You are currently viewing Joel Piñeiro: World Baseball Classic insight from someone who played in it


The World Baseball Classic began Wednesday with the Netherlands beating Cuba, 4-2.

I think this Classic is going to be one of the best ever, with all the talent and powerful star-studded teams — there are so many MVPs, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, ROTYs, and Cy Young winners spread out across the rosters. This will be a great showcase for the game, but there’s one element that I think will separate the cream from the crop: the team that comes out and plays with the most passion will have the advantage. I know that sounds a little corny, but it’s true. I played in the WBC, I’ve been there. The passion to win is a huge factor. It’s going to be competitive throughout, and there’s just a different feeling putting the jersey on representing your country.

On paper, Team USA and the Dominican Republic look like favorites, but no team can ever be overlooked. Japan has won the WBC twice and has the best player in baseball — you know they’ll come out with something to prove. Team Puerto Rico and Team Japan have been the most successful nations in the WBC, both with 20-9 overall records. And Team USA looks to become the second team to win back to back WBCs.

Pool D is going to be rough

Pool D, I believe, might be the toughest one this year. It has three of the top five teams in this year’s tournament — the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Israel… and only two teams advance. I always believe that good pitching is going to beat good hitting, so the team that goes out there and plays the best defense and has the best bullpen will come out on top.

Let’s talk about Team Puerto Rico

Team Puerto Rico has been in back-to-back WBC finals — in 2013 and 2017 — and came up short both times, to DR and USA. I personally know what that feels like… and is not a good feeling. I was a member of Team PR  in ’17 — this year’s team is going to be looking to finish the job.

I was a veteran on the 2017 squad and I knew deep inside that was going to be the last time I played organized baseball — because I was calling it a career in the game I love. It made the WBC and those games more meaningful to me.

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That Puerto Rico team, which lost in the final to USA, was stacked. Our captains were Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltrán. And being on the team gave me the privilege to play and see the up-and-coming young talent Puerto Rico had, like Fransisco Lindor, Javy Báez, Carlos Correa, Kiké Hernández, Eddie Rosario, José Berríos, and Edwin Díaz It was a very well balanced team, managed by Edwin Rodríguez.

Speaking of managers!

One notable thing in this year’s WBC — the many first-time managers. Having good and competitive coaching personnel around them is going to be very important. I played three years with future Hall of Famer and Team PR manager Yadier Molina — he is a great leader on and off the field with great communication and passion for the game; I feel that’s what a manager needs to be able to do. I’m sure he will have a managerial job some time in the future.

I spent one season with Team USA manager Mark DeRosa — an amazing utility player who really knew the game of baseball in and out. He’s a great teammate plus having those amazing players on that squad is not a bad thing. Team Venezuela manager Omar López has been a minor league manager many years with the Houston Astros (he’s now their first base coach) and I believe he’s well prepared. Ian Kinsler is managing Team Israel — I played against him many years in the American League; he’s a super fiery competitor and understood the game in every aspect.

Jolbert Cabrera, the Team Colombia manager, studied the game, read the opposition well and was a great person in the clubhouse. I’m sure he’s capable of keeping his team leveled and composed to go out there and compete at their highest potential.

Some notes on pitch count

Pitch count will be something managers and staff will have to monitor closely. In the first round, a starter is limited to 65 pitches per game during pool play and 80 in the quarterfinal, so that’s something that I had in my notes — about a strong bullpen coming into play, trying to find the correct and best matchups.

For a starter, knowing this is an exhibition but at the same time having the competitive mindset of a starter will be at war for a lot of SPs. That competitive side can take over but it’s earlier than usual for them to have that high of a pitch count. Still, you want to represent and win for your country. That’s going to be interesting. A competitive 65 pitches might be different than what would be thrown in regular spring training.

My long shot team

Mexico has great starting pitching in Julio Urías, José Urquidy, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Sandoval. It’s a great start in assembling the ballclub. Now add position players like Alejandro Kirk, Alex Verdugo, Randy Arozarena and Rowdy Tellez. I believe this is one of the better rosters Mexico has presented in the WBC. The Athletic’s WBC power rankings have them at No. 6, but their odds to win are still at 20-1.

(Top photo and in-line photo of Joel: Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images)


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