Previewing the 2023 European Baseball Championship

September 21st, 2023

Europe's baseballing nations made a statement at the World Baseball Classic this spring. Often overlooked, the success of Italy -- which reached the quarterfinals at the expense of the Netherlands -- along with victories by Great Britain and the Czech Republic that confirmed their place in the 2026 tournament, helped prove that there is plenty of baseball talent and passion on continent.

These nations will now battle for gold at the 2023 European Baseball Championship that begins this Sunday in the Czech Republic.

It's a perfect time for the nation to host: Following its WBC performance, fans have turned out in droves and baseball excitement is at an all-time high for the small central European nation. Ticket sales have risen, Japanese fans continue to travel to the country to watch their second favorite team (after Samurai Japan, of course), and there is even a baseball bridge program to help share resources between the Czech baseball association and the Chiba Lotte Marines of the NPB.

The next step: Winning a medal at the Euros for the very first time.

It will be tough work, though: Italy and the Netherlands -- which have won the last four tournaments -- have taken every European Championship since 1967, when Belgium took gold. Can the Czech Republic break this hegemony? Will the Netherlands push it to five straight? Could Germany, Great Britain or even Switzerland -- playing in its first Euros -- surprise the world?

Before the action begins, let's give a quick breakdown of the event and a preview of all 16 teams.

What is the European Baseball Championship?

Held every two years, the tournament pits the top 16 European nations against each other for the title of the continent's best. As it's a World Baseball Softball Confederation event, the nations will also earn points that go into their ranking -- which could be make or break for next year's Premier12, which features the 12 best nations.

How does it work?

There are four groups of four teams and, similar to soccer's World Cup, the tournament begins with round-robin play. The top two teams from each group will then qualify for the quarterfinals, when the tournament becomes a single-elimination bracket.

The top three teams will win a medal and the bottom two teams will need to win a qualifier to make the 2025 event.

How can you watch?

For those in the Czech Republic, you'll be able to catch group games in Prague, Brno, Třebíč, Blansko and Ostrava -- each stadium a usual host for an Extraliga team. Once the group stage ends, teams will head to Brno and Blansko. You can see the full schedule here. And if you want to see each of the stadiums from every conceivable angle -- including from the air -- be sure to click here.

Fans will be able to stream the tournament here. It will cost €24.95 (that's 24.95 Euros, roughly $26.50 in U.S. dollars) for access to every game, while individual games can be purchased for €7.95 each ($8.45).

GROUP A - Ostrava

WBSC ranking: 26
2021 Euro Championships finish: 11th

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Austria -- especially given a difficult group with both Spain and Czechia having World Baseball Classic experience and former Major Leaguers on their rosters. The team went 1-2 in group play in 2021 and will likely need to pull off an upset to move further.

On offense, they have 2021 Euros standout Philip Eckel (.273/.429/.727, 2 HR) and Samuel Hackl, who dominated in the Austrian Baseball Bundesliga, finishing second in average (.412) and HRs (6) and first in RBIs (39).

Ace Christian Tomsich, a former Winthrop University athlete who led the Austrian staff with 14 1/3 IP in the 2001 Euros (3.14 ERA, 12 K) returns after playing for the Bonn Capitals in the German Bundesliga.

Rank: 15
2021 finish: 5th

Could this be the year of Czech baseball? After qualifying for the country’s first ever World Baseball Classic, this team of amateur ballplayers became worldwide celebrities after beating China with a ninth-inning home run from first baseman Martin Mužík and a solid showing against Japan in which electrician named Ondřej Satoria struck out Shohei Ohtani on a 79 mph fastball. Now, after an Extraliga season that saw more fans come out than ever before -- groups of Japanese fans even flew out for the games! -- the country hosts the Euros looking to medal for the very first time.

Much of the World Baseball Classic roster returns, including ex-big leaguer Eric Sogard, former MLB prospect Martin Červenka (who flirted with a .500 season in the Extraliga this year) and firefighter/star pitcher Martin Schneider.

It will also be interesting to see if manager Pavel Chadim gives pitcher Marek Minařík a chance at the plate. The star pitcher finished second in the Extraliga in home runs -- behind his Tempo Praha teammate Červenka -- this summer.

Rank: 41
2021 finish: 14th

Greece is looking to finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2012 when it came in 7th -- something that will be difficult given the group the Hellas have found themselves in. One highlight is that 57-year-old former Cubs and Cardinals catcher Erik Pappas has been listed as both a first-base coach and as a C/1B. He's joined by infielder Ari Sechopoulos, who was 10-for-26 with three doubles in the 2021 Euros and Dimitri Kourtis, who struck out 17 batters and posted a 0.82 ERA at the last tournament.

Rank: 21
2021 finish: 4th

Quite simply, Spain will be looking for revenge. Knocked out by the Czech Republic at last year's World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, Spain brings a roster loaded with big league talent to the tournament as it tries to win gold for the first time since 1955. Former big leaguers Engel Beltré and Rhiner Cruz lead the lineup while 18-year-old Dodgers farmhand Peter Bonilla joins the squad. Veteran third baseman Jesus Ustariz is also on the team after hitting .538 with three home runs at the European Confederations Cup (essentially the Europa League of European baseball) this summer to lead the Tenerife Marlins to gold.

GROUP B - Třebíč

Great Britain
Rank: 20
2021 finish: 6th

Fresh off a successful WBC campaign that guaranteed Team GB a spot in the 2026 tournament, manager Drew Spencer's next goal is growing the program until they can make the Premier12. The first step is the Euros.

Mariners top prospect Harry Ford returns to the team after a dominant World Baseball Classic and solid 2023 campaign (.840 OPS, 15 HR in High-A). He's joined by Alex Crosby, who hit the game-winning sacrifice fly to send GB to the World Baseball Classic; Nick Ward, who reached Double-A with the Phillies this year; and former big league pitcher Jake Esch.

Rank: 40
2021 finish: N/A

It will be an uphill battle for Hungary, which qualified for its first ever European Championship tournament by defeating Slovakia, 8-1, in Belgrade last year. Pitcher Sean Tamás Fekete struck out 14 batters in the final and catcher Carlos Rubio tied for the tournament lead with three home runs.

The team is managed by Szabolcs Piros, who helped found the Budapest Reds in 2015, watching as the program went from just youth teams to having multiple senior squads. It's a trajectory he'll be hoping the national team can follow.

Rank: 12
2021 finish: 3rd

Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza returns to manage Italy coming off a best-ever quarterfinals finish in the World Baseball Classic. While the team will miss Major Leaguers Vinnie Pasquantino and Nicky Lopez, this roster still has plenty of talent as it looks to recapture gold for the first time since 2012. There's some added pressure, though: Ranked 12th, the Italians currently on the bubble of next year's Premier12 tournament and will need a good showing to keep from sliding down the WBSC rankings.

Catcher Alberto Mineo, who reached Triple-A with the Blue Jays in 2018, returns to lead the lineup after hitting .351 for Parmaclima this year (his 2019 home run knocked Germany out of the tournament), while pitchers Claudio Scotti (6 IP, 1 H, 10 K's in '21 Euros) and Matteo Bocchi (1.53 ERA in Serie A) front the rotation.

The real question: Will we see a return of the dugout espresso machine?

Rank: 33
2021 finish: 12th

Though Sweden medaled as recently as 1993, it will be considered an upset if it gets past either Italy or Great Britain to reach the quarterfinals. Manager Rickard Reimer, who was a member of that 1993 team, returns to skipper the team with Per Sjörs (.929 OPS in '21 Euros) and outfielder Joel Johnson (.893) holding down the lineup.

The pitching rotation has some youth on its side: 18-year-olds Max Church and Rinus Litzen, who earned wins against Switzerland and Lithuania at the U-18s Championships earlier this year, join the team.

GROUP C - Brno

Rank: 30
2021 finish: 7th

Croatia had its best finish ever in 2021, coming in seventh after upsetting Germany in the group stage to qualify for the quarterfinals. As pointed out by WBSC Europe, you can thank Jose Diaz for that: He pitched eight shutout innings and picked up 10 strikeouts in the 8-2 victory.

The three best hitters from that tournament are also back on the roster, with Antonio Horvatic (1.055 OPS in '21), Phil Smith (.940) and Jose Herrera (.951) all returning. It will likely come down to France or Croatia for the second spot in the quarterfinals, so that matchup could be one of the most important early contests.

Rank: 22
2021 finish: 15th

Though France had to requalify for this tournament after coming in 15th two years ago -- defeating Bulgaria, 8-1, in the qualifier final -- this could be France's time to shine. Though the French don't have Mathias LaCombe, the second-ever French-born player taken in the MLB Draft for the tournament, they do have 16-year-old phenom Ben Couvreur. Couvreur was recently named MVP of the French Series after winning the title with the Montpellier Barracudas and there are rumors that he will sign for a six-figure sum in the future.

Ernesto Martinez will lead the way in the lineup after hitting .261 with 12 home runs and 16 stolen bases for the Brewers' Double-A affiliate this summer. Mael Zan, who hit three home runs in the qualifiers, is also on the roster.

Rank: 7
2021 finish: 1st

Following a disappointing World Baseball Classic, in which the Netherlands lost to Italy and failed to get out of the group stage, it's win or go home for the Netherlands, which has won the last four titles. Fortunately for the Dutch, the roster is stacked, making them the odds-on favorite to emerge victorious and pick up their 25th gold medal.

Former Major Leaguers Didi Gregorius and Roger "The Shark" Bernadina will hold down the lineup. They're joined by Sharlon Schoop, brother of MLB's Jonathan, who was 11-for-22 with 10 RBIs at the '21 tournament, and Ray-Patrick Didder who had 10 hits, two home runs and eight RBIs.

The ageless Shairon Martis just keeps on pitching (115 2/3 IP, 2.02 ERA in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse this year) and should front the rotation once again.

Rank: 35
2021 finish: 13th

One of the great stories of the tournament, don't be surprised if you see a lot of yellow-and-blue flags at the games this year. Most of the team returns from the 2021 roster, though their preparations for this year's tournament have been affected by the war going on at home. Star shortstop and pitcher Kostiantyn Chukhas is back -- he led the team in hits in '21 and pitched a complete game in the victory against Greece -- as is power-hitting third baseman Denys Brechko.

Be sure to also keep an eye on Vyacheslav Babii, who is returning after undergoing cancer treatments in 2021, as well as pitcher Serhii Shtapura, who is a serviceman in Ukraine's National Guard.

GROUP D - Prague

Rank: 25
2021 finish: 8th

There is plenty of veteran talent on this Belgium team -- one of only four teams to ever win gold. (Granted, Belgium's came back in 1967.) Forty-five-year-old pitcher Elvis Polanco, who was in the affiliated Minors from 1996-2002, and 40-year-old outfielder/DH Steven de Lannoy join the team this time around.

Shortstop, pitcher -- and national softball team player -- Drew Janssen returns to the team and 17-year-old Mostaert Nando gets the callup after impressing for the Deurne Spartans at the Federation Cup this summer.

Rank: 17
2021 finish: 9th

It's a new day for the Germans as they have a new skipper in Jendrick Speer and veteran catcher Simon Guhring has retired from the national team. They'll hope the new squad can bounce back after a disappointing performance at the 2021 Euros and 2023 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers. Veteran Minor Leaguer Markus Solbach joins the team and current Brewers Minor League catcher Yannic Walther makes his Euros debut at the age of 19.

Submariner Samuel Steigert joins the pitching staff after having a solid season for the Prague Eagles this summer, and pitcher/infielder Eric Brenk makes the roster after hitting .407/.500/.531 for the Bonn Capitals.

Rank: 19
2021 finish: 2nd

Coming off a silver medal-winning performance, Israel will be looking to take the gold this time. Though not the favorites, it's easy to see its roster stacked with former MLB players and imagine them pulling it off. Former Major Leaguers Ty Kelly, Josh Zeid and Ryan Lavarnway highlight the roster, while the legendary 44-year-old Shlomo Lipetz is back to lead the rotation.

It's not all veterans, though: Eighteen-year-old Aviv Bobrov joins the squad after impressing at last year's U-18 Championship (0.64 ERA on the mound, .841 OPS at the plate).

Rank: 52
2021 finish: N/A

Though this is Switzerland's first time reaching the Euros, it's certainly a program that is on the upswing. Switzerland qualified by defeating Lithuania, 3-1, behind solid pitching from Jonah Schaller, who struck out 11 in seven innings. They then hung tough against Italy and defeated Croatia in exhibition games last week.

They'll rely on Marlins farmhand Noah Williamson and power-hitting infielder Josh Crouse at the plate, though they'll miss left-handed pitcher Dominic Scheffler -- the first Swiss-developed player to sign with a Major League club when he joined the Reds in January -- due to injury.

The Swiss team also has one other weapon that no other team in the tournament has: Grandchildren of legendary psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Hayden and Maxfield Jung-Goldberg can lay claim to that one.