World Baseball Classic Preview: Team Puerto Rico
The fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic is set to begin in March, and managers are well underway in building their teams for a shot at gold. One of the most promising rosters, as it stands now, is also the youngest. Edwin Rodriguez’s Team Puerto Rico currently features just two players over the age of 30 and harnesses some of the biggest young stars in baseball.
Team Puerto Rico finished second in the 2013 Classic, and with a plethora of new additions, they’re poised to make a run at the gold once again. Here’s how their roster looks as it stands now.
Seth Lugo; The Mets’ rookie will be pitching for Team Puerto Rico, where he has ancestry. Lugo impressed after being forced into the rotation due to a slew of injuries, starting eight games late in the season. The 27-year-old will slot into Team PR’s rotation when play begins.
2016 Season Statistics (New York Mets): 5-2, 45 K, 2.67 ERA, 1.094 WHIP
Hector Santiago; The 29-year-old was traded to the Twins at the deadline in 2016, where he put together solid starts, but failed to do it consistently. Santiago earned an All-Star selection in 2015 and proved at times during last season that he deserves to be named an All-Star once again. After surpassing 180 innings in both of the last two seasons, Santiago’s consistency could prove to be an important piece of Team PR’s pitching staff.
2016 Season Statistics (Los Angeles Angels/Minnesota Twins): 13-10, 144 K, 4.70 ERA, 1.363 WHIP
Alex Claudio; Team Puerto Rico’s relief-heavy pitching staff features a bullpen that will play a huge role in the team’s success. Alex Claudio was drafted out of Isabel Flores High School in Juncos, Puerto Rico in 2010 and made his debut in 2014. Since then, the San Juan native has been a solid piece of the Rangers’ bullpen, with a career ERA under 3.00.
2016 Season Statistics (Texas Rangers): 51.2 IP, 4-1, 34 K, 2.79 ERA, 1.258 WHIP
Edwin Diaz; The Naguabo native burst onto the scene in June of 2016 with the Seattle Mariners. In just two months he broke the record for consecutive strikeouts and was quickly named the team’s closer. The 22-year-old is on the fast track to being one of the game’s best relief pitchers and will look to establish himself as just that in his first full season.
2016 Season Statistics (Seattle Mariners): 51.2 IP, 0-4, 18 S, 88 K, 2.79 ERA, 1.161 WHIP[Milkins]
Joe Jimenez; Another San Juan native, Jimenez was named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. The 21-year-old worked his way through the minors in 2016, starting in single-A and finishing the year in triple-A. His fastball has been described as “unbelievable” but he’ll need to work on his slider and changeup before he sees any major league action. The WBC will be a good way for Jimenez to prove that he’s ready to make the leap to the big leagues.
2016 Season Statistics (Tiger’s Minor League System): 55.2 IP, 3-3, 30 S, 78 K, 1.51 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
Joe Colon; Rounding out Team PR’s current bullpen is also the oldest of the bunch. At 26-years-old, Colon saw his first taste of major league action with the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He worked out of the pen after being called up in July, and again after he was called back up in September. Colon was unable to transition his dominance in Triple-A to the big leagues, but has shown that he has the talent to be a valuable piece of the Indians’ bullpen.
2016 Season Statistics (Cleveland Indians): 10 IP, 1-3, 10 K, 7.20 ERA, 1.900 WHIP
Yadier Molina; Yadi has played in every Classic since its inauguration and has been one of the faces of Team PR. In 14 games, Molina has collected 11 hits, and three RBI. At 34-years-old, the seven-time All-Star has collected eight Gold Glove awards and will slot in at the catcher position for Team PR when play begins.
2016 Season Statistics (St. Louis Cardinals): .307 AVG, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 56 R
Edwin Rodriguez hasn’t added a first baseman to the team just yet, but possible suitors include the Reds’ Neftali Soto and the Twins’ Kennys Vargas.
Javier Baez; The World Champion Cubs’ second baseman will represent his home country in the upcoming Classic. The Bayamon native put together his first full season in 2016, putting up decent numbers despite his high strikeout total. He was named co-MVP of the NLCS and played astounding defense throughout the playoffs en route to the Cubs’ first World Series victory in 108 years.
2016 Season Statistics (Chicago Cubs): .273 ERA, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 50 R, 12 SB
T.J. Rivera; Born in the Bronx, NY, the Mets’ infielder will represent Puerto Rico, where his mother and father are from. Rivera became the Mets’ starting second baseman late in the season after being called up in August. He’ll provide infield depth for Team PR in the Classic.
2016 Season Statistics (New York Mets): 105 AB, .333 AVG, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 10 R
Francisco Lindor; Edwin Rodriguez is put in a tough spot at the shortstop position, as he has two superstars to choose from. Lindor, who was an All-Star in 2016 and is already considered one of the best shortstops in the game, helped the Indians reach the World Series. The Caguas native followed the same path as his good friend and Team PR teammate Javier Baez in moving to Florida at the age of 12. The two will finally have a chance to play on the same team in the upcoming Classic.
2016 Season Statistics (Cleveland Indians): .301 AVG, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 99 R, 19 SB
Carlos Correa; It won’t be an easy decision for Rodriguez, but having two top-tier shortstops is a good problem to have. Correa followed up his Rookie of the Year Award winning 2015 with a solid 2016. He didn’t hit as many homers as he was projected to, but an increase of 28 RBI over 54 more games is pleasing to the Houston Astros. The 22-year-old could possibly see time at third for Team PR, as they have yet to add someone to man the hot corner.
2016 Season Statistics (Houston Astros): .274 AVG, 20 HR, 96 RBI, 76 R, 13 SB
There’s been no word of a third baseman yet, but he may already be on the team if Rodriguez decides to use Lindor or Correa at the hot corner. Another possible suitor is Gabriel Rosa, who was the Reds’ second-round pick in 2012.
Carlos Beltran; Every WBC team has their guy, and for Team Puerto Rico it is undoubtedly Carlos Beltran. Beltran has played in every single WBC game for Team Puerto Rico and has played in more games across all three tournaments than any other player. In 21 games, Beltran has collected 20 hits, three homers, and nine RBI. In his likely Hall of Fame career, Beltran has earned nine All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, and two Silver Sluggers. His experience and power bat are perhaps the most important pieces on the whole roster for Team PR.
2016 Season Statistics (New York Yankees/Texas Ranger): .295 HR, 29 HR, 93 RBI, 73 R
Eddie Rosario; Team PR’s outfield hasn’t taken shape as much as the infield, but they have their left fielder in Rosario. The Guayama native played in the 2013 Classic, collecting three hits in six games. He’s currently preparing for the Classic in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
2016 Season Statistics (Minnesota Twins): 335 AB, .269 AVG, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 52 R
Team Puerto Rico came just one win shy of the gold in the 2013 Classic, and as their team stands now, they’re one of the favorites to reach the championship again. They were placed in Pool D, where they will face off against Mexico, Italy, and Venezuela.
Edwin Rodriguez’s team will be put to the test on March 10th when they open play against Venezuela at Estadio Charros de Jalisco.