The 2013 World Baseball Classic kicks off Friday, March 1, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be well represented. The Bucs will have players on five of the 16 teams in the tournament, which is down, following the withdrawals of catcher Russell Martin (Canada) and infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. (Puerto Rico).
Martin, who signed a two-year, $17 million deal during the offseason, declined the option to play in the WBC this year because the Pirates and Team Canada didn’t feel comfortable with his desire to play shortstop.
De Jesus Jr, who was acquired in the deal that sent closer Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox, opted not to participate after deciding to dedicate his attention towards earning a major league job.
From the very outset of the competition, the Pirates will have players in the mix, as there will be members of the Opening Day roster, prospects and minor leaguers a part of the action.
Wandy Rodriguez, SP—Domincan Republic
The No. 2 starter in the Pirates rotation will be featured prominently alongside Edinson Volquez and relief pitchers Jose Valverde, Fernando Rodney, Octavio Dotel and Jose Veras—the latter two being former Bucs.
Rodriguez heads into his first full season with the organization, looking to improve upon an up-and-down campaign in 2012 that saw the Dominican go 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA while with the Bucs.
The Domincan Republic starts off Pool C play with tough matchup against Venezuela, Thursday, March 7. Rodriguez and Co. will then face Spain on Saturday, March 9 and Puerto Rico on Sunday, March 10.
Jason Grilli, RP—Italy
Jason Grilli now has more responsibilities as the team’s new closer, but it’s a role that he’s coveted. Grilli will not only be the rock of the Pirates bullpen, but he will solidify Italy’s pitching staff. Italy has some talent, with young stars like Anthony Rizzo and Alex Liddi, so Grilli could be put in high-pressure situations early in the year if given the lead.
Grilli has five career saves so the Pirates are relying on the veteran’s dramatic development over the past three seasons. The dual American-Italian citizen has only 11 career save opportunities, six of which have come in the past two years.
Italy starts off Pool D play Thursday, March 7 against Mexico. The European Champions then face off against Canada on Friday, March 8 and the United States on Saturday, March 9.
Ali Solis, C—Mexico
Recently acquired off waivers from the San Diego Padres in October, Solis spent the majority of seven years in the Padres’ minor league system. In 2012, he finally was called up to the majors and was 0-for-4 in five games.
The Mexican roster has a good amount of familiar names to those who follow the game, as the roster contains 16 players from MLB. Solis will have the opportunity to work with a pitching staff made up of Yovani Gallardo, Francisco Rodriguez, Sergio Romo, Marco Estrada, Fernando Salas and yes, Oliver Perez.
After taking on Italy on March 7, Mexico will square off against the U.S. on Friday, March 8 and Canada on Saturday, March 9.
Stefan Welch, 3B—Australia
Welch, formerly of the New York Mets system, spent part of 2012 with Double-A Altoona, where he hit .266 with five home runs and 27 RBI in 67 games. Early projections are that he will start the year with Altoona this season, due to the depth at the third base at that level.
The Australian roster is scattered with MLB players, such as RP Ryan Rowland-Smith, but as a whole, the squad lacks star power.
Australia starts Pool B play in the first game of the tournament Saturday, March 2 (Friday, March 1 at 11:30 p.m. ET) against Chinese Taipei. The following games are Monday, March 4 (6:30 p.m. local, 5:30 a.m. ET) against Korea and Tuesday, March 5 (Monday, March 4 at 11:30 p.m. ET) against the Netherlands.
Jameson Taillon, SP
The Pirates No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft will participate for Canada in this year’s WBC. Jameson Taillon, who was given the recognition of having the “Best Curveball” in the Pirates organization by Baseball America in 2012, will compete alongside major leaguers John Axford, Jesse Crain, Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Brett Lawrie, among others.
Taillon started three games in Double-A Altoona in 2012, where he went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 18 Ks. Taillon is likely still some time away from competing for a spot in the rotation, especially with fellow stud-prospect Gerrit Cole yet to officially emerge as competitor.
Chris Leroux, SP/RP
Last season, Chris Leroux suffered from an injury that kept him out for the bulk of the season. Now, Leroux is starting to get his health back and could potentially spot start when he’s not helping out in various bullpen roles.
The innings he picks up throughout the WBC will be beneficial in determining how comfortable he is at this point with his arsenal of pitches in an actual competitive environment.
Canada faces off against Italy on March 8, Mexico on March 9 and the U.S. on March 10.