WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Venezuela
Team Venezuela hopes this can be the year it finally lives up to the lofty expectations of its star-studded roster as it prepares for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The team has rallied around manager Omar Vizquel, convincing general manager Ozzie Guillen to stick with Venezuela's beloved skipper. Behind a core of established Major Leaguers, Team Venezuela will look to reach the finals of the Classic for the first time in the tournament's history.
Before the Classic's first pitch of WBC '17 is thrown on March 6, MLB.com is breaking down each roster in the 16-nation tournament. Here's a look at how Team Venezuela's roster should stack up:
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
The confirmed roster so far
Felix Hernandez, RHP
Jose Altuve, 2B
Asdrubal Cabrera, IF
Jose Cabrera, 1B
Alcides Escobar, SS
Carlos Gonzalez, OF
Ender Inciarte, OF
Sandy Leon, C
Victor Martinez, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Martin Prado, 3B
Team Venezuela is stacked with big-name talent, and Guillen hopes to recruit more big leaguers. Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, Tigers pitchers Francisco Rodriguez and Bruce Rondon, Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and Brewers infielder Hernan Perez are all said to be interested.
Regardless, Venezuela already has the last six American League batting champions in Altuve and Miguel Cabrera, a former National League batting champ in Gonzalez, a former AL Cy Young winner in Hernandez and a reigning four-time Gold Glove catcher in Perez.
How they fared in the past
Team Venezuela finished in third place in WBC 2009, the nation's best showing to date. That year, Venezuela lost only two games, against Team USA in pool play and against South Korea in the semifinals of the championship round. In the inaugural Classic n 2006, Venezuela advanced to Round 2 after blanking Italy and Australia in pool play but still finished in seventh place. Venezuela was eliminated in pool play in the most recent WBC.
What they should do well
Team Venezuela is blessed with three of the best hitters in baseball, so the offense should be a strength, led by Altuve, Gonzalez and Miguel Cabrera, who is making his fourth Classic appearance. The Tigers slugger has an established track record, as his five home runs are tied for the second most all-time in the tournament. The trio has seven AL and NL batting titles between them.
Where they could struggle
Team Venezuela needs to improve its preparation, according to Vizquel. Despite fielding three teams loaded with big league talent, Team Venezuela has advanced past Round 2 only once. Vizquel will need to make sure his team is focused and ready to play.
"The preparation of players and the scouting reports and all that have to improve," Vizquel said. "The preparation we think is one of the biggest concerns from everybody. ... We're trying to spread the word that you have to prepare better for this tournament, because we've seen the advantage of other teams, that they're ready to play 100 percent and some of our guys are only going 60 percent. So they know about the challenge."
How far they could go
Team Venezuela certainly has the talent to make a deep run in WBC '17. But talent has never been an issue in the past. Vizquel will need to push the right buttons to get his team over the hump. Still, Team Venezuela has a very real shot of making the championship round.