Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC '17 preview: Breaking down Team Israel

Much of Israel's roster, under manager Jerry Weinstein, will be composed of Jewish-American players with Major League or Minor League experience, with the Classic's "heritage rule" allowing countries to field players who qualify for citizenship. In the qualifying round, Team Israel included two Israeli citizens, Kremer and fellow pitcher Shlomo Lipetz.
Notable Major Leaguers have previously expressed interest in potentially playing for Israel if the opportunity arose, like Kevin Pillar a few months ago and Ian Kinsler when Israel played in the qualifier for the 2013 Classic. Pillar and Kinsler are eligible for the '17 Classic, as are players like Ryan BraunJoc Pederson (who played in the qualifier for '13) and Alex Bregman. Those players weren't available for the qualifiers due to MLB obligations, but they would be able to sign on for the actual tournament.
How they've fared in the past
This is the first time Team Israel has made the Classic. Israel came within a win of securing a spot in the field of 16 in 2013, but suffered a tough 10-inning loss to Spain in the final game of its qualifier. This year, it punched its ticket, beating out Great Britain, Brazil and Pakistan to earn the Classic's final slot.
What they should do well
With MLB-affiliated or formerly-affiliated players likely composing its lineup, Israel should be able to string together some hits against most of the pitching it comes up against. Davis brings some pop from the left side, Kelly hit .249 with a .352 on-base percentage with the Mets in 2016, Fuld and Lavarnway have Major League experience, and Decker has averaged over 20 homers a year in the Minors. Israel could also be solid defensively, with players like Fuld, Kelly and Davis all having been capable fielders at the Major League level.
Where they could struggle
Israel's pitching looks more up in the air. In the qualifier, 38-year-old former Major Leaguer Marquis was the team's main starter. Israel will need to fill out its staff to go toe-to-toe with some other teams in the Classic that will be loaded with players from the world's top baseball leagues -- Korea, for example, and countries like the U.S., Dominican Republic, Japan and Venezuela.
How far they could go
The Israelis will have their work cut out for them to get out of their pool. Korea has twice made the championship round of the Classic, and the Netherlands will likely have several Major Leaguers in its starting lineup and are coming off a semifinal berth in the 2013 Classic. But depending on how its roster shakes out, Israel should prove to be a competitive squad.

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