The World Baseball Classic isn’t for everybody, but the just-completed fifth iteration of the tournament was the biggest one yet. We have arrived at a point that fans and participating athletes care more deeply about the outcome than ever before, and the audience size, atmosphere and quality of play reflected that.
Major League Baseball teams are understandably protective of their players. As long as the WBC continues to be held in March—so close to MLB Opening Day—there will be certain situations in which guys are discouraged from representing their countries (increased injury risk, detrimental to regular season preparation, etc.). However, I’m optimistic that teams’ attitudes are evolving. When the WBC returns in 2026, a very high percentage of the planet’s best players should get the bright green light to compete.
There were seven current Marlins involved in the 2023 classic: three for Venezuela (Luis Arraez, Enmanuel De Jesús and Jesús Luzardo), three for the Dominican Republic (Sandy Alcantara, Johnny Cueto and Jean Segura) and one for Puerto Rico (Anthony Maldonado). Realistically, several of them will change teams over the next three years and/or fall below the standard of performance needed to be selected again.
Have no fear: there are plenty of other Fish in the system with the potential and the willingness to debut on this international stage at the next opportunity.
Let’s focus on players without prior WBC experience who could conceivably still be in the Marlins organization come 2026. I’ve ordered them loosely from least to most likely to be good enough to make the cut for their respective countries:
- Bryan De La Cruz (Dominican Republic)—De La Cruz has already produced like a league-average starting outfielder in the majors and he’ll theoretically be in his prime for the next WBC (age 29). His roadblock is the preposterous amount of hitting talent that also hails from the D.R.
- Ian Lewis (Great Britain)—The Bahamian infielder has not played above the Low-A level yet, but health permitting, he’s a solid bet to reach The Show within the next three years, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee. That would be enough to clear the British bar. Lewis publicly expressed a willingness to participate in this past WBC.
- Max Meyer (USA)—Post-Tommy John surgery, Meyer should have two full seasons to “audition” for the hyper-competitive United States roster. Regardless of how the Marlins utilize him, I envision him as a bullpen candidate for the WBC. Meyer previously represented his country as a member of the USA Collegiate National Team.
- Edward Cabrera (Dominican Republic)—To emerge as a WBC-caliber starter, Cabrera must throw more strikes early in the count and put more trust in his fastball. He had flashes of dominance in 2022.
- Eury Pérez (Dominican Republic)—As tantalizing as Pérez’s ceiling is, it is premature to label any pitching prospect as an elite starter until we have some sample of them doing it at the highest level. He’ll have a long runway to establish himself for the 2023-2025 Marlins. For the time being, the highly ranked right-hander is several steps away from earning a spot on the star-studded Dominican team.
- Trevor Rogers (USA)—Rogers will have to rediscover his 2021 form, or more specifically, apply the necessary adjustments to get back to his 2021 level of effectiveness. His candidacy is bolstered by the expectation that most of the starting pitchers from the 2023 USA squad won’t be back.
- Jon Berti (Italy)—It’s fair to worry how much Berti, whose game is partially reliant on speed, will still have left in the tank at age 36. Even anticipating some decline between now and then, he can probably contribute to the Italians as a role player, right?
- Jazz Chisholm Jr. (Great Britain)—A healthy Jazz would absolutely participate. The only questions are what defensive position he’d occupy and whether or not he’d be Great Britain’s captain.