Pederson, Kremer headline Team Israel's Classic roster

February 10th, 2023

Team Israel qualified for the World Baseball Classic for the first time in 2016 and headed to South Korea with little fanfare or expectations. A team considered underdogs by many then became the Cinderella Story of the early rounds of the 2017 Classic, sweeping through the first round by beating the host Koreans, as well as Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the opening game of the second round in Tokyo before running out of fairy dust and losing two straight to end its run.

This year’s roster, once again made up almost entirely of American Jews (World Baseball Classic rules state that a player is eligible if he would be granted citizenship or a passport under the laws of the country), is an upgrade in terms of Major League and affiliated Minor League talent. There are nine players who spent at least a little time in the big leagues in 2022, led by two-time All-Star Joc Pederson. Five others have big league resumes, starting with Team Israel veterans Ryan Lavarnway and Ty Kelly, key cogs of the 2017 club, and there are a number of intriguing ranked prospects participating as well.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Team Israel. Within each position, players are listed in alphabetical order, with any affiliation to an MLB organization noted in parentheses.

Catchers: , (Phillies)
Lavarnway has spent parts of 10 years in the big leagues and has been a mainstay behind the plate for Team Israel. The 35-year-old caught for the World Baseball Classic qualifying team in 2016, the club that advanced to the second round in 2017 – he was named the MVP of the opening-round series in Seoul – and the Olympic team. Stubbs served as J.T. Realmuto’s backup in Philadelphia in 2022 after spending parts of three seasons in Houston.

Infielders: Zack Gelof (A’s), , Assaf Lowengart, Noah Mendlinger (Cardinals), Matt Mervis (Cubs), , Michael Wielansky
While this group is short on current big leaguers, both Valencia (nearly 3,000 MLB at-bats) and Kelly (parts of three seasons) have Major League resumes; Kelly also played on the 2017 Classic team, and both were on the Olympic squad. There are also some very solid prospects, with Gelof fifth on MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 second base prospects list and Mervis fourth on the list of Top 10 first basemen.

Outfielders: , Jakob Goldfarb, (Blue Jays), (Giants)
Pederson is obviously the headliner, coming off an All-Star season with the Giants, his ninth in the Majors. Dickerson, currently a free agent, has accrued more than 1,000 big league plate appearances and spent a little time with the Braves in 2022. Horwitz, a solid prospect in the Blue Jays system who can also play first base, has a career Minor League slash line of .290/.390/.453.

Right-handed pitchers: (Rockies), Daniel Federman (Orioles), Brandon Gold, Andrew Gross (Rays), (Orioles), , Bubby Rossman,  (D-backs), (Brewers), Joey Wagman, (Angels), (Guardians)
Back in 2017, Kremer was just starting his pro career and was a young prospect on Israel’s roster. The son of Israeli parents, he’s the first big leaguer in history with Israeli citizenship and the ace of Team Israel’s staff after establishing himself in the Orioles’ rotation. Stock has seen time in the big leagues as a reliever and recently signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers after pitching well as a starter in Korea. Israel’s bullpen will feature a trio of guys with recent big league experience in Bird, Rossman and Weiss. Steinmetz was the D-backs’ third-round pick in 2021, becoming the first Orthodox Jew to be drafted and sign with an MLB organization.

Left-handed pitchers: (Red Sox), (A’s), Colton Gordon (Astros), , Evan Kravetz (Reds)
Gordon hasn’t pitched above High-A yet, but he’s a Top 30 Astros prospect who filled up the strike zone and missed a ton of bats in his first full season of pro ball in 2022. The lefty, taken by Houston out of Central Florida in the eighth round of the 2021 Draft, will be counted on to be a part of Israel’s starting rotation. Bleier has spent parts of seven seasons in big league bullpens and was recently traded to the Red Sox after three effective seasons with the Marlins. Fishman made his big league debut with the Marlins last year. Kaminsky is a former first-round pick of the Cardinals who has touched the big leagues and spent last year in the Mariners’ system. He’s one of four southpaws Israel can call on from the bullpen.