02 March 2013

Who Might Be at Norfolk in 2013?

In Baseball America’s prospect handbook, I’m especially interested in the players whom I’m likely to see at Norfolk, either for the Tides or for a visiting team. As part of the write-ups on each prospect, Baseball America projects where he will play in the upcoming season. This article will focus on the players who might play at Norfolk in 2013.
Earlier this off-season, I was emailing with the Norfolk Tides Director of Media Relations, with whom I've worked closely over the past several years. He mentioned that he's been tracking the Orioles' minor-league free-agent signings, and that he thinks there are about 86 players – he may have been exaggerating -- who could or should be on the Tides' opening-day roster. As an example, he listed eighteen pitchers who could be in the Tides’ starting rotation.
#1 Dylan Bundy is the Orioles top pitching prospect, who in 2012 raced from Low-A to High-A to AA to the major leagues. He was dominant at Low-A and High-A and held his own in limited AA and major-league action. BA states that it’s possible that Bundy will make the Orioles out of spring training, but that an assignment to AA or AAA is more likely. I predict the Orioles will assign Bundy to AA Bowie, in part because of the number of pitchers who could pitch at Norfolk, and in part because the Orioles may want Bundy to be close-at-hand both in case they want to call him up quickly and to keep an eye on him.
#2 Kevin Gausman was the Orioles’ #1 2012 draft pick, a pitcher from LSU. He’s an advanced and highly-regarded prospect, but he only has fifteen innings of professional experience. He might follow Dylan Bundy, move quickly through the system, and spend some time at Norfolk, but I think the Orioles might start him at Frederick to get his feet wet.
#3 Jonathan Schoop is likely to get a return engagement at Bowie. He’s young; he won’t turn 22 until after the 2013 season. His 2012 OPS of .710 at Bowie indicates that he still has something to prove at AA.
#6 L.J. Hoes will either make the Orioles out of spring training or start 2013 at Norfolk.
#7 Xavier Avery will either make the Orioles out of spring training or start 2013 at Norfolk.
 BA states that #8 Mike Wright will start 2013 at Norfolk. I think he'll start 2013 at Bowie. He didn’t pitch well in a half-season at Bowie in 2012 and he’ll be fighting with the seventeen other pitchers. The Orioles have invested a lot in him, why rush him?
#16 Steve Johnson should, by all measures, make the Orioles out of spring training. He pitched well with both Norfolk and Baltimore in 2012 and will turn 26 in August. The problem is that he’s fighting a crowd of candidates for the Orioles’ rotation, he has options left, and the Orioles may prefer him to pitch regularly in Norfolk than as a long relief pitcher in Baltimore. The good news for him is that even if he does start the season in Norfolk, he’ll likely be an early recall to Baltimore when they need a starting pitcher.
#17 Clay Schrader is a relief pitcher who has pitched very well throughout the Orioles’ minor-league system. He had a 2.74 ERA with Bowie last season, and turns 23 in April, so he might normally be considered for Norfolk. But since he only pitched 23 innings at AA, and there are plenty of pitchers competing at Norfolk, he will likely start 2013 at Bowie.
#21 Tsuyoshi Wada is a wild card. A 32-year-old with a long career in Japan, Wada underwent Tommy John surgery and missed almost all of 2012. Depending on where he is in his recovery, he could start in Bowie, in Norfolk, in extended spring training, or on the disabled list.
#22 T.J. McFarland is a major-league Rule 5 draftee from the Indians organization. He pitched 2/3 of 2012 at AAA Columbus and, under normal circumstances, would be a candidate for Norfolk in 2013. However, as a major-league Rule 5 draftee, he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without (1) clearing waivers and (2) being offered back to Cleveland for $25,000. The Orioles obviously like McFarland, and he’ll be given every chance to win a job in spring training. The Indians don’t have a lot of pitching, especially left-handed pitching, in their organization, so I’d think that they’d take McFarland back if he doesn’t make the Orioles.
#24 Mike Belfiore, acquired from Arizona in exchange for Josh Bell, had a great 2012 after being unimpressive earlier in his career. BA thinks Belfiore will start 2013 in Norfolk, but I think he’s as likely to be a victim of the numbers game and start 2013 at Bowie. Even if he does, he’ll spend some time in Norfolk if he continues to pitch well.
#28 Oliver Drake is sort of a cross between Mike Wright and Tsuyoshi Wada – a pitcher who is recovering from surgery – in Drake’s case shoulder surgery – and who hasn’t really proven that he’s mastered AA. Although he made an emergency appearance in 2011 at Norfolk, he’s much more likely to start the year again at Bowie.
#30 Ty Kelly is an organization player who had an outstanding 2012, dominating at Class A, playing well at AA, and holding his own in a two-week stint at AAA. BA thinks he’ll start 2013 at Norfolk, and he might, but given that he has fewer than 200 AA plate appearances, it might be more prudent for him to start 2013 at Bowie. In his case, his placement may depend on positional need – if Norfolk needs an infielder, he may be assigned to Norfolk.

01 March 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Chinese Taipei

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Korea, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Chinese Taipei article was written by Stuart Wallace.

Chinese Taipei
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 5th
2013 Pool Netherlands

Austrailia

Korea
2013 Players of Note Chien-Ming Wang, P

Yao-Lin Wang, P

Che-Hsuan Lin, OF

Dai-Kang Yang, OF

Hong-Chih Kuo, P


2009 Record 0 - 2, First Round


2006 Record 1 - 2, First Round



Formosa, Taiwan, Chinese Taipei. Whatever moniker you use to call this small island nation, its history is inextricably married to not only mainland China, but Japan, and its baseball history is no different. While the origins of baseball in the country are somewhat recent compared to some of the other baseball playing nations of the WBC, Chinese Taipei baseball can boast the unique quality of being a battle born endeavor, brought to the nation by the Japanese, after defeating the Chinese Qing Dynasty in the First Sino-Japanese War, which saw Taiwan being ceded to Japan in 1895. At this time, it was a pastime for the colonial elite, only played by Japanese administrators. However, with the ushering in of the 20th Century, the game, then called Yakyu, the Japanese word for baseball, quickly spread across both country and social class, with passion for the game being shared by Japanese and native Taiwanese alike. In spite of these dubious early beginnings, a path was nonetheless forged for baseball to become the national sport of the nation, and for the nation to be a sleeping giant in international baseball circles, culminating in a current IBAF ranking of 5th, rubbing shoulders with such powers as Korea and Canada.

The first organized baseball game in Chinese Taipei happened in 1906 in the nation's capital city and largest city, Taipei, between schools that would be precursors to the Jianguo High School and the Taipei Municipal University of Education. The game was played to a 5-5 tie, but set the precedent for teams to form across the island, primarily in the more populated northern portion of the nation. However, the sport wasn't a truly national and international affair until 1931, when the Chiayi School of Agriculture and Forestry, located in the southern, and more rural part of the island, was the Taiwan representative for the Pan-Japanese High School Yakyu Tournament, ultimately placing second. However, as soon as Chinese Taipei enjoyed the fruits of their baseball labors, it was quickly dampened by impending war. With World War II came a large resentment and concomitant disassociation with their Japanese occupiers, and with it a reduction in the popularity of baseball.

With the end of the war, and the formation of a nationalist government came a renaissance of sorts of baseball on the island, seen especially in their dominance of amateur youth baseball; from 1969-1982, the country enjoyed not only a resurgence of amateur baseball programs and participation, but 13 Little League World Series championships. Postwar baseball in Taiwan also found itself under a new name in international circles – Chinese Taipei. While initially performing under the name the United Team of Taiwan, diplomatic and political pressures forced the name change that we know today. More recently, Taiwanese baseball has enjoyed a modest amount of regional and international success, with appearances in the Asian Championship (26), Baseball World Cup (14), Intercontinental Cup (10), Asian Games (4), and Olympics (4), culminating in a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics, as well as championships in both the Asian Games (2006) and Asian Championships (1987, 2001).
           
Professional baseball on the island has experienced a short albeit tumultuous history. The Chinese Professional Baseball League had its start in 1990, and has been rocked by a number of gambling and game fixing scandals between 1997 and 2008. An expansion of sorts occurred in 2003 with the CPBL absorbing the rival Taiwan Major League amidst these scandals, with the modern day CPBL consisting of four teams: the Brother Elephants, Lamigo Monkeys, Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, and the EDA Rhinos, a team in the news recently for having a deal in place for Manny Ramirez to suit up for them, should he not find MLB work this season. In terms of Taiwanese baseball players in the major leagues, the list is short, starting with Chin-Feng Chen, debuting in 2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and ending most recently with 12 game winner, Wei-Yin Chen of the Baltimore Orioles. Overall, MLB talent coming from the island is of the pitching variety, with 5 of the 8 players with MLB experience being pitchers.
           
Speaking of pitchers, the 2013 iteration of the Chinese Taipei WBC roster is loaded with current of former MLB level pitching talent, including the oft-injured likes of former New York Yankee and Washington National Chien-Ming Wang and former Dodger Hong Chih-Kuo, along with Chicago Cubs prospect Yao-Lin Wang. Overall, the team's hopes for moving on to the second round of the WBC, and overcoming the power of Pacific Rim foe Korea will be its pitching, with offensive production resting in the hands and bat of current Brother Elephant first baseman Cheng-Ming Peng. The future of Chinese Taipei is bright, and tied heavily to its young talent having a breakout WBC. With a significant presence already forged in the major league ranks, having 28 Taiwanese players with professional ties in the US, it will be a matter of their youth to build upon their past WBC performance, and their 1-4 record in 2 previous appearances. While small geographically, Chinese Taipei continues to loom large on the international baseball landscape; however, in order to rise above the likes of Canada and Korea, it will be a question of timely pitching and the continued development of their MLB caliber prospects that will propel them to victory in Taichung.

2013 World Baseball Classic: Korea

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Korea article was written by Jon Shepherd.

Korea
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 4th
2013 Pool Netherlands

Austrailia

Chinese Taipei
2013 Players of Note Jae Weong Seo, P

Seung Song, P

Tae-Hyon Chong, P

Dae-Ho Lee, INF




2009 Record 6 - 3, Lost Final


2006 Record 6 - 1, Semifinals
Similar to China, Korean baseball began with a missionary.  Phillip Gillet traveled to Korea to spread the word of God in 1905 and did so by focusing on the idea that combining athletics and community was a great approach to spreading religion.  Gillet was part of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) movement that had begun earnestly in the mid 1800s.  Although not originally part of the model (but quickly adopted) physical exercise and the practice of sportsmanship became major tenants of the YMCA movement.  This organization of ideas and incorporation of religion made it a useful model for missionaries when taking the message abroad.  Gillet took the YMCA model to Korea and used it to introduce baseball (as well as basketball) to the country.  He spent the next eight years helping organize various club teams to compete against each other before political issues involving the Japanese takeover of the Korean empire led to his departure where he then helped promote the existing pioneering of baseball in China.

However, baseball did not die with the absence of the Phillip Gillet.  The Japanese, having already embraced America's pasttime, used baseball as a medium in a multifacted to improve relations between Japan and Korea by trying to Japanize Korea.  During colonial rule, the government encouraged the creation of high school baseball tournaments as well as organized games between elite players from Japan and Korea.  This stewardship protected the Korean game from the changes happening in the American game during this era.  As such, Korea's game today focuses on making contact, using speed, pitching deception, and emphasizing managerial strategy as opposed to the sheer power and velocity found in the USA.

However, the tide may be changing.  Researchers in Korea have been asking similar questions that have been posed in the States for over a decade.  There has been a great deal of discussion over Japan's success in the World Baseball Classic, leading to whether or not the Japanese game is superior to the American version.  Of course, anyone who pays attention to the quality of players coming over to the USA notices that the play in the NPB is not equivalent to MLB.  These question lead to attempts to measure the differences.  For instance, this article focused on how "small ball" affected run production in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).  What they found was not all that surprising.  As the great Earl Weaver said, "When you play for one run, that is usually all you get."  That article took data from the KBO and found, somewhat, that managers who tend to insert their strategy into the game via events like sacrifice bunts wind up reducing the number of runs they score.  

On the other hand, there is not a great deal of information suggesting that there has in fact been a change in perspective in Korea.  In the Korean Baseball Organization, each of the eight professional teams can sign two foreign players.  Almost without exception, these foreign players are starting pitchers.  The idea is that the way offense is played in the KBO that players in tune with the MLB version poorly adapt to a different style.  Also strange, many of these pitchers are former Orioles (31%): Denny Bautista, Dana Eveland, Radhames Liz, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Rick VandenHurk. 

Korean Players in MLB

Only two position players have ever made it to the Majors:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To G HR BA OBP SLG
1 Shin-Soo Choo 19.9 2005 2012 699 83 .289 .381 .465
2 Hee-Seop Choi 2.2 2002 2005 363 40 .240 .349 .437
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2013.

Shin-Soo Choo has been a solid, above average corner outfielder for the Cleveland Indians for the past several years, showing power, speed, and good plate discipline.  A rising price tag, impending free agency, and some concern over platoon splits led Choo to being dealt to the Cincinnati Reds this past off season.  He will be one of the biggest names on the market after the 2013 season given that the Reds do not sign him long term.

Hee-Seop Choi was signed by the Cubs and became a highly touted prospect, making top 100 prospect lists year in and year out.  Trouble arose for him at the MLB level as he had difficulty with contact and was challenged by pitchers with plus fastballs.  The batting eye remained as well as the power, but was barely sufficient without the contact.  That combined with a less than stellar ability to play the field led him to being bounced from the Cubs to the Marlins to the Dodgers and then released.  He spent the next season in AAA with the Red Sox.  In 2007, he tried to make the Rays out of Spring Training, but failed.  He decided to return to the KBO rather than spending the summer in Durham.

Eleven Koreans, ten if you wish not to count Tommy Phelps, have pitched in the Majors.

Rk Player WAR From To W L SV IP ERA ERA+
1 Chan Ho Park 15.8 1994 2010 124 98 2 1993.0 4.36 97
2 Byung-Hyun Kim 10.0 1999 2007 54 60 86 841.0 4.42 107
3 Jae Weong Seo 5.6 2002 2007 28 40 0 606.1 4.60 94
4 Cha-Seung Baek 0.5 2004 2008 16 18 0 279.2 4.83 86
5 Sang-Hoon Lee 0.3 2000 2000 0 0 0 11.2 3.09 169
6 Tommy Phelps 0.3 2003 2005 4 5 1 120.1 4.34 97
7 Dae-Sung Koo 0.1 2005 2005 0 0 0 23.0 3.91 107
8 Sun-Woo Kim -0.1 2001 2006 13 13 0 337.0 5.31 86
9 Jin Ho Cho -0.4 1998 1999 2 6 0 58.0 6.52 76
10 Jae Kuk Ryu -0.6 2006 2008 1 3 0 39.2 7.49 62
11 Jung Bong -0.8 2002 2004 7 4 1 78.1 5.17 84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2013.

Jin Ho Cho (who spent time in prison trying to avoid mandatory army service), Sun-Woo Kim, and Sang-Hoon Lee were Dan Duquette's big Korean push signings or at least the ones that made the Majors.  Chul Oh, Seung Song, Tai-In Che, and Byeong-Hak An never made it.

When you look at the numbers, it makes one wonder whether investing in this market is a prudent thing to do.  The Dodgers signed Hyun-Jin Ryu to a six year deal this offseason in committing 62 MM to him.  It is a rather impressive deal to give someone who profiles as a number three pitcher based on industry reported scouting.  The Orioles last year signed Wei-Yin Chen to a deal half as long and less than half of the annual money allotment Ryu will earn for what will seem to be similar performance levels.

2013 World Baseball Classic

The Korean team is expected to move through the first round with ease even though two of their best players, Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun-Jin Ryu will remain in Spring Training with their respective professional clubs.  They will tie their lineup around Dae-ho Lee who was a masher in the KBO and now plays for the Orix Buffaloes in the NPB.  The aforementioned Jae Weong Seo and Seung Song will be notable features of the team's pitching staff.  Baltimore fans may remember side armer Tae-Hyon Chong who almost signed last year with the Orioles on a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract before his medical exam picked up some issues.

27 February 2013

Looking Back on Manny Machado's Rookie Season

The Orioles are expecting a lot of Manny Machado. Still just 20 years old after making his major league debut last August, Machado will be the team's everyday third baseman. The Orioles will be looking for him to carry over his strong defense at a position he never really played in the minors, while also expecting his offensive numbers to improve. In order for the O's to have any sort of repeat of last season, they'll need him to mature quickly.

When Machado was unexpectedly promoted last season, he didn't waste any time demonstrating that he belonged. In the fifth inning of his first game on August 9, he tripled to deep right-center field. He also added a single in his next at-bat. But he followed up his debut with an even better effort the next day, when he hit the first two home runs of his career -- a solo shot in the fifth and a three-run bomb in the sixth. He's got plenty of power in his swing, and it's scary to see how easily the ball flies off his bat.

A couple days later, Machado homered again, his third in his first four games. It was unlikely that he would continue slugging at that blistering pace, and things eventually slowed down. He sprinkled in some hits here and there, and he ended the month of August hitting .243/.260/.471 -- obviously not a great slash line. But one thing he did consistently was provide solid defense at third base. In an August series against the Red Sox, Machado made several strong defensive plays, including this game-ending diving grab to secure a 5-3 win on August 15:



On September 7, Machado homered for the first time in almost a month in a loss to the Yankees. After starting September with a stretch of a few multi-hit games, Machado was batting .293/.304/.525 after that loss. Unfortunately, that was the best his numbers would look for the rest of the season, though he wasn't done contributing. On September 12 against the Rays, Machado made one of the best and smartest defensive plays of the season when he faked a throw to first base and caught a runner sloppily rounding third:



The savvy play would have been fantastic for any third baseman, let alone a 20-year-old still learning the position. And if that weren't enough, Machado also singled in the bottom of the ninth and scored the winning run on Nate McLouth's walk-off single. The very next day, Machado singled in the winning run in the 14th inning to give the Orioles another 3-2 win over the Rays.

In a September 26 blowout win over the Blue Jays, Machado had his second two-homer game of the season. A couple days later, he knocked in two runs, including the go-ahead home run in a 4-3 win over Boston.

After going hitless in his final four games, Machado finished the regular season hitting .262/.294/.445 with a .317 wOBA. Again, that's not very good, but considering the team's starting shortstop, J.J. Hardy, finished with a .290 wOBA in 2012, it doesn't look quite as bad. Plus, there's no reason why Machado shouldn't perform better over the course of a full season, especially after getting his feet wet for a couple months.

Still, as you may have noticed, the Orioles, remarkably, headed to the postseason to face the Rangers in the AL wild card one-game play-in. Aided by strong pitching and timely hitting, the O's prevailed, 5-1. Machado played a part with an RBI single in the ninth to give the O's a little more cushion:



In the next round, the O's fell in five games to the Yankees, but Machado did homer in the third game of the series. In 19 postseason at-bats, he had only three hits. But it's not like the rest of the Orioles offense was much better. In those six games, the offense combined to hit just .195/.236/.270, the worst slash line of all 10 playoff teams.

-----

In about two months of baseball, Machado, in my opinion, exceeded early expectations. I didn't think the Orioles would promote him until 2013, and yet there he was, contributing to a playoff team. He was also a joy to watch on the defensive end and made both smart and athletic plays.

But while there's not necessarily much pressure on him to be great just yet, the Orioles didn't bring in much offensive help this offseason. From top to bottom, the O's lineup is decent, but it doesn't have much elite talent. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are very good, but they're not superstars. Chris Davis has plenty of power, but he doesn't get on base enough. And even though Matt Wieters is a fantastic catcher who most teams would love to have, his bat hasn't lived up to his prospect-level hype. Maybe Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts will help. It's not impossible that one or both will stay healthy, but it's certainly improbable, particularly in Roberts's case.

Basically, the Orioles need more out of Machado at the plate very soon, even if Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette don't admit it publicly. By opting against signing someone like Nick Swisher, the O's are gambling on guys like Machado and Reimold. That may not be such a bad idea, but it could very well fail in 2013.

26 February 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Netherlands

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Netherlands article was written by Eli Moore.


Netherlands
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 7th
2013 Pool Korea

Austrailia

Chinese Taipei
2013 Players of Note Jonathan Schoop, Inf

Jurickson Profar, SS

Andrelton Simmons, SS

Roger Bernadina, OF

Andruw Jones, OF


2009 Record 2 - 4, Round 2


2006 Record 1 - 2, Round 1



If you were going to set out to build a successful national baseball team you probably wouldn’t select a country with most of its land sitting below sea level.  You might consider constant clouds and rain a drawback as well.  However, throw in over a hundred years of baseball tradition, Caribbean territories charged with talent, the guts to call the game “honkbal,” and you would get the Netherlands.  The 2011 Baseball World Cup champions come into this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC) looking to improve on their 2009 seventh place performance.  Baseball may not be considered the national pastime in the Netherlands, but the Dutch national team is as dangerous as anyone to take home the 2013 WBC crown.
             
Baseball was introduced to the Netherlands in 1911 by J. C. G. Grasé, an English teacher from Amsterdam, after discovering baseball while on vacation in the United States.  Grasé translated the rules of the game and founded the Dutch Baseball Union in 1912.  He was also the founder of Europe’s oldest baseball club, Quick Amsterdam, in 1913.  The first official competition was played in 1922 with four teams from Amsterdam: Quick Amsterdam, Ajax (a branch of the famous soccer club), Blue White (also a soccer club), and Hercules.  Quick Amsterdam became the first Dutch champion of the inaugural season.

In 1925 a US Navy ship made port in Amsterdam.  Players from Blue White heard of the visit and were anxious to test their skills against a group of Americans.  The sailors accepted the friendly invitation and ended up making quite an impression.  After one inning, the Americans led 14-0.  After two hours of play the final score was 27-2.  At that time Dutch pitchers were selected solely on who could throw the fastest regardless of control.  It was considered unsportsmanlike for batters to take advantage of lack of control by a pitcher.  Reaching base on balls was a humiliation and it was much more respectable to fly or ground out.  Baseball gained popularity and quickly spread to Harlem later in the 20s.  In 1939 a group of Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City played in the Dutch league with the team name Seagulls.  They lost just two games during the season.

Baseball in the Netherlands went through a difficult era after the German invasion in May 1940 when play was completely disrupted and materials became scarce.  Baseballs were made of rubber with a cork center by the tire company Vredenstein, and could only absorb a couple hits before breaking apart.  You could imagine old Dutch ball players were unimpressed by Roy Hobbs busting the guts out of a baseball in the “The Natural”.  Because there were no seams in the balls some pitchers would simply cut groves in the balls in order to throw curves, which made them even more fragile.  After World War II the Marshall Plan included baseball materials (bats, balls, uniforms) to be sent to the Netherlands to build morale.  The post war assistance helped keep baseball alive in the country and the Dutch national team went on to win their first European title in 1956, held in Rome, Italy.  Since then the Netherlands has been dominant in the continent, winning 20 European championships and nine second place finishes.

Up until 1963, baseball in the Netherlands was ruled by teams from Amsterdam and Haarlem.  That year Sparta from Rotterdam became champion and won a total of nine national titles from 1963 to 1974.  The unstoppable trio of players Hudson John, Simon Arrindell, and Hamilton Richardson, all from the Dutch Antilles, were known as the “magnificent three”.  In 1970 a Dutch born pitcher, who was raised in California, named Bert Blyleven made the Minnesota Twins roster and went on to have a hall of fame career (inducted in 2010).  The first Dutch Major League Baseball player who grew up and learned the game in the Netherlands was Win Remmerswaal, who pitched briefly for the Boston Red Sox in 1979 and 1980 before his MLB career was cut short by injuries.

The 1980s and 90s were rough decades for Dutch baseball when many teams went bankrupt.  The Haarlem Nicols was the most striking example as the team won 7 pennants in a ten year period but declared bankruptcy in 1994, only 5 years after their last pennant.  Imagine what the MLB would look like if every small market team folded because of multiple losing seasons after a pennant.  Despite the struggles of Dutch baseball clubs, the Netherland’s national team expanded its international presence in the 1980s and 90s by hosting the Baseball World Cup in 1986 and competing in the 1988 summer Olympics.  The Netherlands best Olympics finish was 5th in both the 1996 and 2000 games.
             
The WBC has made the influx of Dutch players to the MLB more apparent as recognizable Major Leaguers players have played for the Dutch national team including Andruw Jones (hometown: Willemstad, Curacao, WBC performance: 2006), Sidney Ponson (Noord, Aruba, 2009), Randall Simon (Willemstad, Curacao, 2006, 2009), Jair Jurrjens (Willemstad, Curacao, 2006, picked up by the Orioles on Feb 15th), and Kenley Jansen (Willemstad, Curacao).  The Netherlands finished 11th in the 2006 WBC and 7th in the 2009 WBC.  The 2009 performance included two wins over the very strong Dominican Republic team.  However, they lost their second round games to Venezuela and the United States, knocking them out of the tournament.

While the Dutch showing in 2009 included some impressive wins, five years earlier the baseball hotbed of Willemstad, Curacao was exploding with young talent that would help propel the national team’s success in the following decade.  In 2004, Willemstad won the Little League World Series and were runners up in 2005.  From the 2004 championship team, Jonathan Schoop, who is now in the Orioles organization, joined the national team in 2011 along with six additional players, including Jonathan’s brother Sharlon, from the small city of Willemstad (population 140,000).  Four more players from the Caribbean, a number of players from around the Netherlands, and one Canadian born member made up the 24 man roster lead by American manager Brian Farley.

In the 2011 World Cup the Netherlands went 6-1 in round one pool play including a 19-0 blowout win over Greece and a 7-5 win over defending World Cup champions the United States.  In round two pool play the Dutch team knocked off Cuba 4-1 giving the Cuban national team their first loss of the tournament.  The two teams would have the best records from round two pool play and face each other again in the finals.  Cuba would score first in the 4th inning of the championship game on a sacrifice fly by slugger Alfredo Despaigne driving in Frederich Cepeda.  The Netherlands answered right back with two runs in the bottom of the 4th on an RBI single by Bryan Engelhardt bringing home Sidney de Jong and another RBI single by Jonathan Schoop scoring Curt Smith.  Netherlands pitchers would not allow any more hits until the 9th inning when two Cuban batters reached base on singles.  With two outs and two on in a one run game pinch hitter Hector Olivera lined out to Jonathan Schoop at 3rd base to close out the win for the Netherlands.  Robbie Cordemans was the winning pitcher with Juan Carlos Sulbaran pitching an inning of relief and David Bergmans picking up the save.  Dutch player Curt Smith was named Cup MVP, with the most RBIs, and teammate Tom Stuifbergen had the lowest ERA of the tournament.

The Netherlands finished 2012 ranked 7th in the IBAF national rankings.  They enter the 2013 WBC with 10 players on their provisional roster returning from the 2011 World Cup championship team including position players Curt Smith and Jonathan Schoop.  Seven of the ten returners are pitchers, indicating the staff has the potential shut down opposing offenses in international play.  Additional Major Leaguers Roger Bernadina (Washington Nationals) and Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers) are on the provisional roster as well although Profar is reportedly undecided about participating in the WBC or reporting to spring training.  Andruw Jones is also listed on the roster and will bring valuable experience to the team having played in the 2006 WBC, 17 years in the majors, and a season in Japan’s Pacific League.  With the success of their Caribbean players, consistent championship performances in Europe, and gutsy honkbal to pull out close games, the Netherlands is sure to be an international contender for many years in the future.