Pool B at the World Baseball Classic contains a fascinating mix of teams ranging from one of the tournament favourites to its ultimate underdog.
Japan and Korea will be particularly interesting to watch. Not only are they threats to win WBC medals, but they will also provide many fans with the opportunity to see some of the best the NPB and KBO have to offer for the first time.
Whether those players are future major leaguers or not, they are among the best the world has to offer — and it will be a treat to see them put their talents on display.
Here’s a rundown on what to expect from Pool B:
Manager: Hideki Kuriyama
WBC history: Japan won the first two World Baseball Classic tournaments in 2006 and 2009. The country managed third-place finishes in 2013 and 2017.
C Yuhei Nakamura
1B Hotaka Yamakawa
2B Shugo Maki
3B Munetaka Murakami
SS Sosuke Genda
LF Masataka Yoshida
CF Lars Nootbar
RF Seiya Suzuki
Notable pitchers: RHP Shohei Ohtani, RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP Roki Sasaki, LHP Shota Imanaga
Need to know: Japan has never failed to finish in the top three at the World Baseball Classic and they’ve got a great chance to keep that run going.
Ohtani’s two-way excellence will be a significant driver of this team’s success, but Japan is not a one-man show. It’s got three major leaguers in the outfield and two impressive power bats at the infield corners.
Murakami and Yamakawa combined for 97 home runs last season as the former set the NPB record for a Japanese-born player (56).
This pitching staff is headed by Ohtani and Darvish, but filled with impressive arms.
Yamamoto is the most dominant pitcher in Japan at the moment with two straight Sawamura Awards — NPB’s Cy Young equivalent — in his trophy case. He’s produced a 1.54 ERA in 386.2 innings over the last two seasons, striking out 411 batters.
Sasaki will be another pitcher to watch as the exciting 21-year-old brings triple-digit heat. The right-hander struck out 173 batters in 129.1 innings in his first full NPB season last year with a 2.02 ERA.
Manager: Kang Chul Lee
WBC history: Korea came third in the first WBC (2006) and second in the second iteration of the tournament (2009). It hasn’t had much success since then, coming ninth in 2013 and 10th in 2017.
C Eui-ji Yang
1B Jeong Choi
2B Tommy Edman
3B ByungHo Park
SS Ha-Seong Kim
LF Hyun Soo Kim
CF Jung-Hoo Lee
RF Sung-Bum Na
DH Kun-Woo Park
Notable pitchers: LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim, LHP Eui-Lee Lee, RHP Hyeong-Jun So, RHP Been Gwak, RHP Woo-Suk Go
Need to know: Korea’s team isn’t full of household names for MLB fans, but there’s plenty of talent here. The middle infield combo of Edman and Ha-Seong Kim is likely to play extraordinary defence while the outfield is full of big bats.
Na is a KBO superstar who flirted with coming to the majors in recent years and Hyun Soo Kim has more than 200 home runs in Korea. The man to watch is Lee, though. The centre fielder won KBO MVP in 2022 and he’s expected to find his way to MLB in the near future.
This staff is led by a southpaw — Kwang-Hyun Kim — who produced a 2.97 ERA in 145.2 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals between 2020 and 2021, then excelled back in Korea last year.
Behind him, the team features an impressive trio of starters (Lee, So, and Gwak) who are all 23 and under that combined for 473 innings of 3.54 ERA ball in the KBO last season.
Late in games, Korea’s best weapon is Woo-Suk Go, who led the KBO with 42 saves in 2022 with a 1.48 ERA.
Manager: Dave “Dingo” Nilsson
WBC history: Australia’s best showing came in 2017 as they finished ninth with a positive run differential (+7). In three other appearances, they’ve finished between 12th and 16th
Notable position players: OF Aaron Whitefield, C Alex Hall, SS Liam Spence
Notable pitchers: RHP Warwick Saupold, RHP Kyle Glogoski, LHP Jack O’Loughlin, RHP Liam Doolan, LHP Blake Townsend
Need to know: Australia has produced a few big leaguers over the years, but this group is almost entirely composed of ABL stars.
Whitehead is a player to watch as he’s an established speedster at the minor-league level with eight MLB appearances under his belt.
Hall is a Milwaukee Brewers prospect who’s the reigning ABL MVP while Spence is a Chicago Cubs minor leaguer who just won the league’s Rookie of the Year honours.
Australia’s most proven pitcher is Saupold, a 33-year-old who logged 106.2 MLB innings between 2016 and 2018.
Beyond the right-hander, the Aussies will lean on doesn’t some arms with experience in affiliated ball like Glogoski — who figures to start for the team — and relievers like Doolan, O’Loughlin and Townsend.
Manager: Dean Treanor
WBC history: China has participated in every WBC, finishing between 11th and 16th each time.
Notable position players: SS Ray Chang, OF Yusuke Masago
Notable pitchers: RHP Hai-Cheng Gong, RHP Alan Carter
Need to know: It’s tough to expect much from a country that scored just 1 run in its last WBC appearance and lacks proven talent.
China’s best-known position players are Chang — who played in the minors from 2005-2016 — and Masago, who has put together a six-year career in NPB, logging most of his pro games in the Japanese Winter League.
On the pitching side, the Chinese feature Carter, who signed a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason and Gong, a right-hander who pitched 41 pro innings between 2018 and 2019.
Treanor will have his work cut out for him leading this side, but he has managed for 12 seasons at various minor-league levels and has experience as an MLB bullpen coach.
Manager: Pavel Chadim
WBC history: This is the Czech Republic’s WBC debut. The team did not enter in 2006 and 2009 and failed to qualify in 2013 and 2017.
Notable position players: INF Eric Sogard, C Martin Cervanka, OF Marek Chlup
‘Notable pitchers: RHP Filip Capka, LHP Lukas Ercoli, and LHP Tomas Duffek
Need to know: It would be shocking if this squad made any real noise at the tournament as its compromised primarily of Czech Baseball Extraliga stars — most of whom work day jobs and play baseball on the side.
Cervanka has played Triple-A ball and Sogard took MLB at-bats as recently as 2021. Chlup is coming off a big season at the NCAA level.
The pitchers listed are Extraliga fixtures who figure to make some starts for this team.