January is a tough time of the year for baseball fans in the US, as most teams' rosters have been nearly finalized but actual games remain months away. The World Baseball Classic offers a welcome respite from the baseball doldrums, and today's announcement of the tournament participants' rosters ensures that there will be plenty of familiar faces for Pirates fans to watch in early March.
Our neighbors to the north have the strongest Pittsburgh contingent of any team in the tournament, as three current Pirates will be part of Team Canada's roster. Jameson Taillon seems like a sure bet for the Canadians' rotation, and Chris Leroux could plausibly work as either a starter or a reliever. In addition to Taillon, Scott Richmond and Shawn Hill can make a good case for the rotation, and Mark Hardy and Scott Mathieson have started at times in the past, so the decision will likely come down to which players Canada likes best. New acquisition Russell Martin, meanwhile, will serve as the team's primary catcher (and maybe, on occasion, its shortstop?). Former Pirates minor leaguer Dustin Molleken, who split 2012 between AAA Colorado Springs and Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters, was also chosen to the squad, for whom he will presumably work in relief.
Starter Wandy Rodriguez seems likely to anchor the rotation for the team from the Dominican Republic. He and the Rangers' Alexi Ogando are the two most accomplished starters for the Dominicans, which also selected former Pirates reliever Octavio Dotel.
Team Italy may not have many late leads in the tournament, but if they do end up with one, Jason Grilli will be there to protect it for them. Grilli is easily the most accomplished pitcher on a staff that also includes ex-Buc Dan Serafini. I had no idea that Serafini, who made 11 starts for the Pirates all the way back in 2000, was still active, but he apparently divided his time in 2012 between two Mexican teams and the Atlantic League's Bridgeport Bluefish.
New acquisition Ivan De Jesus will be one of the infielders on the Puerto Rican team, which also includes a total of four former PIrates: first baseman Carlos Rivera, utility infielder Luis Figueroa (a cousin of Jose Hernandez!), well-traveled swingman Nelson Figueroa, and left-handed reliever Javier Lopez.
Mexico will have a double helping of black and gold behind the plate after selecting the Pirates' 2012 Opening Day catcher Rod Barajas and Altoona's likely 2013 starter Ali Solis as their two backstops. It will be interesting to see whether the Mexicans prefer Barajas's experience or Solis's youth and upside when handing out playing time. Among the pitchers throwing to them will be Littlefield-era ace Oliver Perez, who successfully reinvented himself last year as a lefty reliever for Seattle. Former utilityman Luis Cruz, who enjoyed a surprising breakout with the Dodgers last year, also made the team and will likely start at second, short, or third for Mexico.
Stefan Welch, who played first and third base for Lynchburg and Altoona last year, was chosen as an infielder for Team Australia. He will be competing for playing time with Justin Huber at first and with Luke Hughes and Mike Walker at third. Welch and Walker are left-handed batters, while Huber and Hughes are right-handed, so the Australians have the option of running a pair of platoons at the two positions, if they want. Outfielder Chris Snelling, who spent time with Indianapolis in 2009, was chosen as one of the team's outfielders.
Two former Pirates were chosen for the roster of the Dutch squad, which will be coached by the immortal Bert Blyleven. 2012 NRI Shairon Martis was picked for the pitching staff, while the Master of Disaster himself, Yurendell de Caster, will be among the team's infielders. Pirates catching prospect Danny Arribas, who has represented the Netherlands in other international games, was a notable omission, as the Dutch elected to go with only one catcher - Washington's Spencer Kieboom - on their squad.
Team USA has a very limited black-and-gold presence, with Andrew McCutchen conspicuously absent. Ryan Vogelsong is the only former Pirate among the players, while former Pittsburgh hitting coach and Braves first baseman Gerald Perry is among the members of the coaching staff. China's team has one former Pirate among its number: Infielder Ray Chang, who played for Lynchburg and Altoona in 2009, and also participated in the WBC that year. Venezuela also has one ex-Buc: reliever Ronald Belisario, a hard-throwing righty who was once on the 40-man roster.
More information on the players participating, including the full roster for every team, is available at this link.