(Image courtesy of MLB.com, WBC)

WBC is 2 Weeks Away…

This week’s WBC preview breaks down the top-heavy Bracket B. (Be sure to check last week’s analysis of Bracket A if you haven’t already.) Japan and Cuba lead the charge through Tokyo with Australia and China looking for some magic in 2017.

Japan

This is neither your 2006 nor your 2009 championship team. Without Kenta Maeda or Masahiro Tanaka, this isn’t even your 2013 Japanese squad. Yet, despite the lack of depth in the rotation, you can count on Japan to have a solid showing in this year’s Classic. The island nation consistently develops top-notch talent, resulting in the deepest roster in Bracket B and one of the strongest in the entire tournament.

The absence of Shohei Otani, Japan’s best pitcher and hitter, certainly hurts but provides an opportunity for the country’s next wave of young stars to showcase their skills on a global stage. There may not be any prospects with the same level of hype that accompanied Yu Darvish, but MLB scouts will certainly be paying attention.

Prediction: Japan goes undefeated in oool play and advances as the top seed from Bracket B.

Cuba

Oh, the times they are a’changin’ in Cuba. Relations with the U.S. have improved, and the Major Leagues are rife with talent from the Caribbean Island. That unfortunately hurts Cuba’s chances of winning the WBC, however, because defectors are not allowed to play on the national team. 2013 stars Jose Abreau, Yasmany Tomas, and Yulieski Gurriel all play in the States now. With so much secrecy blanketing Cuba’s baseball environment, this roster could either be chock full of premier talent or simply very average. Yoenis Cespedes’ younger brother Yoelqui and Alfredo Despaigne will patrol the outfield and pace the Cubans’ offense.

Prediction: Cuba loses to Japan but advances to the next round as the second seed in the bracket.

Australia

The girls may love their accents, but not many people like their chances of advancing in this year’s tournament. While the roster features several minor leaguers, the lineup continues to produce one of the weakest offenses in the WBC. After going 1-8 in the last three Classics, the Aussies look to improve their win total by riding the arms of Peter Moylan and Travis Blackley. Will it be enough?

Prediction: Yes, Australia will double its all-time win total with a win over China. However, losses to Japan and Cuba will sink their chances of advancing all the way to the Great Barrier Reef.

China

Baseball has yet to take off in China the way basketball has. Maybe Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, and the next wave of MLB stars can change that. For now, China’s WBC hopes are pinned to the arm of former Major Leaguer Bruce Chen and the bat of Mariners minor leaguer Wei Wang. First baseman Guiyuan Xu, an Orioles prospect, represents the best chance in recent history for a Chinese-born player to make it to the Major Leagues. This team has more talent than it’s given credit for; however, the lack of pitching depth hurts their odds of advancing.

Prediction: The Chinese will lose a heart-breaker to Australia. Deeper rosters for Japan and Cuba will prove too much to handle, keeping China from advancing.

Conclusion

Young rosters for Australia and China will benefit from gaining valuable international experience. A deep Japanese team and talented Cuban squad should advance to the next round with relative ease.

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