Experts predict World Baseball Classic champ, MVP

March 7th, 2023

The 2023 World Baseball Classic gets underway on Tuesday night, with a field of 20 international teams set to battle it out over the course of the next two weeks.

When all is said and done, which squad will be celebrating on the field at Miami’s loanDepot Park on March 21? And which player will cement his legacy by earning the tournament’s MVP Award?

Only time will tell, but for now, enlisted a group of experts to make their predictions about what this Classic will have in store.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Italy
Semifinal 2: USA over Japan
Championship: USA over Dominican Republic
MVP: Trea Turner (USA)

Good pitching is not going to beat good hitting in this World Baseball Classic. Japan and the Dominican Republic have the best pitching staffs -- and Roki Sasaki in particular is the player I'm most excited to watch in this entire tournament -- but the USA lineup is going to outslug both of them. And Trea Turner is going to be the catalyst of the whole thing … that's why he's my MVP. A U.S.-D.R. championship could feature two of the best top-to-bottom lineups ever, and even though the Dominican team has a deeper staff, in one winner-take-all game, Mike Trout & Co. will find a way to get to them and repeat as WBC champs. Bold prediction: Italy will be this year's Israel and make a surprise run before they go out against the big boys in the semifinals. They're better than you think, with a lot of big league talent on that roster.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Korea
Semifinal 2: Venezuela over Japan
Championship: Venezuela over Dominican Republic
MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr. (Venezuela)

While Japan, the United States and the Dominican Republic are drawing a lot of attention, Venezuela might be the best team nobody is talking about, especially after Ronald Acuña Jr. joined the roster. Now 100% healthy after returning from his 2021 ACL tear last season, Acuña is out to re-establish himself as a perennial MVP candidate and could start by taking home the hardware in this year’s Classic. Acuña leads a loaded lineup that could also feature Jose Altuve, Salvador Perez, Gleyber Torres, Luis Arraez and World Baseball Classic veteran Miguel Cabrera, who is entering the final season of his illustrious career. The Venezuelans are also deep on the pitching side -- Pablo López, Martín Pérez, Jesús Luzardo, Eduardo Rodriguez and Luis Garcia all have extensive starting experience, and Phillies teammates Ranger Suárez and José Alvarado showed their mettle in the 2022 postseason. It won’t be an easy road for the Venezuelan team, which shares a pool with the D.R. and Puerto Rico and may have to play the U.S. as early as the quarterfinals, but this squad has the talent to win it all.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Cuba
Semifinal 2: Japan over USA
Championship: Dominican Republic over Japan
MVP: Jeremy Peña (Dominican Republic)

Peña already has an ALCS and World Series MVP, and you can expect his postseason accomplishments to continue to multiply. This tournament is going to be so much fun to watch, and I am genuinely excited to see each of these teams. I could see Puerto Rico, Venezuela or Mexico making my picks on the Pools C and D side wrong, and on the other side, I could see Korea or the Netherlands doing so – or any team, really. I expect this Dominican Republic team to dominate, and there were so many options for a potential MVP, which speaks to that depth. This is going to be the best WBC ever, and it feels like we have at least three super teams on our hands with the Dominican Republic, USA and Samurai Japan. Here we go.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Netherlands
Semifinal 2: USA over Japan
Championship: Dominican Republic over USA
MVP: Julio Rodríguez (Dominican Republic)

Many teams in this year’s tournament have a glaring weakness. Maybe it’s not having enough pitching, maybe it’s poor defense, perhaps it’s just not having enough professional hitters. Team D.R. has none of those problems. They have a reigning Cy Young winner leading their staff, they have an infield and outfield fit for an All-Star team, they have a bullpen full of World Series-winning arms. Even their GM, at 42 years old, still strikes fear in a pitcher’s mind when he steps into the batter’s box.

Netherlands is my pick to make some noise this year. They have a talented infield, great coaching and a good mix of veterans who have performed well in past Classics. I’m just not sure they have enough starting pitching to get them past the powerful Dominican lineup. Team USA’s offense matches up pretty well with D.R., but like the Dutch, the depth of their pitching might be an issue. Juan Soto said Team Dominican Republic is a Dream Team and, well, Dream Teams normally don’t lose.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Cuba
Semifinal 2: Japan over Venezuela
Championship: Japan over Dominican Republic
MVP: Shohei Ohtani (Japan)

Even without Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Dominican Republic looks like a powerhouse. Have you seen that lineup? And did I mention that they also have the reigning National League Cy Young winner in Sandy Alcantara? I can easily see them winning their second title in the event's history. But then you also have the reigning champions, the United States, with arguably a better team than they had in 2017. Venezuela looks like a solid team. Mexico could be the darkhorse of the Classic, and Puerto Rico is due after failing to win the last two finals. But what do they all have in common? They play on the same side of the bracket. That's the main reason why I am leaning towards Japan. They have the talent and the experience in international events, and they have Shohei Ohtani, who hasn't missed the opportunity to start sending balls to the moon in preparation for the event. Japan will win its third title in the World Baseball Classic by defeating the Dominican Republic in a spectacular game.


Semifinal 1: Dominican Republic over Korea
Semifinal 2: Japan over USA
Championship: Japan over Dominican Republic
MVP: Roki Sasaki (Japan)

There are, in my opinion, three top-tier teams in this tournament. But since America’s starting pitching lags far behind that of Japan and the Dominican Republic, it’s pretty easy for me to get to a final pairing, and who wouldn’t want to see “very clearly the best starting pitching” (Japan) against “maybe the best lineup of all time” (Dominican)? I’m going with Japan simply because I think there’s so much high-level non-MLB talent there that American fans don’t know. So sure, focus on Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani and Lars Nootbaar. But I’m most excited to see Munetaka Murakami (56 homers last year), Yoshinobu Yamamoto (back-to-back winner of Japan’s highest pitching award), and mostly, Sasaki, just 21 years old, who threw a 19-strikeout perfect game last year. It’s good enough to take the championship here.


Semifinal 1: Japan over Venezuela
Semifinal 2: Dominican Republic over Korea
Championship: Japan over Dominican Republic
MVP: Munetaka Murakami (Japan)

Shohei Ohtani warned us when he said that he wasn’t even the best player on Samurai Japan. While maybe you don’t believe him (we definitely don’t), that should tell you a lot about how deep this team is, with slugger Munetaka Murakami and pitching studs Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto leading the way alongside Ohtani. Take all that talent, plus the fact that they have been training together for way longer than other superpowers like Team USA and the Dominican Republic, and there’s my favorite to win the Classic for a third time. As for an upset, all those big league starters on Team Venezuela will carry Ronald Acuña Jr. and company to the semifinals after sending home Team USA during the quarterfinals single-elimination game in Miami.


Semifinal 1: Mexico over Korea
Semifinal 2: Japan over USA
Championship: Japan over Mexico
MVP: Shohei Ohtani (Japan)

Will I quickly regret not picking either the United States or the Dominican Republic -- arguably the top two teams in the tournament -- to even make the championship game? Possibly, or perhaps even likely. But it’s more fun to go a bit under the radar. Mexico’s roster is probably stronger than you think, led by a starting rotation that, frankly, now looks better than a somewhat depleted American group. But speaking of pitching, nobody can match the elite arms on Team Japan. That includes Ohtani, who seems destined to make his mark on the World Baseball Classic and bring his country its third championship in five tries.


Semifinal 1: Korea over Mexico
Semifinal 2: Dominican Republic over Japan
Championship: Dominican Republic over Korea
MVP: Rafael Devers (Dominican Republic)

I’m bullish on Mexico, whose roster could be somewhat overlooked with the star power on the Dominican Republic, United States and Japan. A starting rotation that includes Julio Urías, José Urquidy and Taijuan Walker is formidable. Losing Alejandro Kirk hurts, but I still think they have just enough offense and just enough bullpen to go far. However, the Dominican Republic, despite injuries taking out names like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and others (and Juan Soto's availability delayed), has too much talent to lose, even against the United States’ juggernaut lineup. With its own somewhat under-the-radar talent, Korea reaches the final, but the D.R. won’t be denied and takes its second WBC title in the last three tournaments.


Semifinal 1: Korea over Dominican Republic
Semifinal 2: Japan over USA
Championship: Korea over Japan
MVP: Chang-Mo Koo

The top 4 teams (heck, you could make the case for 6 to 8) are so overpowered, so loaded, and so unbelievably gifted at every position, it’s nearly impossible to choose between them. Do you like the Dominican Republic’s lineup that could see them hit roughly 800 home runs again? How about the United States with potential Hall of Famers all over the diamond? In the end, though, I think our final is going to feature the two most balanced teams possible. Japan not only features Shohei Ohtani -- what more can we possibly say about him? -- but they have a superstar at third base in Munetaka Murakami (56 home runs last season), the young superstar Roki Sasaki, and back-to-back Sawamura winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Korea matches up quite nicely with future MLB star Jung-Hoo Lee in the outfield, dynamite defense up the middle with Tommy Edman, Ha-Seong Kim and catcher Euiji Yang, and perhaps the best bullpen in the tournament. If Korea and Japan played 10 times, Japan may win 7 of them, but in this one game, winner-take-all event, I give it to Korea by the slightest margin. After failing to escape the first round in the past two tournaments, the country is going to play with a chip on its shoulder and just may surprise the world with its performance.


Semifinal 1: USA over Cuba
Semifinal 2: Dominican Republic over Japan
Championship: Dominican Republic over USA
MVP: Manny Machado (DR)

There are some loaded teams in the WBC field, but none quite as stacked as the Dominican Republic. Machado must still be wondering how Adam Jones robbed him of a home run in the 2017 WBC, but this time he does enough to lead his team to the title, capturing MVP honors in the process.