World Cup Squads, Part 1: Venezuela and Canada

As I discussed last week, negotiations are nearing completion for the 2006 “Super World Cup”, to be held in the U.S. This 16-country tournament should be the strongest international field ever assembled, since with MLB and the MLBPA as hosts for the tournament, it should have all MLB and minor league players available.

Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at the teams we might potentially see in the 2006 World Cup. I’ll start today with one favorite, and one second-tier team looking to cause a few surprises : Venezuela and Canada.

In the sort of tournament I outlined in my first article, it will be important to have deep rosters, particularly as MLB players will be in the middle of spring training and neither the players nor MLB will want to see anyone overworked. As a result, I will generally be looking at deep rotations and deep bullpens, as it’s likely that roster sizes will be large (possibly even larger than 25).

One element that I failed to note, but which eagle-eyed correspondent (and Japanese expert) Gus Papadopoulos pointed out, is that the current plans are to have part of the tournament played in Asia, as well. This was confirmed by an article in the Japan Times. So some of these teams from North America will have to take on the Korean and Japanese teams on their own turf. It’s possible that Venezuela, for instance, will be expected to go to Japan or Korea and play the first round there.

In this article and the upcoming pieces, I am going to pick a projected list of position starters, and a group of other position players who would be considered as potential starters or bench players. For pitchers, I am picking those pitchers who will be a shoo-in if healthy, those who are very likely to be chosen, and a group of pitchers who are “in the mix”. Pitchers are more variable than hitters, so even barring injuries I have less confidence in the pitcher picks than most of the hitter picks. I am suggesting managers for each team as well. Since this tournament is likely to take place during spring training, MLB managers, and many MLB coaches, will not be available. These suggestions are therefore often fairly fanciful.

Without further ado…

TEAM VENEZUELA

Manager : How about The Big Cat, Andres Galarraga?

Venezuela, by far the stronger of the two sides examined here, have a relatively poor record in international competition, but a very strong cast of professionals. The team therefore rates pretty well in this competition, with a significant chance of winning it all. Let’s start with the pitching staff.

No-brainers

SP Johan Santana, Twins
SP Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
SP Kelvim Escobar, Angels
RP Francisco Rodriguez, Angels

Solid selections

SP Freddy Garcia, White Sox
SP Carlos Silva, Twins
RP Jorge Julio, Orioles
RP Ugueth Urbina, Tigers
RP Juan Rincon, Twins

On the bubble

SP Tony Armas Jr., Nationals; SP Gustavo Chacin, Blue Jays; SP Victor Zambrano, Mets; SP Wilson Alvarez, Dodgers; RP Wil Ledezma, Tigers; RP Felix Hernandez, Mariners (AA); SP Angel Guzman, Cubs (AA)

This is a very solid staff, anchored by Santana and Rodriguez, who are likely to be the AL’s best starter and reliever, respectively, by the spring of 2006. The other starting pitchers all give Venezuela a good chance to win, and there are a lot of competent arms in the pen. This pitching staff is up there with the best in the tournament, particularly if Escobar holds his form and Carlos Zambrano continues to develop. And who knows, maybe Rick Peterson will find 10 minutes in his calendar sometime to fix Victor Zambrano.

As reader Julio Duran remarks, with their frontline pitching talent one assumes Venezuela will be a strong bet to win it all.

Now for the hitters:

Projected Starters

C Victor Martinez, Indians
1B Edgardo Alfonzo, Giants
2B Omar Infante, Tigers
3B Melvin Mora, Orioles
SS Carlos Guillen, Tigers
LF Magglio Ordonez, White Sox
CF Richard Hidalgo, Mets
RF Bobby Abreu, Phillies
DH Miguel Cabrera, Marlins

In The Mix

OF Alex Ramirez, Yakult Swallows; C Dioner Navarro, Yankees (AAA); C Guillermo Quiroz, Blue Jays; C Yorvit Torrealba, Giants; INF Tomas Perez, Phillies; SS Cesar Izturis, Dodgers; SS Jose Lopez, Mariners; 2B Luis Rivas, Twins; OF Juan Rivera, Angels; OF Franklin Gutierrez, Indians (AAA); 3B Aarom Baldiris, Mets (AA); SS David Espinosa, Tigers (AA).

Some of these players listed as “In The Mix” are players who are long in the tooth now, or players who are still developing and may take a job away. A player like Jose Lopez could break out into stardom this coming year, pushing someone like Carlos Guillen across the diamond to first, where there is no incumbent favorite as Andres Galarraga will be long retired.

This team can certainly hit, with a terrific power core of Mora, Ordonez, Abreu, and Cabrera. Defensively it’s much shakier, but not too bad especially considering the strikeout-heavy pitching staff. Overall, Venezuela is one of the stronger squads and likely to fight its way to a berth in the semifinals and possibly beyond. First base, with the Phils’ Tomas Perez the only major leaguer to play the position regularly, is a weak spot. Alex Ramirez, the former Indian and Pirate who is now a big-time slugger with Japan’s Yakult Swallows, is normally an outfielder but might be the right man to handle the position. I’ve slid Edgardo Alfonzo across the diamond from third. Centerfield is a problem defensively, and if Hidalgo isn’t able to handle the position then Juan Rivera or Bobby Abreu would have to play there.

Projected Ranking : 3rd
Likely Goal : To Win

TEAM CANADA

Manager : Ernie Whitt has managed the Canadian National Team in the past, including in the Athens Olympics, and is extremely popular here.

Canada, unlike Venezuela, are stronger in talent at the corner positions (though still not as strong as Venezuela) but have very little up the middle, and have a large predominance of lefthanders, as we will see in a moment. First, the Canadian pitching staff:

No-brainers

SP Rich Harden, A’s
SP Jeff Francis, Rockies
RP Eric Gagne, Dodgers
RP Paul Quantrill, Yankees

Solid selections

SP Erik Bedard, Orioles
RP Ryan Dempster, Cubs

On the bubble

SP Adam Loewen, Orioles (A); SP Shawn Hill, Expos (AA); RP Rheal Cormier, Phillies; RP Aaron Myette, Reds (AAA); RP Mike Meyers, Mets (AAA); RP Chris Begg, Tigers (AA); RP Phil Devey, Mariners (AA); RP Vince Perkins, Blue Jays (A); RP John Ogiltree, Blue Jays (AA); RP A.J. Wideman, Nationals (A); RP Robert Swindle, Red Sox (A); RP Ryan Braun, Royals (A).

One player who perhaps could be listed here, but won’t, is Jesse Crain, who has already played for the U.S. in international competition and would therefore be ineligible to play for Canada where he was born.

It’s not an inspiring list, even though it includes one of the best pitchers in the majors in Eric Gagne. Harden and Francis can certainly be penciled in as the top two, with Erik Bedard having held his own in the majors this past season as well. Beyond that, the pitching staff is a collection of hopes and longshots, with the core of the pen being made up of the minor league relievers who were so cruelly exposed by the Cuban National Team in an excruciating semifinal loss in Athens.

Projected Starters

C Pete LaForest, Devil Rays (AAA)
1B Justin Morneau, Twins
2B Dave Detienne, Mets (AA)
3B Corey Koskie, Twins
SS Hyung Cho, Mariners (A)
LF Jason Bay, Pirates
CF Adam Stern, Braves (AA)
RF Larry Walker, Rockies
DH Matt Stairs, Royals

In the Mix

OF Aaron Guiel, Royals; C Cody McKay, Cardinals; 3B Pete Orr, Braves (AAA); INF Todd Betts, Yankees (AAA); INF Kevin Nicholson, Pirates (AA); C Maxim St-Pierre, Tigers (AA); 2B Stubby Clapp, Blue Jays (AAA); 3B Simon Pond, Blue Jays (AAA); 1B Joey Votto, Reds (A); C John Suomi, A’s (A); SS Danny Klassen, Tigers (AAA); SS Lee Delfino (Independent).

It’s conceivable that Stairs and Walker could still be playing in 2006; even if retired, they’d likely be the best rightfielder and DH available for Canada and could certainly play there without embarrassing themselves.

It’s somewhat less conceivable that Canada’s top current middle infield trio of Kevin Nicholson, Danny Klassen, and Stubby Clapp will still be playing then. Each will be over 30 by the time April 2006 rolls around; each has now been reduced to a role as minor league roster filler, though all three have had cups of coffee in the majors. Hyung Cho, a young Mariners prospect fresh out of the University of Houston, is the best of the rest. Mets “prospect” Dave Detienne doesn’t have the talent of those three, but is the best remaining candidate unless one decides to postpone retirement, or come out of it. Up-the-middle production, both on offense and defense, looms as a big problem for the Canadians, and despite a talented young nucleus of Bay, Morneau, Francis and Harden, this feels like a team on the decline.

Their small collection of frontline talent will win them games against the tournament’s minnows, but the big guns can easily wait this team out and take advantage of their thin roster.

Projected Ranking : 8th
Likely Goal : Semifinals

Readers are encouraged to send along their picks for their favorite teams, along with comments about any aspect of Craig’s picks or the World Cup in general, to
.

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