It is officially March, which means Spring Training is in full swing, Opening Day is roughly three weeks away, and the World Baseball Classic returns this week – I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely getting baseball fever. After being postponed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WBC is back, with four new teams, stacked lineups, and what we can expect to be an action-packed couple of weeks. And us White Sox fans even get to see some of our favorite players on an international stage, among the best of the best.
The 2017 Classic fielded teams from 16 nations, and this year the pool was expanded to 20, with the Czech Republic, Great Britain, and Nicaragua making their debut appearances in the tournament after qualifying via play-in tournaments. The United States is the defending champion, and their elite, star-studded lineup is sure to wreak havoc on opponents, with plenty of weapons from Mookie Betts and Mike Trout in the outfield, to Trea Turner and Nolan Arenado commanding the infield, and, of course, NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt.
We definitely can’t sleep on a team like Japan, who is a notoriously talented team and deep in arms. Japan boasts one of the best players to ever play the game in 2021 MVP Shohei Ohtani alongside five-time All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish. The Dominican Republic roster is also fully loaded, with defending NL Cy Young Sandy Alcantara and several All-Star caliber players across the diamond including Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and 2022 World Series MVP Jeremy Peña.
Pool play begins on March 8 (March 7 for us here in America, with the time change) through March 15. The top two teams from each pool will then advance to the quarterfinals that will be played from March 15-18, followed by the semifinals and championship played over the final three days and ending on March 21.
Let’s take a look at the Pool Play breakout and how that shapes the bracket into the second round:
The Chicago White Sox will be represented by eight players across five countries: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, United States, and Venezuela. While the organization as a whole continues to disappoint pretty much everyone, I’m still looking forward to watching these South Siders perform on the world stage after a long and (annoyingly typical) disappointing offseason.
Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert Jr. are the South Siders representing Cuba, and after a 2022 season full of injuries, both are ready to represent their home country and move forward with the new season. Maybe they can take “New Year, New Me” literally? Although Robert only appeared in 98 games, he was still able to produce the fourth-most hits on the White Sox last year (wow, that is depressing), and the fifth-highest batting average, and White Sox fans are anticipating (desperately) is a full year of health.
Moncada also had a tough 2022, looking lost at the plate at times, leading the team in strikeouts with 114 and only batting .212 in 104 games ... it was pretty much the definition of “yikes.” The good news is that Yoán is looking to turn it around this year, and as quoted in USA Today, he’s always dreamed of the opportunity to represent the Cuban national team. He’s already been raking during some of the WBC exhibition games, and could cause teams a lot of trouble if he can channel the patience and raw power that we know he has.
The Dominican Republic is terrifying: The roster is locked and loaded from top to bottom, and Eloy Jiménez and his steaming-hot bat could definitely be a difference-maker throughout the tournament. Jiménez has also struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, because it’s the White Sox and who hasn’t? He has appeared in 139 total games since 2021, but when healthy Jiménez has showed us that he isn’t messing around. In his 84 games last year, he slashed .295/.358/.500 in 292 at-bats, and if he can manage this type of production for an entire season, the league is most definitely in trouble. Even just looking at his Spring Training numbers from this year, he is batting .500 with a 1.056 OPS in his 16 at-bats — he could be one to watch not only in the World Baseball Classic, but throughout the upcoming season.
For the Puerto Rican team, White Sox righthander Nicholas Padilla will be there to add some bullpen depth. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Padilla before — neither have I, so we are all learning together. He was signed in 2015 by the Tampa Bay Rays and has essentially floated through the minors until the Chicago Cubs released him in September and the White Sox snagged him. Padilla has thrown 1 2⁄3 innings in the big leagues, giving up two hits, a run, two walks, and a strikeout. His career ERA at all levels sits at a 3.06 with more than 276 innings pitched, and in his three Spring Training innings in 2023 he has given up just one hit and a few walks. You never know how someone will ultimately perform at the highest level, but his historical record in the minors could make him a serviceable reliever for a very skilled Puerto Rican team. Although it was for the north siders, he did get his first MLB strikeout against the reigning NL MVP, so I guess that’s kind of cool?
Now for the undeniably elite USA team. Lance Lynn, Tim Anderson, and Kendall Graveman will hold down the fort for the Good Guys, alongside some of the top players in Major League Baseball. While the American roster is bound to be relentless throughout the batting order, with All-Stars and MVP candidates (or winners) at pretty much every position, their starting pitching and depth could hold them back a bit, especially after Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw had to pull out of the tournament due to injury.
After a dominant 2021 season where he finished third in AL Cy Young voting, Lance Lynn also was consumed by whatever injury curse has taken over the White Sox over the last few years, not making his first 2022 start until mid-June — and boy, did he struggle at first. In his initial nine starts, he averaged a 6.36 ERA, even giving up eight earned runs in one of his starts. But because he is Lance Lynn, he was able to recover in the final months of the season. He averaged a 2.56 ERA over those final 66 innings, and was able to recoup his ERA to 3.99 across the whole season. Although Lynn’s Spring Training outings have been underwhelming at best, he ended on a strong note in Tuesday’s game. Hopefully Team USA and the 2023 White Sox can get the Lynn who bounced back at the end of last season. Based on the current probable starting rotation, we can expect to see Lance Lynn take the mound against Canada next Monday, March 13.
BABIP wizard and back-to-back All-Star, Anderson, will help bolster an incredibly strong infield, and the 2019 batting champion with his low K% will certainly be a key asset throughout the tournament. After an impressive first few months of 2022, with a .323 BA, Tim’s presence on the field was missed, beginning in early August, due to injuries. If by now you’re thinking to yourself, “I swear, if I hear the word injury one more time ...” trust me, I get it, and it pains me just as much to write about it. Even through injuries and a rough month-and-a-half before falling victim to the IL, Anderson still slashed .301/.339/.395 and had the fifth-most hits on the team (100) in almost half of a full season. I’m thrilled to watch Tim get this opportunity, and can’t wait to have a fully healthy TA7 for this upcoming season. I need THIS Tim Anderson back.
Graveman was added to the Team USA pitching roster last month, sure to bring some much-needed depth in the bullpen. In 2022, he posted a 3.18 ERA and 66 strikeouts in his 65 innings, coming off of a remarkable 2021 season where he achieved a 1.77 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. In a Spring Training interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Graveman recounted how “honored and humbled” he is to have the chance to represent the United States on an international level and alongside some of the best players ever. If Kendall throws anything like he has in the last couple of seasons, the United States will definitely be able to count on him to produce out of the arm barn when asked.
Last but not least for the White Sox in the WBC is José Ruiz, who had a couple of decent months last year, but for the most part was a loose cannon out of the bullpen. He ended up with a 4.60 ERA, and led South Side relievers in home runs allowed and walks, which aren’t exactly stats you want to be the leader in. He has, however, shown up during Spring Training, and though it is a very small sample size, he hasn’t given up any runs or walks in his three innings pitched. The Venezuelan team is also sure to be a formidable opponent, and I wish José nothing but the best over the next two weeks!
David Peralta, Silvino Bracho, José Ruiz y Andrés Giménez rumbo también a unirse con Venezuela. Listos para defender al país en el Clásico Mundial de Beisbol— Guillermo Liñares (@guille94) March 6, 2023
Now if you’re like me, and most White Sox fans, you’re probably (justifiably) worried about some of these players potentially getting injured before the MLB regular season even starts — very fair, considering I did just talk about injuries for five of eight of these players competing in the WBC. The good news is that there are pitch limits of no more than 65 pitches per game in the pool play round, increasing to 80 and 95 for the quarterfinal and championship rounds. There is also a minimum of four days of rest if a pitcher goes for 50 or more pitches, and they are never allowed to throw in back-to-back days.
There will be an immense amount of talent showcased over the next several weeks, and it really is a treat to see not only White Sox players compete for a World Baseball Classic title, but to also witness top-tier athletes from all around the world playing the game we love to watch. Can the USA bring home back-to-back championships? Will the insanely powerful and favored Dominican Republic team dominate the tournament, as everyone expects? Or maybe Shohei Ohtani and his two-way superpowers will carry Japan straight through to the finals?
There are plenty of teams that shouldn’t be overlooked, but with the raw talent and power the DR team is bringing to the table, they might be my pick to win the whole thing.
Who are you picking to win, and which White Sox player do you think will have the most success? Let us know in the comments!
Who do you think will win the World Baseball Classic?
This poll is closed
Dominican Republic (+220)
United States (+275)
Puerto Rico (+1400)
One of the "Underdogs" not listed
Which White Sox player do you think will have the best overall WBC performance?
This poll is closed
Tim Anderson (IF)
Lance Lynn (SP)
Kendall Graveman (RP)
Eloy Jiménez (OF)
Luis Robert Jr. (OF)
Yoan Moncada (IF)
Nicholas Padilla (RP)
José Ruiz (RP)