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Pool D loaded with talent in 2017 WBC

MLB.com

The 2017 World Baseball Classic is set to begin early Monday morning, when Israel will face host Korea at 4:30 a.m. ET. Beginning play a few days later, Pool D -- featuring Italy, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and host Mexico -- will have plenty of intriguing subplots as all four teams are filled with Major League talent.

The venue for this group of games is Estadio Charros in Jalisco, Mexico, and action begins on Thursday night with Italy against Mexico at 9 p.m. ET.

The 2017 World Baseball Classic is set to begin early Monday morning, when Israel will face host Korea at 4:30 a.m. ET. Beginning play a few days later, Pool D -- featuring Italy, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and host Mexico -- will have plenty of intriguing subplots as all four teams are filled with Major League talent.

The venue for this group of games is Estadio Charros in Jalisco, Mexico, and action begins on Thursday night with Italy against Mexico at 9 p.m. ET.

The World Baseball Classic runs from Thursday through March 22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Here's a breakdown of each country and why it will (or will not) advance.

Italy

Video: Piazza, Franco on the growth of baseball in Italy

Previous World Baseball Classic results: Italy was eliminated in the first round of both the 2006 and '09 WBC tournaments, but turned heads with a surprising advancement to Round 2 in '13. The Italians lost to the eventual Classic champion, the Dominican Republic, and runner-up Puerto Rico.

Top players: C Francisco Cervelli (Pirates), 1B Chris Colabello (Indians), C Drew Butera (Royals).

Manager: Marco Mazzieri

Prospects to watch: SS Gavin Cecchini (Mets No. 7 prospect), OF Brandon Nimmo (Mets No. 8 prospect).

Why they could advance: Italy opens the 2017 WBC with the team it upset in the '13 tournament, Mexico. A repeat performance isn't out of the question for a team that played the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico tough in the second round that year. With Cervelli and Colabello in the lineup, plus highly-ranked big league prospects in Cecchini and Nimmo, Italy could be a surprise from a deep Pool D.

Why they might not: The level of play in Pool D, with the potent lineups of Puerto Rico and Venezuela, along with plenty of Major League talent on Mexico's roster, is arguably the best of any pool. To advance past Round 1 from within this group will be a tall order, particularly given the lack of pitching experience on the Italian roster.

Sound smart with your friends: Italy's hitting instructor is Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza is majority owner of the Italian soccer club A.C. Reggiana 1919 of the Lega Pro league.

Mexico

Video: Gonzalez, Romo to lead Mexico in WBC 2017

Previous World Baseball Classic results: Mexico finished at the top of its first-round pool in the inaugural Classic in 2006, going 2-1, but was eliminated in Round 2 with losses to Korea and Japan. In '09, Mexico once again reached the second round, but was defeated by Korea and Cuba. In '13, Mexico was unable to advance past Round 1 after beating the United States, falling to Italy and Canada.

Top players: 1B Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers), RHP Marco Estrada (Blue Jays), LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers), RHP Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays).

Manager: Edgar Gonzalez

Prospects to watch: OF Alex Verdugo (Dodgers No. 3 prospect; No. 61 in MLBPipeline.com's Top 100).

Why they could advance: Mexico's pitching staff is experienced, with Major League hurlers Jaime Garcia (Cardinals), Yovani Gallardo (Mariners), Miguel Gonzalez (White Sox) and Oliver Perez (Nationals) in the starting rotation. Estrada and Urias are slated to join the roster as designated pool pitchers if Mexico advances to Round 2.

The bullpen also features strong relievers, including Sergio Romo (Dodgers) and Joakim Soria (Royals), which could make it tough on opponents should Mexico have a late-inning lead.

Why they might not: Beyond Adrian Gonzalez, Mexico may have a hard time putting runs on the board. Verdugo, 20, hit .273/.336/.407 with 13 home runs in 126 games for Double-A Tulsa last season, and could provide some offense. But with A's slugger Khris Davis bowing out, there isn't much proven pop in the lineup behind Gonzalez.

Sound smart with your friends: Mexico's manager, Edgar Gonzalez, is the older brother of Adrian Gonzalez. Edgar, 38, played for the Padres from 2008-09, and alongside Adrian in the '09 and '13 WBC tournaments for Mexico.

Puerto Rico

Video: Childhood friends Baez, Lindor excited for Classic

Previous World Baseball Classic results: Puerto Rico finished fifth overall in both the 2006 and '09 WBC tournaments, unable to reach the semifinals. But in '13, Puerto Rico reached the final, losing to the Dominican Republic.

Top players: OF Carlos Beltran (Astros), SS Carlos Correa (Astros), SS Francisco Lindor (Indians), C Yadier Molina (Cardinals), INF Javier Baez (Cubs).

Manager: Edwin Rodriguez

Prospects to watch: Jose De Leon (Rays No. 3 prospect, No. 33 overall), Joe Jimenez (Tigers No. 5 prospect), Jorge Lopez (Brewers No. 13 prospect), Rayan Gonzalez (Rockies No. 22 prospect), T.J. Rivera (Mets No. 30 prospect).

Why they could advance: Puerto Rico's lineup is stacked with premier Major League talent, from veteran stars like Beltran and Molina, to exciting young players like Correa, Lindor and Baez. With that type of offensive firepower, Puerto Rico is expected to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the tournament.

Puerto Rico should also be sound defensively, particularly on the infield with the World Series tandem of Lindor and Baez up the middle.

Why they might not: Behind Twins left-hander Hector Santiago, Puerto Rico will be relying heavily on talented young pitchers who have relatively little professional experience. While Jose Berrios, Edwin Diaz and other hurlers could perform well on the international stage, they could also struggle, which would spell trouble for Puerto Rico.

Sound smart with your friends: Beltran and Molina have each participated in all three World Baseball Classic tournaments for Puerto Rico. Beltran has a .274 batting average with six doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs in 21 Classic games. Molina is batting .289 in 14 contests.

Venezuela

Previous World Baseball Classic results: Venezuela was eliminated in the second round of the 2006 WBC, but reached the semifinals in '09 before losing to Korea. In '13, Venezuela was unable to advance past Round 1, going 1-2.

Top players: 1B Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), 2B Jose Altuve (Astros), OF Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), RHP Felix Hernandez (Mariners).

Manager: Omar Vizquel

Why they could advance: Venezuela's lineup is power-packed with the likes of Altuve, Gonzalez, Cabrera and Victor Martinez anchoring the middle. The entire batting order will feature Major League talent.

Why they might not: Though led by former American League Cy Young Award winner Hernandez, and boasting several Major League arms, how well Venezuela's pitching staff will fare is a question mark.

Sound smart with your friends: Venezuela's manager, Vizquel, represented the country in the 2006 WBC, hitting .300 (6-for-20) with two doubles. On the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot for the first time next year, Vizquel was an 11-time Gold Glove winner as a shortstop, and a three-time All-Star in 24 Major League seasons.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Italy