The best player at each position in the Classic

March 7th, 2023

The first World Baseball Classic in six years is around the corner, and with it comes a group of star players from around the globe that may be the best in the history of the tournament.

But among that constellation of stars, which are the best of the best? The choices were made not just based on track record and stats, but also based on the intrigue and excitement of watching these players take the field for their respective countries.

Here’s a look at a pre-tournament All-WBC Team.

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, United States
Honorable mentions: Salvador Perez, Venezuela; Will Smith, United States

Realmuto, who was already widely considered to be the best catcher in MLB entering the 2022 season, had a career year to help the Phillies reach the World Series, hitting .276/.342/.478 with 22 home runs, 21 steals, an MLB-leading 44 percent caught-stealing rate and a career-best 6.5 Baseball Reference WAR. Realmuto will be making his WBC debut for Team USA.

First base: Freddie Freeman, Canada
Honorable mentions: Paul Goldschmidt, United States; Pete Alonso, United States; Vinnie Pasquantino, Italy

Freeman returns for his second WBC with Team Canada after batting .182 in three games in 2017. He’s coming off another great season, his first with the Dodgers, leading MLB with 199 hits and 47 doubles, and leading the National League with a .407 on-base percentage and 117 runs scored. After winning the 2020 NL MVP Award with Atlanta, Freeman finished fourth in '22, his fourth top-five finish during his career.

Second base: Jose Altuve, Venezuela
Honorable mentions: Jeff McNeil, United States; Luis Arraez, Venezuela; Andrés Giménez, Venezuela

Altuve is coming off his finest season since being named American League MVP in 2017. He hit .300/.387/.533 with 28 homers and 18 steals for the World Series champion Astros, and he’ll look to begin 2023 by picking up right where he left off. He hit .259 (7-for-27) in the 2017 WBC for Team Venezuela.

Third base: Manny Machado, Dominican Republic
Honorable mentions: Nolan Arenado, United States; Rafael Devers, Dominican Republic; Munetaka Murakami, Japan

Machado finished runner-up to Paul Goldschmidt in NL MVP voting last year, shifting into a higher gear toward the end of the season -- from Aug. 9 through the end of the regular season, he hit .314/.376/.588 with 13 homers to lead the Padres into the postseason. He then hit .357 with a double and a homer in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers to help lift San Diego to its first NL Championship Series in 24 years. He’s no stranger to the WBC -- in 2017, he hit .269 with two doubles and a homer (not to mention one that was robbed in an iconic play by Adam Jones) for the D.R.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, the Netherlands
Honorable mentions: Francisco Lindor, Puerto Rico; Trea Turner, United States; Wander Franco, Dominican Republic

Before he takes the field for the Padres for the first time after inking an 11-year, $280 million contract with San Diego, Bogaerts will play in his third WBC for the Netherlands after a final season with the Red Sox in which he posted an .833 OPS with 15 homers and 5.8 Baseball Reference WAR, his second highest in any season of his career (6.3 in 2019).

Outfielders: Mike Trout, United States; Mookie Betts, United States; Jung-hoo Lee, Korea
Honorable mentions: Juan Soto, Dominican Republic; Julio Rodríguez, Dominican Republic; Luis Robert, Cuba; Ronald Acuña Jr., Venezuela; Kyle Tucker, United States; Cedric Mullins, United States

The U.S. is really strong in this area. After all, when Trout is your center fielder and Betts is your right fielder … need we say more?

Trout will be taking part in his first WBC, an exciting development given that he has been widely considered the best player in MLB for much of the past decade. He’s unfortunately been unable to play in more than 140 games during a season over the past six years, but he’s been just as productive as ever when he’s been in the lineup. Last season, he posted a .999 OPS with 40 homers in just 119 games for the Angels.

Betts, meanwhile, was tied with Freeman for the NL lead for runs scored, with 117 last season. He posted an .873 OPS with a career-high 35 homers for the Dodgers and won his sixth Gold Glove Award in right field.

Lee may not be the best of the remaining outfielders in the WBC this year, but he’s one of the most intriguing players to watch in this year’s tournament. The 24-year-old outfielder is the reigning MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization after he hit .349/.421/.575 with 23 homers in 142 games for the Kiwoom Heroes.

The Heroes have said they will honor Lee’s request to be posted so he can play in MLB following the 2023 season. The WBC will be an international stage on which Lee can introduce himself to the wider baseball world, and that’s an exciting prospect.

Designated hitter: Kyle Schwarber, United States
Honorable mentions: Joc Pederson, Israel; Eloy Jiménez, Dominican Republic

This spot would have belonged to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but the Blue Jays star had to drop out of the Classic with a right knee injury. Schwarber is hardly a consolation prize. The Phillies slugger -- and unorthodox leadoff man -- led the NL with 46 home runs in 2022 after blasting 32 the previous year for the Nats and Red Sox. Schwarber also led the Majors with 200 strikeouts last season, but his prolific power makes him a potent overall offensive weapon (career .834 OPS) out of the DH spot.

Right-handed starting pitcher: Sandy Alcantara, Dominican Republic
Honorable mentions: Yu Darvish, Japan; Roki Sasaki, Japan; Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Japan

In 2022, Alcantara truly showed the wider baseball world what the Marlins knew all along -- this guy is one of the elite pitchers in baseball. The workhorse right-hander won the NL Cy Young Award thanks to a tremendous campaign in which he posted a 2.28 ERA and led the Majors in innings (228 2/3) and complete games (six). No one has thrown more innings than Alcantara’s 673 2/3 since 2019. He’ll be pitching in the WBC for the first time.

Left-handed starting pitcher: Julio Urías, Mexico
Honorable mentions: Kyle Freeland, United States

Though he doesn’t have the hardware to show it (yet), Urías has been one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball the past three seasons, over which he had a 2.66 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 415 2/3 innings for the Dodgers. He’s a huge reason Los Angeles won the World Series in 2020, and has been able to weather injuries that depleted the starting rotation during that period. The third-place finisher in 2022 NL Cy Young Award voting will be taking the mound for his native Mexico for the first time in the WBC.

Relief pitcher: Edwin Díaz, Puerto Rico
Honorable mentions: Jonathan Loaisiga, Nicaragua; Devin Williams, United States; Ryan Pressly, United States

Díaz is coming off one of the most overpowering seasons a closer has turned in. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 1.31 ERA and struck out an incredible 50.2 percent of the batters he faced. It’s no wonder the Mets signed him to a record-breaking contract for a reliever, $102 million over five years. Díaz pitched for Puerto Rico during the 2017 WBC, appearing in four games (5 1/3 innings), giving up two runs on two hits while walking four and striking out nine. He also picked up two saves.

Two-way player: Shohei Ohtani, Japan

We’d include honorable mentions here, but there’s a problem: Ohtani is a unicorn. He’s simply one of a kind, so much so that we’ve never seen anyone like him. Comparisons fail when you have a guy who, over the past two seasons in the Majors, has basically been the equivalent of Freeman at the plate and Carlos Rodón on the mound. It is going to be beyond exciting to watch Ohtani compete for Japan in this year’s WBC.