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As Classic begins, 5 bold predictions

MLB.com @jonmorosi

Imagine if an international baseball soothsayer offered the following forecasts in advance of the 2013 World Baseball Classic ...

Four years after a stunning first-round exit, the Dominican Republic won't lose a game.

Imagine if an international baseball soothsayer offered the following forecasts in advance of the 2013 World Baseball Classic ...

Four years after a stunning first-round exit, the Dominican Republic won't lose a game.

Puerto Rico will defeat two-time champion Japan to reach the final.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

The Netherlands will advance to the semifinals by rallying from a two-run eighth-inning deficit against the storied Cuban national team.

Italy will upset Mexico in one of the most dramatic World Baseball Classic games ever and nearly defeat the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in the second round.

Venezuela and South Korea will be knocked out during pool play.

Each of those predictions would have been considered bold. All of them happened.

With this year's edition of the World Baseball Classic set to begin Monday (Israel vs. Korea, 4:30 a.m. ET on MLB Network), here are five fresh prognostications that (we hope) will be similarly prescient.

5. In the absence of Shohei Ohtani, hard-throwing Shintaro Fujinami becomes the talk of Team Japan -- and MLB scouts.
It's something of a quadrennial tradition: At each Classic, talent evaluators swoon over a new Japanese pitcher -- and for good reason, based on the stateside achievements of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Koji Uehara, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda.

Ohtani was supposed to be this year's phenom, but he's out with an ankle injury. So the MLB radar guns will be trained on Fujinami, a 22-year-old right-hander. According to the Japan Times, Fujinami's average fastball velocity of 92.9 mph was the second hardest (after Ohtani) in Nippon Professional Baseball last year. Fellow Japanese starters Tomoyuki Sugano and Takahiro Norimoto also could thrust themselves into MLB consideration with strong WBC 2017 performances.

Complete World Baseball Classic coverage

4. Israel upsets host South Korea in the WBC 2017 opener and advances to the second round.
It would be entirely within the World Baseball Classic's character for the tournament to begin with an upset. And so it shall be Monday at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea. Israel will have World Series veteran Jason Marquis on the mound, backed by a 14-member bullpen and a manager -- Jerry Weinstein -- intimately familiar with the urgency of tournament baseball. Team Israel also will benefit from the camaraderie and continuity of having played together in a victorious September qualifier in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the host country has been unable to score runs consistently during pre-tournament exhibitions, with outfielder Hyoung-woo Choi among the struggling hitters.

Video: DET@NYM: Kelly on heading to join Team Israel

3. Miguel Cabrera leads Venezuela into the second round -- at least -- after a disappointing showing in the 2013 Classic.
Cabrera has earned plenty of individual accolades in his Hall of Fame-bound career -- 11 All-Star selections, two MVP Awards, one Triple Crown -- but hasn't won a major team championship since the 2003 World Series. Cabrera is about to turn 34, and he cares deeply about his legacy in the sport. He arranged pre-Spring Training workouts with Venezuelan teammates, including Jose Altuve and Carlos Gonzalez. Although Venezuela is playing in the toughest first-round pool, a focused Cabrera is capable of carrying the team for two weeks -- similar to Robinson Cano with the Dominican Republic four years ago. Venezuela also has an improved speed-and-defense component, compared to 2013, with the additions of Ender Inciarte and Odubel Herrera.

2. With star pitchers Jose Quintana and Julio Teheran, Team Colombia sends Pool C into chaos.
Colombia has two aces. Pool play could be as brief as three games. So probability would suggest the Colombians can win a game in their inaugural World Baseball Classic. Maybe even two. Even with a 65-pitch limit in the first round, Quintana could keep Team USA quiet through five innings of the opener, tripping all matter of upset alarms. And manager Luis Urueta has Tayron Guerrero's 100-mph fastball waiting in the bullpen. Is it likely Colombia will beat Team USA? No. But it's far more plausible than many observers believe.

Video: Arenado to realize dream of representing Team USA

1. Ascendant superstar Nolan Arenado leads Team USA to its first WBC title.
If Team USA plays like it can -- and should -- Arenado's anonymity is about to end. He's the first third baseman to win back-to-back home run titles since Mike Schmidt in 1980-81. Arenado is one of the best defensive players in the Major Leagues at any position. And yet he's overlooked by many fans because of the Rockies' seven-year postseason absence and Mountain Time Zone existence. The World Baseball Classic can change that. Team USA's concern is middle relief, where it lacks multi-inning arms -- think David Phelps or Mike Montgomery -- capable of stabilizing a game if the starter scuffles. But as long as the U.S. rotation is steady, the Americans have more than enough offensive firepower to win long overdue gold.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.

United States, Venezuela, Colombia, Israel, Korea