Team USA’s path to the Tokyo Olympics will continue on home soil.
The U.S. will host the Americas qualifying tournament in Florida in June, the World Baseball Softball Confederation announced Tuesday.
The tournament winner will claim the fifth bid to the six-team Olympic field. The second- and third-place finishers in Florida will have one final chance to qualify for the Olympics, at a June 16-20 qualifier in Taichung, Taiwan.
Four nations have qualified for the Olympics: host Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico, which claimed its berth with a walk-off win over the U.S. at the 2019 WBSC Premier12 in Tokyo.
The U.S. is the top-ranked team in the Americas qualifier and plays in Group A against the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua. Group B features Cuba, Venezuela, Canada, and Colombia.
Team USA is expected to announce its manager and coaching staff in the coming weeks. Former All-Star third baseman Scott Brosius will not return as manager after a fourth-place finish at the Premier12, in which the bronze medal game loss to Mexico denied the U.S. an opportunity to qualify.
While MLB and the MLBPA have not announced player availability agreements for the Olympics and Olympic qualifiers, it’s been common in the past for Minor League players and free agents to be eligible.
It’s unclear at this stage whether the player pool will be restricted to Minor Leaguers who are not on 40-man rosters, or if the Olympics and Olympic qualifiers will be open to 40-man roster players on optional assignments. COVID-19 protocols for players joining and departing from national teams will be maintained within MLB guidance, which could evolve during the year.
Team USA has a number of intriguing roster decisions in the months ahead. As Spring Training winds down, unsigned veteran players could represent the U.S. internationally and pursue professional contracts again after the Olympics.
Different versions of the U.S. roster could compete in Florida, Taichung (if necessary), and at the Olympic tournament, which is scheduled outside Tokyo in Fukushima and Yokohama. The opening round is set to begin July 28, five days after the Opening Ceremonies.
Because the top leagues in Japan and Korea have Olympic breaks in their 2021 schedules, Americans playing abroad can compete in the Summer Games. Adam Jones, the five-time MLB All-Star currently playing for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball, is among the Americans who have expressed interest in playing for the Olympic team.
The Taichung qualifier will include host Chinese Taipei, Australia, the Netherlands and China, in addition to the two Americas representatives.