he can get his mustache through customs, features a pretty devastating roster, as well as Tanner Roark.
Former Phillies like A.J. Ellis and J.A. Hap will be hanging around, as will future Phillies like Machado. And don’t forget current Phillie Pat Neshek! If you want a local guy to rally around for our boys, make it Neshek, a man who is neither from here nor technically pitched an inning for our team. Go Pat!
Yes, Leyland hitched up his britches, got on the horn, and convinced the largest number of American-born humans worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Tanner Roark, to come put their latest deals at risk with a potential injury. I don’t know what Leyland’s negotiating tactics are like, but the sound of his mustache bristling on the receiver is probably enough to get you to pack your bags. And it’s a good thing, too - the defending champion Dominican Republic squad that went 8-0 in 2013 is back, and looking at their white-hot roster has turned every analyst blind except Jon Morosi, who is unresponsive to most sensations.
People’s general problem with this whole thing is that it takes place during spring training, so any players who volunteer to go will miss valuable pre-season development and narratives. What if Jake Fox had gone off to some random planet-wide tournament in 2011, and we’d never seen his historic 10-home run Grapefruit League run for the Orioles? Where would the sport be then? I ask you.
As I explained to John, while rooting for the U.S. to dominate as the fire of our global leadership is rapidly extinguished will be fun, seeing guys from your favorite MLB team get overwhelmed with honor to represent their home countries brings another twinkle to your eye. Sometimes, these are the most exuberant, emotional guys on the roster, so to see that enthusiasm spike is a sight to behold. The Phillies will send - or, reluctantly be allowing - seven of their own to play, old-timers and newcomers alike.
Here’s the rundown of who you won’t be seeing take the field in Clearwater on day one:
Odubel Herrera, Jeanmar Gomez, Freddy Galvis, Edubray Ramos: Venezuela
This **** is going to be some watchable-as-hell baseball. El Torito can work up an attitude when he’s the sole all-star on a 71-win Phillies team; imagine how this guy is going to let loose while repping his native land? My dude is all smiles and just let him lull to sleep with video exclusivo of his crackling BP session.
Galvis clearly relishes his role, as well - he and Herrera will likely be in Venezuela’s starting lineup - as he told reporters in regards to playing for his home country in the Caribbean Series was an opportunity he had sought out. He didn’t have a great time in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he hit .273 in the CS, with six hits, one for extra bases and two in his first game of the tournament, in which he also walked and stole two bases.
The Phillies dropped Ramos into 40 innings of relief work in 2016, and the rookie finished with an ERA of 3.83 with a 3.64 SO/W. Was he the bright spot in the bullpen this past season? It’s tough to keep track of who broke through and who faded away and who did both. Let’s just say it’s good to see him still wanting to play baseball.
Gomez, who will have to earn his closer job back this year in the Phillies bullpen, will be playing after an implosive September, in which he gave up every home run in Major League Baseball. It was incredible. Go Venezuela!
Nick Pivetta: Canada
Canada has the unfavorable task of being the first team to face the D.R., and with ESPN ranking them 11th out of 16 - Russell Martin got left behind because of an insurance issue, but Freddie Freeman’s parents were Canadian, and Ryan Dempster is shaking off retirement for once last go-around! - they will likely be hamburger meat by the final frame. Pivetta will be buried on the pitching staff, but the 23-year-old had a 2.55 ERA through five starts in Lehigh Valley this season.
Newly signed Michael Saunders was going to play for Team Canada, but backed out in favor of coming to hang out in Florida with his new team. Thanks, Mike! They wouldn’t have minded! Go Canada!
Jorge Alfaro: Colombia
Colombia, like Canada, exists in the depths of Pool C, which also includes the formidable U.S. and the previously mentioned unseeable Dominican team. Julio Teherran and Jose Quintana are on the pitching staff, but Alfaro’s countrymen will have their work cut out for them.
Meanwhile, Alfaro himself has entered the mix for a full-time big league catching gig. His competition is Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp, neither of whom are slouches, but the Phillies are without a wise, old veteran catcher at the moment to captivate their young backstops with past tails of failed glory. In the Venezuelan Winter League this season, the 23-year-old hit .210 with three home runs and 35 SO in 105 AB. He came in at No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top 10 catching prospects of 2017, with one analyst saying he had the "best combination of raw power and arm strength of any catching prospect."
Just get him back in one piece! You’re welcome Colombia! Also, go Colombia!
Kenny Koplove: Israel
Israel, not expected to be particularly impactful this tournament, has a few names that feel "recognizable" at best in Ike Davis, Scott Feldman, Jason Marquis, and Sam Fuld. Koplove is not one of them. The William Penn Charter grad, however, is From Here, making him an instant Philadelphia hero, were he to achieve any sort of success. With Lakewood last season, following a stint in Extended Spring Training, he did not find much, accruing a 15.43 ERA in ten appearances for the BlueClaws. However, his Lady Gaga take is quite reasonable.
Lady Gaga may be a little weird but I would totally go to her concert and enjoy every minute of it— Kenny Koplove (@Kennykop5) February 6, 2017
Nick Fanti: Italy
Oh hell yes, Nick Fanti. This 20-year-old Italian hurler - he was born in 1996; just FYI, people are being born in 1996 now - has racked up 69.1 innings for the Gulf Coast Phillies in the last two seasons. He may be a deep dive roster-wise, but he’s maintained a 2.21 ERA with 11 SO/9 and 5.67 SO/W after 20 games and ten starts.
This past September, he led his team to the three-game Gulf Coast Finals, where he evened the series at 1-1 with a 5.1-inning, six strikeout performance that left the GCL Cardinals stifled. With one out in the fourth, he gave up a triple, and then stone cold picked the guy off third. Also, he hates Snapchat.
Do you get a good grade in college if you scream really loud on Snapchat? Because everyone is doing a great job— Fanti (@fanti_nick) January 20, 2017
Somehow, Fanti stood out on a team that went 43-15 in the regular season and featured the Phillies’ No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Mickey Moniak, who had not yet had his name tattooed on anyone’s butt (that we know of). Go Italy!