Team Puerto Rico was the definition of relaxed during its workout Monday at Petco Park. The smiles were bright and the jokes were cracking as the team prepped for the second round of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego.After rolling through three competitive teams in Italy, Mexico and Venezuela
Team Puerto Rico was the definition of relaxed during its workout Monday at Petco Park. The smiles were bright and the jokes were cracking as the team prepped for the second round of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego.
After rolling through three competitive teams in Italy, Mexico and Venezuela by a combined score of 29-7 to win Pool D, it's easy to understand why.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
"The confidence is pretty high and we need that," said Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez. "We're facing very tough overall teams now."
Indeed, Puerto Rico has its work cut out if it wants to make up for unfinished business from 2013, when it fell to the Dominican Republic in the Classic final. Fittingly enough, that test begins against that very Dominican club Tuesday night (6 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. local on MLB Network and MLB.TV) in a collision that has been four years in the making. The Dominicans are arguably better than they were back in '13, when they ripped off an 8-0 run to the gold, but Puerto Rico is better as well. Featuring a mix of veterans and young stars that is "just perfect," according to Rodriguez, the gang from "La Isla" has already become exceptionally tight in just a few weeks together.
"When you have Carlos Beltran and Yadi Molina talking about hitting and about their whole approach to the game, and how to be a professional baseball player, to players like Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa -- that's what it's all about," Rodriguez said. "That was one of the reasons that we put together this team."
With the tutelage of potential Hall of Famers in Beltran and Molina, Puerto Rico's talented young infield has taken off in this tournament. The trio of Baez, Correa and Lindor combined for five homers in the opening round, adding extra flair with some colorful bat flips in the process. The one question mark about them was putting Correa at third base, a position he had never played in 544 professional games between the Major and Minor Leagues. But Correa has even made that look easy so far, flashing both his leather and his arm with a handful of dazzling plays.
"We all were very surprised," said Rodriguez of how quickly Correa has taken to the hot corner. "He was very athletic, he was coming in on slow ground balls, and he even dove on a ball down the line to his left. He went all over the place."
Though the opposition will get harder for Puerto Rico from here, an easy case could be made that it was the tournament's most dominant club in the first round. The club put up a .353/.425/.657 slash line at the plate, while its pitching staff recorded a 1.80 ERA and struck out a batter per inning.
That's what makes Tuesday's tilt with the Dominican so intriguing: Two undefeated teams with a full head of steam, and a pair of fan bases that should make Petco Park shake from first pitch to the final out.
"A lot of people flew from Puerto Rico to Mexico and they're going to be out here as well," said Lindor. "I'm looking forward to seeing the flags wave side to side, and playing against the Dominican will be fun."
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.