The World Baseball Classic continues this week and noted WBC enthusiast Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) of MLB Network and Fox Sports graciously took some time to join me to talk some WBC and Marlins baseball. Yesterday’s article focused on Jon’s passion for the WBC, his thoughts on the American team and on the Marlins’ chances in 2017. Today’s article will see Jon talk about the rest of the field, WBC rule changes, and Miami Marlins WBC tie-ins.
Jon Morosi will call the World Baseball Classic for MLB Network, along with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz, as Team Canada and Team Dominican Republic begin Pool C play Thursday at 6pm ET and Team USA faces Team Dominican Republic this Saturday at 6:30pm ET.
Thomas: Aside from the United States, who else in the field would you consider a favorite to take home the gold.
Jon: I think you have to start with the Dominican Republic, and I’ll be seeing their workouts today. Listen, they won every game last time, which had never happened before in the first two playings of the tournament, so to me they’re the kings until someone proves otherwise.
I know there’s been some talk about the fact that Cueto wont pitch in this first round, but I think the Dominican pitching staff is probably stronger now then it was in 2013. You look at their everyday club, they’ve got Machado to play either short or third depending on Beltre’s status. They’ve got a phenomenally talented outfield, Starling Marte is a really brilliant defensive centerfielder, now of course he can play center field for the Pirates, they’ve got Polanco out there, Bautista. Canó is back, and that’s one more point I’ll make about superstars that we already know, Canó was already a very widely known player in 2013, but you put him in his national team’s uniform, and you’ve got a different player. He was a leader, I think it was the first time he didn’t have Derek Jeter playing alongside him, from the standpoint of his career with the Yankees. So we saw Canó have a really strong leadership role, the Dominican win, and then you see him sign with the Mariners as a free agent after that season, so I think it was really an important personal and professional growth for Canó this last WBC, and I believe now he’s really I believe been a different person since then in terms of his leadership capability. I look for that to continue and for him to make the point to his teammates that I’m sure he will today and the next couple of days that hey, we’re the kings until someone proves otherwise.
The brand of baseball that I think they played was beautiful and I think that’s one thing I’ll point out Thomas about the WBC. When you hear some criticisms of the game today about the excitement level, whatever it may be, the amount of action over the course of the game, no one complained during the WBC in 2013, because you had players in the Dominicans jumping out of the dugout on Encarnacion’s RBI double in the first inning of the final game, which I loved. So I think when you watch the passion that the Dominicans play with, that Puerto Rico plays with, Mexico, the Asian countries as well and their own style with the amazing songs that you see here in the stands of the Korean and Japanese games, the game is beautiful and when it’s played with an international style I think it becomes even more so.
I’m just a big believer in the ability of this tournament to bring out the absolute best and most emotional and most passionate versions of the game which I think are most captivating to watch both in person and on television. So for me again stylistically and talent wise the Dominicans remain as strong as any other team in the tournament.
I also look at certainly Japan, their strength in the tournament, they’ve made it to at least the semi-finals every time, they’ve won the first two. Even without Otani, I think their pitching is going to be very strong, I look for them to advance to at the very least the semi-finals in Los Angeles. They play at home at each of the first two rounds, their crowds are going to be phenomenally strong. I look at the way the play, I think their lineup is strong, Yamada is a very good hitter, Tsutsugoh is a very good hitter in the outfield, their shortstop Sakamoto is very good, Nakata is a very good run producer at first base. So it’s a typically strong Japanese team that I think actually might even be able to play the long ball game a little better than previous incarnations of the WBC teams for Japan. I expect their team to be back in the semi-finals at the very least.
Thomas: Have you narrowed down a particular dark horse team or a team that could surprise with some success in the early rounds?
Jon: I mentioned a couple. It sounds like I’m jumping on the bandwagon with Israel, although as you pointed out in my prediction column, I did have them beating Korea and advancing, so I can have you testify to that, that it was in the story long before we spoke and long before Israel won this game. You saw the way Jerry Weinstein managed the ballclub today, he had his closer throw close to 50 pitches. Jason Marquis through under 50 because he wants Marquis available later in the tournament. These are creative tournament baseball thoughts and strategies that I think that you see occur in this tournament with a veteran manager and a staff who has bought in. When you’ve got that, when you have a staff where there are no sort of extraneous strictures on them where MLB is saying “no, you can’t pitch them this way or that way,” you see what he’s able to do, and again, everything he did today was fully within the boundaries of the tournament, he was just able to use them to the maximum effect. So I think a great job by Jerry Weinstein, you’ve got a manager who knows how to manage this style of play and now a team that has a lot of chemistry from winning that qualifier in September, so I love the way Israel’s playing, I picked them to advance, I think they’re going to advance.
Mexico I look at as a team that’s very difficult to beat. I would’ve loved them even more if Chris Davis was in their lineup, of course he had to drop out in spring training. I think with Mexico, pitching is always a strength for this team. I think even more so in Mexico on home soil, I think that’s going to be the toughest, best pool of all, with Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Italy, and I look for Mexico to find a way to advance, I think that they’ve got some very, very good pitching. Alex Verdugo, a young center field prospect for the Dodgers you probably know is going to be their centerfielder, so I love the way that he projects and he has a chance to be one of those emerging stars when we talk about the WBC. Mexico on Mexican soil, tough team to beat, we saw phenomenal crowds for them at the Caribbean Series this year I think it’s going to be more of the same now this year at the WBC.
Thomas: Lots of Miami Marlins tie-ins in Pool Group C alone: you got AJ Ellis before his injury, former Marlins manager Jim Leyland now managing the U.S. squad, former Marlin Edgar Renteria as the bench coach for Columbia, longtime utility man Donovan Solano, Tayron Guerrero, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, the list goes on, there are a lot of Fish in the WBC. If you had to wager a guess, which Marlin or former Marlin will have the greatest impact on this World Baseball Classic?
Jon: I’ll mention a couple guys, and this may be a non-traditional answer but I’m going to say Tayron Guerrero, and I want to mention him because to me, he has a chance to be, and we talk about what Josh Zeid did today for Israel, Guerrero as you know he can really light it up, he’s got a 100 mph fastball it’s just a matter of command, and if Quintana or Teheràn can hold down the U.S. and Canada respectively for five innings, five plus innings depending upon how pitch count works out, Columbian manager Luis Urueta has a very interesting option. If they can’t get their offense going against Quintana, I would imagine that the next arm they’re going to see if the game is close will be Guerrero. In Guerrero, you’ve got a guy who can throw a million and he’s throwing from the right side after you’ve seen Quintana who can really manipulate the ball very well from the left side, so he’s a perfect contrast to bring in after Quintana, the velocity is obviously going to be higher. So if the U.S. is in any sort of upset alert in the first game, Guerrero is probably a guy their going to see, and so he can very quickly become someone we’re talking about a lot, if he all the sudden has the game of his life and is able to locate the ball in that environment.
Columbia has already done I believe from their standpoint the hard part by qualifying, so now they can relax, they’ve got nothing to lose, nobody’s expecting them to win, but they’ve got arguably from a one-two punch standpoint one of the best in the entire tournament of all sixteen teams with Quintana and Teheran. So I look for Guerrero to be a real key member of that bullpen and maybe play a key role in their effort to upset the U.S. as early as game one with Quintana on the mound in that game.
Vólquez obviously is going to pitch a big game for the Dominicans, we’re not sure of their rotation quite yet, so really no matter which game it is, it’s going to be a big one. We’ve seen Vólquez pitch in big games before in the World Series, he’s pitched in big games before in the WBC in 2013, he knows the stage. It’s only a brief career as you know at Marlins Park for him, but he’s had two very good starts there, it’s his new home, maybe he can get very comfortable there, I love that matchup.
You mentioned the Leyland connection, lots of ‘97 Marlins in general involved in this pool C, you’ve got Leyland managing against Edgar, who of course got the biggest hit in Jim’s career, Edgar as the bench coach of Columbia. The GM of team Dominican Republic is Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd is part of the broadcast for these games, you’ve got Rich Donnelly, Ex-Marlins coach on the ‘97 team is part of the team USA staff, so you’ve got a lot of ‘97 Marlins involved which I think adds to the intrigue and will make for an even more personal experience for the Marlins fans, and certainly I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that the U.S./Dominican game is already sold out, I expect that’s going to be literally one of the best and most emotional games that we see on American soil anywhere this year. Give me the World Series, give me anything, that game has the potential to be one of the best baseball games that exists in North America in the calendar year of 2017, it’s going to be that good, I hope.
Thomas: Wow. Well I like to hear it.
Jon: Yeah! You’ve got the environment, it’s going to be sold out, it’s going to be passionate, the split, again, you’ve got a very strong Dominican fan base in Miami, whether it’s 50/50, whether it’s 60/40, we’re going to see I think a phenomenal crowd. That was about the breakdown fan-wise for the U.S./Mexican game in Phoenix, close to 50/50, but the noise was 60/40 for the green and red, a big part of that of course was that Mexico took an early lead, but it was a very loud atmosphere, so that game for the U.S. will feel, depending on how the game is going, could very well feel like road game for the U.S. because of the tremendous fan support there that the Dominican team is going to have.
Thomas: The WBC is going to feature a few new rules this go-round, notably in extras, at the start of the 11th inning, the team at bat shall start the inning with runners on first and second. This is apparently a bid not to overwork the pitchers throughout the tournament, but it also might be a test run for a similar rule change in the majors to help shorten game time. Do you believe we’ll ultimately be seeing this rule change in Major League Baseball and if so, how soon?
Jon: I don’t. I think this has been a common rule in international play going back years. In fact, and I would encourage you to do this, find the video of the final play of the 2015 Pan-Am games gold medal game in Toronto, outside of Toronto in Ajax, Ontario, between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. had a lead, they’d taken the lead in the top of the inning on this very same interesting tiebreaker, and in the bottom of the inning there were two different missed throws, there was an errant pick-off throw to first base, and then an errant throw from right field to third base, and Canada scored two runs, they scored the tying and winning runs on a botched pick-off play that started because of this inning tiebreaker with all these men on base. So we’ve seen it before, it is unique, I don’t think we’re going to see it at all in Major League Baseball anytime soon. I think those general rule changes the commissioner is talking about is really at the minor league level, so I don’t think we’re going to see it in the majors anytime soon.
I do think from the standpoint of this tournament, it’s useful because as you mentioned the pitching concerns and the need to make sure you’re being mindful, especially in early pool play, of not overworking and overtaxing a particular pitching staff. So it does have a utility in this particular tournament, I’m totally fine with it being here, I don’t see it happening in Major League Baseball anytime soon for a variety of reasons, but I do think for this tournament it’s useful for the pitching health end of things. I also think anything that stimulates debate about the tournament is inherently good from that standpoint, so I would welcome the discussion, and I will be watching with my hand covering my eyes as these tiebreakers can sort of be a little hair-raising as they unfold, and I’m sure one of them will, we almost saw one this morning, so I’m sure we’re mere hours or days away from seeing it actually happen for the first time.