2023 World Baseball Classic: Stacked United States roster eager for opportunity

Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan

www.sportingnews.com

Qualifying for the 2023 World Baseball Classic starts this week, with 12 teams competing for four spots in two double-elimination tournaments, one in Germany and one in Panama.

All the teams from the 2017 WBC automatically qualified for this tournament — originally set for 2021, but pushed back because of the COVID pandemic and the MLB lockout — so the United States team won’t have to worry about that round, but that didn’t stop a flood of elite ballplayers born in the U.S. from rushing to join the 2023 squad.  

MORE: Ken Griffey Jr. added as hitting coach for Team USA

Mike Trout joined as captain of the club in July. Two-time MVP Bryce Harper’s in, and so is MVP Mookie Betts. How’s that for an outfield? Sheesh. Oh, and likely 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt signed on, as did his Cardinals’ teammate Nolan Arenado. 

It’s safe to say these superstars didn’t have to be bribed to be part of the team. Quite the opposite.

“I just remember when I played in ’17, I didn’t play as good as I wanted to,” Arenado told The Sporting News, “but I knew when I was done, I said I wanted to be a good player until 2021 … so they’d ask me again. It’s actually motivated me to continue to perform because I wanted to make that team. To make it again is an unbelievable feeling.”

Think about that for a minute. 

Arenado, coming out of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, was just about to turn 26 years old. He was already a four-time Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, and he was coming off back-to-back seasons of 40-plus homers and 130-plus RBIs. He’d finished fifth in the NL MVP vote in 2016. 

And he was just hoping — fingers crossed — that he’d still be good enough four years down the road that they would let him play in the WBC again. 

Again, let that sink in. It speaks volumes, but two things really stand out: How much Arenado and the other players enjoyed the WBC, and how good the talent pool is. 

Turns out, Arenado was still good enough to “make” the USA squad. And he’s good enough that he’s likely to finish in the top eight of the NL MVP race for sixth time, and for the first time with the Cardinals. So, yeah, he was an easy “yes, please” reply.

So was Goldschmidt, his teammate on the 2017 WBC team — Arenado was on the Rockies, Goldschmidt on the Diamondbacks — and now his teammate in St. Louis. 

“I loved the experience last time. It was one of the best, if not the best, baseball experiences I’ve ever had. I basically just let them know that I’d love to play again if I got the opportunity,” Goldschmidt told TSN. “Made lifelong friends, had a great baseball experience and everything that goes along with it. I didn’t know if I’d get an opportunity again, and if I did I wanted to do it. It was great for me, my family loved it.” 

Goldschmidt was extended the opportunity, to absolutely nobody’s surprise.

And he’s not alone. Check this out. 

2023 World Baseball Classic United States roster

C J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
C Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
1B Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
1B Pete Alonso, New York Mets
2B Trevor Story, Boston Red Sox
3B Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
SS Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angles
OF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
OF Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
OF Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
OF Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

The pitching staff additions will happen down the road.

The United States won the 2017 WBC, the first title for the country. Japan won the first two WBCs (2006 & 2009) and the Dominican Republic took home the trophy in 2013. The U.S. team lost twice last time, once in the opening round to the D.R., and once in the second round to Puerto Rico, but advanced as the second team in the pool both times. The U.S. beat Japan 2-1 in the semifinal and beat Puerto Rico 8-0 in the championship game behind a gem from starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who is playing for Puerto Rico in 2023. 

The 2023 WBC kicks off with pool play on March 8, at four sites: Taichung, Tokyo, Phoenix and Miami. Here’s the schedule, from MLB.com.

2023 World Baseball Classic qualifying schedule

Pool A (March 8-13)

Host: Taichung, Taiwan (Intercontinental Baseball Stadium)
Chinese Taipei
Cuba
Italy
The Kingdom of the Netherlands
TBD (winner of 2022 WBC Qualifier)

Pool B (March 9-13)

Host: Tokyo (Tokyo Dome)
Japan
Korea
China
Australia
TBD (winner of 2022 WBC Qualifier)

Pool C (March 11-15)

Host: Phoenix (Chase Field)
United States
Canada
Mexico
Colombia
TBD (winner of 2022 WBC Qualifier)

Pool D (March 11-15)

Host: Miami (loanDepot park)
Puerto Rico
Venezuela
Israel
Dominican Republic
TBD (winner of 2022 WBC Qualifier)

The quarterfinal rounds will be played in Tokyo (March 15-16) and Miami (March 17-18), with the semifinals (March 19) and finals (March 21) in Miami.

“Representing your country is one of the greatest things I got to do in 2017,” said Arenado, who was 2-for-5 in the final, “and playing against the Dominican and Puerto Rico and those other countries who are also super-passionate about where they’re from is pretty special.”

So which was better the first time around, the camaraderie or the competition? 

“I think they were equal. You get to play with the best players in the world, to learn from them, to take BP, ground balls, hang out and travel, all that fun stuff,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s something I really enjoyed, getting to know those guys. And, of course, the competition of playing against the best players in the world, in high-stakes games, it was a lot of fun.”

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