This is the last of my reviews of the countries in the 2017 WBC.
Overview - Despite the political turmoil that exists in Venezuela the population will always love their baseball. The Houston Astros opened the door to the talent in this South American country and now all teams are taking advantage. It is now just a little more difficult to safely travel into Venezuela to identify this talent. When you look at this roster there are some major league All Stars.
Venezuela has a history in baseball. In the beginning of the World Cups from 1941 to 1945, when they were played every year Venezuela won three gold medals while Cuba only won two. That dominance has waned over the years with their best finishes silver medals in 1951 and 1953. Their last medal was a bronze medal they won in 1973.
The early years also saw them do well in the Pan Am games winning the event in 1959 and taking the bronze in 1955. As the years have passed their success has been limited there as well. Their last medal was in 1975 when they won the bronze.
Medals in the Olympics have been absent. Qualifying has been the big challenge with baseball powers Cuba, United States and Canada fighting for what was only two spots for their hemisphere. Despite all the talent in the country Venezuela has failed to qualify for one baseball Olympics.
The World Baseball Classic is a little different. As a baseball power they were invited to the invite. In the three events this has resulted in only one medal, a bronze in the 2009 games. In 2006 they advanced to the second round finishing second to the Dominican Republic. That put them in the death pool where they had to battle Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. With losses to Cuba and the Dominican Republic they were eliminated from advancing.
The 2009 World Baseball Classic saw them advance past the first round, beating an Italian team twice and splitting with the United States to finish first in the bracket. They advanced to the final four with three wins over Netherlands, Puerto Rico and the United States. In the semifinals South Korea routed them 10-2 in what would become an All Asian final that Japan would win.
The 2013 WBC was a big disappointment for Venezuela, failing to advance past the first round. Losses to the eventual gold and silver medalists Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in pool eliminated them from competition.
Venezuela qualified for the Premier 12 tournament as a result of their top 12 finish in the international baseball rankings. Venezuela was not a good team without a roster of major leaguers, or players outside 40 man rosters and they failed to qualify past the first round, finishing 2-3.
With all the turmoil in the country Venezuela could improve the moral with a good WBC showing. They have a roster that can certainly go deep in the playoffs.
Current International Ranking - Venezuela is currently ranked seventh but that may be an under assessment with all the major league players on the roster. Puerto Rico is ranked 12th but they finished second in this event in 2013. This year they also have more talent on their roster than that 2013 team. Mexico, the defending Series del Caribe champions are slotted one ahead of Venezuela at sixth and Italy is ranked 11th.
Pitchers - Jose Alvarado, Jose Alvarez (DPP), Omar Bencomo, Silvino Bracho, Jose Castillo (DPP), Jhoulys Chacin, Jeanmar Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Felix Hernandez, Will Ledezma, Martin Perez, Yusmeiro Petit, Francisco Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon, Robert Suarez
Designated Pitcher Pool - Leonel Campos, Gregory Infante, Arcenio Leon, Jhondaniel Medina, Franklin Morales, Edubray Ramos, Eduardo Rodriguez, Hector Rondon
Catchers - Robinson Chirinos, Salvador Perez
Infielders - Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Alcides Escobar, Freddy Galvis, Victor Martinez, Hernan Perez, Martin Prado, Yangervis Solarte
Outfielders - Carlos Gonzalez, Odubel Herrera, Ender Inciarte
Strengths - This will be a team that can score runs. They have one of the best offensive catchers in baseball in Salvador Perez. The infielders have some sticks in MVP candidates Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera and a glove at shortstop in Alcides Escobar or Freddy Galvis. The outfield lacks depth with only three players listed but they are all potential All stars. Carlos Gonzalez will provide the power while Odubel Herrera and Ender Inciarte will bring the speed and defense. If they need a fourth outfielder Venezuela can call upon Martin Prado for left field or super utility man Hernan Perez. They could have an ace in Felix Hernandez, but he pitched poorly last year and will have to show that this was an aberration.
Weakness - Outside of Felix Hernandez and he is a question mark, the rotation does not overwhelm you. The team is missing a quality second starter after Hernandez so they may move quickly to a deep bullpen. The pen has a lot of arms but lacks a shutdown closer. Francisco Rodriguez can get the job done, but his fastball does not sizzle like it used to. Third base will be shared by Martin Prado and Yangervis Solarte. Solarte can hit for a modest amount of power while Prado is more a gap hitter.
Prospects to Watch - This is a veteran team. The youngest player on the roster is Jose Castillo and myworld does not know a lot about him. His minor league numbers are a bit vanilla but to put a 21 year old pitcher on the roster either says a lot about the available pitching or that the manager likes this kid.
Expected Finish - They should survive their pool, winning their bracket. Whether they can advance past the second round depends on the teams that fall in this bracket.