2009 World Baseball Classic……Current and Former Rays Players
With the World Baseball Classic also about to have members of their teams report to their respective training sites within the next 2 weeks, I was wondering what current and past Rays might be included in the countries rosters. Now the list I am about to throw out here will be based on the provisional 45-man roster that was due a few weeks ago. People will come and go from this roster, and also might not make it onto the 25-man roster that will fill each teams squad when they begin their games.
The Rays have a total of 8 members who were originally selected for the WBC’s squad 45-man rosters. Now we all know that certain members of the team, like current Rays first baseman Carlos Pena ( Dominican Republic ) will not be attending the training camp due to a recent surgery to fix some lower abdominal tearing suffered during 2008. Pena underwent minor surgery in Philadelphia ( of all places ) on January 8th and will be ready for Spring Training. Also skipping the Classic will be Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. He was originally selected by the Mexican squad, but Garza had off season surgery in November 2008 to repair an old foot fracture on his right foot. According to Fox Sports on MSN, the team did not grant him a medical clearance to play in the classic. According to WBC rules, MLB players who undergo off season surgery are normally ineligible unless their clubs specifically give them clearance to take part in the event. At this moment, the Rays medical staff or the team have not granted this clearance to Garza.
Recently, Venezuela lost one of their two provisional catchers on January 20th when Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro decided he was not going to participate in the Classic. That will leave the squad a little thin at the position with Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez the only one currently on the roster. Navarro did catch all 16 games in the 2008 Playoffs and the extra rest might do him good. Also considering he is going to his first arbitration hearing on February 9th, it might just be a nice good faith gesture to the Rays on his 2009 commitment to the team.
With those three players coming to the new Spring Training site in Port Charlotte, Florida for sure for the Rays, it will still leave 5 members participating for the team in the Classic. Another player who has garnished a lot of attention recently is Australian Grant Balfour. The Rays hard talking and hard throwing right-hander recently agreed to a one-year contract to stay out of arbitration with the team. It has not been announced if the contract would enable him to play in the Classic, or report to the Rays training facility instead.
If Balfour is able to pitch for the team, he will probably be their designated closer, and will certainly be worth the price of admission to just hear him chat it up with the ball on the mound. Balfour came into the public eye around the country more during the American League Divisional Series when Chicago White Sox shortstop Orlando Caberera took exception to Balfour’s shouting on the mound to be towards him and not the ball. Since that time he has widely photographed on the mound, and sound bytes have been recorded of his mound conversations between pitches.
Even though the Australian team might have one of the most colorful players in the Classic in Balfour, his team has been pitted in the group with Cuba and Mexico in the first round. The games, being played in Mexico City could be a tough test for the young squad. If the Aussies were to fall out after the first round, the Rays could have Balfour in camp around March 14th.
The United States team will have their share of youth courtesy of the Rays when they selected pitchers Scott Kazmir and J P Howell for the team. Also making the 45-man roster is 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year third baseman Evan Longoria. Many people think that Longoria might not make the 25-man squad with the likes of New York Met David Wright and the Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones. But Longoria also might make it as a bench player based on his outstanding rookie season and his timely hitting for the Rays during their playoff run.
With both Wright and Jones selected on the team, the Rays might also see Longoria by February 23rd when the positional players are mandated to report to their complex. The situation between Scott Kazmir and J P Howell might have a different scenario entirely. On the US’s initial 45-man provisional roster, Kazmir is 1 of 3 starting left-handed pitchers on the squad. He will be joined by southpaws Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres. I can see all three pitchers making the squad without a problem.
When pitcher Jon Lackey of the Los Angels Angels announced he was not going to participate in the Classic, Kazmir might have been given a chance of making the 25-man roster on February 24th, and with the current pitching rules it might just be a more intense spring training outing for the leftie. the current WBC rules call for starting pitchers to only throw 70 pitches in the first round, 85 in the round two, and up to 100 in the semi-finals and finals. The pitch count was raised this year by the WBC steering committee for the 2008 games.
This might actually be good considering that might be the pitch count the Rays might also have for their pitchers in their first few starts of the spring. Kazmir might even get an early shot to start with Team Canada having a mostly left-handed lineup in the Opener in Toronto on March 7th, or he could see action in Team USA’s thrid game, which might be a winner-moves-on rematch with Canada in the double elimination round. But whatever does happen for either of the Rays pitchers’, you can be sure that the Rays will have scouts at every game that Kazmir and Howell might pitch in to watch their progress or spot and impending injury.
Rays reliever J P Howell made a name for himself in 2008 by giving up his dream as a starter and concentrating on his reliever skills. What it got him in 2008 was a banner year for the southpaw with a chance to play for his country. Among the relievers for the U S team, Howell is one of 5 current southpaws on the provisional roster. Howell has a nasty curve that is only a few clicks slower than his fastball. This has been is deception to hitters in 2008, but will the same magic come early for him during the classic.
With the US roster having heavyweights like Matt Thorton of the White Sox, B J Ryan of the Blue Jays, George Sherill of the Baltimore Orioles and closer Brian Fuentes of the Angels, the team might be stacked high with left handers prior to the Feb 24th cut down date for their 25-man roster. But the addition of Howell with his off-speed pitches might be the answer for the hard throwing starters and relievers in the US pitching staff. The WBC currently doesn’t stipulate any hard rules concerning the relievers, but a rule that was instituted this year might come into play down the road. If any pitcher throws 30 or more pitches in the semi-final, he will not be eligible for the finals. Hopefully that rule will not play out for any of the Rays pitcher, or the U S during the Classic.
That leaves one more Rays player to talk about, and he is playing for the reigning WBC champions. Akinora Iwamura played in 6 games in the 2006 Classic and batted .389 for the Japanese team. Iwamura has not officially not committed to the squad, but he did suffer a hamstring injury during the 2006 Classic and might consider pulling his name from the roster. He is the one Rays player currently on the fence about playing in the Classic. The players are also reporting earlier to the Pool “A” training sites because they play the first games of the Classic starting on March 5th.
But several ex-Rays players will be competing for spots among the WBC participants. Playing for Team Australia,with Balfour will be left-hand pitcher Damion Moss, who went 0-1, with a 13.5 ERA in the 2006 Classic. Team Italy will have two former Rays in journeyman catcher Sal Fasano and infielder Robert Fick, who are both trying to make their first WBC rosters. Team Canada will have former Rays catcher Pete La Forest, who hit .300 during the 2006 Classic in 3 games for the squad. Team Dominican Republic could have former Rays outfielder Jose Guillen when they finalize their roster on February 24th.
Team Korea will have former Rays starting pitcher Jae Seo on their squad. Seo started 3 games in 2006 and pitched to a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings for the Korean team. Team Mexico will feature current Florida Marlin and ex-Rays Jorge Cantu in their infield. Cantu played in 6 games in 2006, and hit .333, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI’s for Team Mexico. The Puerto Rican squad will feature two former Rays who might not make the finals squads in catcher Raul Casanova, who played for the New York Mets last season, and ex-Rays and Cincinnati Reds catcher Javier Valentin, who played first base for 3 games in the 2006 classic hitting .500 in those games.
Rounding out th
e squads will be former Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano, and Rays Expansion pick Bobby Abreu for the Venezuelan squad. Zambrano and Abreu both participated in 2006. Zambrano played mostly in relief for the squad throwing 2.2 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA, with 3 strikeouts. Abreu, a Rays for only a short time before being traded to the Philadelphia Philles for Kevin Stocker, played in 6 games and hit only .150 in the Classic. So as you can see the Rays have a decent history of ex-player playing in the WBC for their respective countries.
The WBC begins with Pool “A” getting started on March 5th in Tokyo, Japan with Japan versus China in the first contest. The Classic will conclude on March 23, 2009 in Dodger Stadium. With good luck and no injuries suffered during the Classic by the Rays players participating, the team might have all their players in camp by March 24th, with 10 games left in their Spring Training schedule. The Rays will get a glance at the 2009 Puerto Rican squad when they square off at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on March 5th at 7:05 p.m.
Up in the Tampa Bay area, the locals can take in games featuring the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies against Team Canada on March 4th at 12:05 p.m., and Team USA on March 5th at 1:05 p.m, with both games being played at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. Also in Pinellas County, the Toronto Blue Jays will get first crack at the Tam Canada squad on March 3rd at 1:05 p.m., with a Team USA contest set for March 4th at 1:05 p.m., both games at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. And New York Yankees faithfuls can come out and watch their boys take on Team USA first on March 3rd at 1:15 p.m., and Team Canada on March 5th at 1:15 p.m. in Tampa, Florida at George Steinbrenner Field.