In mid-March, the World Baseball Classic returns for the first time since 2017, delayed two years from its original 2021 date due to COVID-19. The United States won the 2017 tournament over Puerto Rico, while the Dominican Republic and Japan (x2) are the other winners since the inaugural tournament in 2006.
This year, the field is expanded to 20 teams across four venues (four pools) across the glove, with the top two teams advancing to the next round and so forth until a champion is crowned. Looking at the groupings, Pool D appears to be the toughest with powerhouses such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela all in one group.
For Team Canada, they will kick off the tournament facing Great Britain on March 12th at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Following this contest, Canada will face the United States, Colombia, and Mexico respectively, with the Canadian squad looking to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in tournament history.
Looking at Team Canada’s Roster
Former Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin will be representing Canada as a member of the coaching staff, with Ernie Whitt taking the manager role once again. Whitt has managed the team on 18 different occasions/tournaments, including all previous World Baseball Classics, the Pan Am Games, and the 2004 Summer Olympics.
At first base, Dodgers slugger Freddie Freeman will be returning to the squad, donning the Canadian jersey as he did back in 2017. This will be a big boost for the team, as Freeman could have also chosen to represent the United States but is eligible for Canada because of his parents being born in Ontario.
He will be joined by infielders Eduoard Julien, Otto Lopez, Damiano Palmegiani, Abraham Toro, and Andy Yerzy. Toro boasts the most experience on the infield behind Freeman, boasting a career .621 OPS in the big leagues.
Team Canada will also be joined by Guardians’ top prospect Bo Naylor, who will split catching duties with Kellin Deglan. Bo is the only Naylor brother listed on the roster for the World Baseball Classic.
In the outfield, St. Louis Cardinals left-fielder Tyler O’Neill has been named to the squad, giving the team some much-needed speed and defensive ability in the outfield. He will be joined by Jared Young, Denzel Clarke, Jacob Robson, and Owen Caissie, the Chicago Cubs third ranked prospect.
Looking at the Pitching Staff for Team Canada
On the mound, Team Canada will be supported by big leaguers Nick Pivetta, Cal Quantrill, and Matt Brash, while being supported by Rob Zastrynzy and former Blue Jays prospect Curtis Taylor.
Making a return to the diamond is some veteran relief pitchers in the form of Andrew Albers, John Axford, Adam Loewen, Phillippe Aumont, and Scott Mathieson. Rounding out the rest of the staff is a mix of prospect and foreign league talent in the form of Evan Rutckyj, Noah Skirrow, Cade Smith, Mitch Bratt, Trevor Brigden, Indigo Diz, and R.J. Freure.
Notable Omissions from the Squad
We do know that Blue Jays’ closer Jordan Romano pulled out from representing Team Italy earlier this month and that Blue Jays’ first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will suit up for the Dominican Republic.
Guerrero confirmed his commitment last year to play for the Dominican at the World Baseball Classic while Romano also announced his decision to play for Italy last year as well, rejoining the squad after making the team for the 2017 WBC, before rescinding that decision.
Notable players missing from the squad include Jameson Taillon, James Paxton, Mike Soroka, Zach Pop, and Rowan Wick from the pitching side, with a few players like Paxton and Soroka likely missing the tournament to recover from injuries after missing time last season. Taillon is likely skipping the tournament after signing a deal with a new squad in the Chicago Cubs, but that is not confirmed yet.
On the diamond, first baseman Joey Votto will not be joining the team while 1B/RF Josh Naylor is left off the roster as well, with the elder Naylor claiming he would likely skip the tournament this year. Marlins infielder Charles Leblanc was also left off the roster.
With this roster, Team Canada is shaping up to put forward a squad that should compete in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and hopefully advance out of Pool C and into the quarterfinal for the first time, although it is missing some notable firepower.