Breaking down World Baseball Classic Pool B

March 8th, 2023


The most successful team in WBC history, Japan won the first two events before finishing in third place in both 2013 and ‘17. With the talent stacked on this year’s roster and a home-field advantage through the quarterfinals, Japan is once again looking to bring home some hardware.

Although the competition is fierce, Japan’s roster is deep. Of course there’s Shohei Ohtani, a one-man superhero team, a history-maker every time he goes near the field, and the one name on every player’s lips when asked, “Who do you want to face at the World Baseball Classic?”

Expected to start Japan's first game, Ohtani is joined by young starter Roki Sasaki, who nearly pitched back-to-back perfect games for the Chiba Lotte Marines last season. Somehow, there may be a pitcher better than each of them: Japan's back-to-back Sawamura Award Winner (Japan's version of the Cy Young Award), Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Yamamoto's fastball can hit the upper-90s and there's chatter that he has his sites set on playing in the Majors in the future.

Though Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki is missing the tournament due to injury, there is plenty of big league talent with Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar -- the first player ever born outside of Japan to suit up for Samurai Japan -- plus Padres pitcher Yu Darvish and new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida.

Reigning NPB MVP Munetaka Murakami, who bashed 56 home runs for the Yakult Swallows last season and surpassed the league record for a Japanese-born player (previously held by legend and past Team Japan manager Sadaharu Oh), alone makes the lineup menacing. Don’t be surprised if they’re playing for it all in Miami.


After finishing third and second in the first two World Baseball Classics, respectively, Korea faced unfortunate back-to-back first-round eliminations in the next two tournaments. One of those defeats came courtesy of Team Israel in 2017, and the 2-1, 10-inning loss stands as possibly the biggest upset in WBC history. Fortunately, this roster is loaded with veteran stars on offense and plenty of young talent in the rotation. The team should be strong enough to make a deep run in this year’s competition.

Korea may have the best up-the-middle defense in the tournament in Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim (a three-time KBO Golden Glove Award winner and a veteran of the 2017 tournament) and Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman (a 2021 MLB Gold Glove winner) -- which should help the pitching staff led by youngsters 20 year-old Eui-Lee Lee, 21-year-old Hyeong-Jun So, 22-year-old Hyeong Jun So and 24-year-old flamethrowing Been Gwak. Chang Mo Koo, who posted a 2.10 ERA last year in 111 2/3 innings, will likely lead the staff.

With the KBO known for some massive blasts and some even bigger bat flips, don’t turn away when it’s Korea’s turn at the plate. Third baseman Jeong Choi and first baseman ByungHo Park rank No. 2 and No. 4 all-time in KBO home runs, while reigning 2022 KBO MVP Award winner Jung-Hoo Lee should command all the attention before he’s posted to the Major Leagues following the season.

Watch out when Korea takes the lead, too: 2022 KBO Rookie of the Year Cheol-won Jeong and LG Twins closer Woo-suk Go (1.48 ERA, 42 SV) stand ready to shut down opposing offenses at the back end of the bullpen. Former Cardinals starter Kwang Hyun Kim has even been pushed into the bullpen to help stop any rallies.


They may be far from a favorite, but the Australian national team has always been tough to play against. They defeated a prospect-loaded USA team, 2-1, at the 2019 WBSC Premier12 (Andrew Vaughn, Bobby Dalbec and Jake Cronenworth were just some of their opponents there), defeated Chinese Taipei at the '17 WBC, and even helped send Mexico home by way of the mercy rule (17-7) in the '09 Classic.

The country’s roster features plenty of amateur players, including Tim Atherton, a miner, and Tim Kennelly, a firefighter, sharing captain's duties. But it also boasts plenty of big league talent, too, having sent 36 players to MLB in recent years. Liam Hendriks (who will miss the tournament due to treatment for non-hodgkins lymphoma), Warwick Saupold and Luke Hughes led the way.

Angels outfielder Aaron Whitefield -- who originally got started in fastpitch softball courtesy of his mother -- offers solid defense and has topped 30 stolen bases four times in the Minors and fell one short of the mark in 2022. He’ll be joined by Royals middle-infield prospect Robbie Glendinning, who cracked 22 home runs in Double-A last year. Darryl George, who won the 2021 ABL MVP Award and reigning MVP Alex Hall will also feature.

Unfortunately, for all those big upsets, the team has yet to reach the second round of play in the Classic -- something that will be difficult to do with some of the baseball giants around them in Pool B. But they’re used to being in the company of giants. Since the ABL plays during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, many future MLB stars (think Ronald Acuña Jr., Rhys Hoskins and Kevin Kiermaier) have gone Down Under to sharpen their skills in the offseason.


There are a lot of question marks around the Chinese National Team ahead of the tournament as it will look to improve on its performance in 2017. That year, China was outscored, 24-1, with shortstop Ray Chang providing the only RBI.

Chang -- who also leads MLB's development program in China -- returns as a player/coach for his fourth World Baseball Classic. China will look to rely on his bat after he posted a .324/.324/.471 line in the previous tournaments. Surrounding him are KBO reliever Kwon Ju (3.91 ERA in 50 2/3 IP last year) and NPB OF Yusuke Masago. Angels non-drafted free agent Alan Carter, whose fastball dusts the mid-90s, looked up to Chang as a child and now the two will play together.

Team captain Luo Jinjun, who played for two seasons in the independent American Association, is known for his slick glove and should command the middle of the infield.

The team could be difficult to predict, as much of the roster comes from China’s National Baseball League. Restarted in conjunction with Major League Baseball in 2019, that year saw the Beijing Tigers win the first title in the new league.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the league has not restarted and most of the players have stayed training with their teams and playing intrasquad scrimmages, resulting in little statistical information to be available.

Czech Republic

It’s a moment a decade in the making for the Czech national team: Finally reaching the World Baseball Classic. The team could taste it in 2017, when it lost a nail-biter to Nicaragua, 7-6, and narrowly missed qualifying. Previous manager Mike Griffin then focused heavily on player development within the country, guiding his squad to the 2020 Olympic qualifiers, where it was just one win away from heading to Tokyo.

Now, with Czech baseball legend Pavel Chadim overseeing the bench, the team enjoyed a storybook ending in the Regensburg qualifier. Facing a heavily favored Spain club that had already beaten them, 21-7, earlier in the tournament, things looked dire. But the Czech Republic won, 3-1, behind solid pitching from star Martin Schneider -- a firefighter in his day job -- and home runs from Martin Mužík and Marek Chlup.

Former Major League infielder and beloved bespectacled cult hero Eric Sogard now joins the squad and provides the only big league experience, while Georgia Tech commit Michal Kovala was named the No. 1 European prospect by Perfect Game. Nearly every other player on the roster was born in the Czech Republic and plays in its local amateur league. Catcher and middle-of-the-lineup stalwart Martin Cervenka -- who nearly became the first Czech-born Major League player since at least 1952 -- picked up six hits and two home runs in the qualifiers and works in sales for his day job. Starting pitcher Lukáš Ercoli, who defeated France in a must-win game, doubles as the team’s media manager. Team captain and DH Petr Zyma works in finance, closer Marek Minařík works in construction, while Arnošt Dubový plays center field and teaches high school geography in Brno. The list goes on and on like that.

This team has the underdog story that everyone can fall in love with. And an annual tradition called Prague Baseball Week seems like something all fans can get behind. Now we’ll see if they can surprise the world … again.