With baseball no longer in the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic is the only time every four years that we get to see players representing their countries on a national stage to determine a true world champion. Five different Rays will have the privilege of being a part of that.
Ben Zobrist has brought a new a new dimension to Rays baseball since breaking out back in 2009, playing all over the field to give the Rays the flexibility they need to get their best players on the field. Zobrist will play the same type of role for Team USA in this year’s WBC. Zobrist ranks among the USA team’s top hitters, right behind Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Joe Mauer, and David Wright, and he could see time at right field, shortstop, second base, and first base depending on who’s hitting, and he could also bat in the top one or two spots in the Team USA lineup. Zobrist is humbled by the opportunity to represent his country.
#Rays Zobrist: “Obviously, it’s an incredible honor. For me it’s one of my career goals, my career dreams to play for Team USA in the WBC.”
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) January 17, 2013
In 2012, Rays fans got used to seeing Joel Peralta blow away hitters in the 8th inning before Fernando Rodney was unhittable to 9th to seal Rays win after Rays win. They’ll get to see a previous of that in the WBC, with Rodney and Peralta both named to the Dominican Republic roster and expected to serve late-inning roles. That will make the Dominican bullpen quite formidable, and Zobrist is hoping that he won’t have to go up against them.
#Rays Zobrist on possibility of facing Rodney and Peralta: ‘I wouldn’t be looking forward to that.’
— RMooneyTBO (@RMooneyTBO) January 17, 2013
One of the major stars of the Puerto Rican World Baseball Classic Team is St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. But joining him on the roster will be his older brother, Rays catcher Jose Molina, who along with his brother will work wonders on a young pitching staff trying to pitch well enough to give their offense, which is led by outfielders Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios, and Angel Pagan, a chance to win them some games. Backing up those three formidable outfielders, is Jesus Feliciano, who spent 2012 in the Rays system.
Finally, one low-level Rays minor leaguer is seizing the opportunity to play for his home country of Brazil, shortstop/third baseman Leonardo Reginatto, who spent 2012 at the Rays’ Short Season-A Hudson Valley affiliate. Reginatto, just 22, may be inexperienced, but he has a flair for the dramatic, coming up huge for the Renegades in the playoffs as they won the New York-Penn League championship and becoming one of Brazil’s most feared hitters as they shocked Panama, Columbia, and Nicaragua to qualify for the WBC.
Team USA has one spot left on their roster for a starting pitcher- although the Rays have been adamant about keeping their young starters out for fear of injury. One more Ray who might still crack his home country’s roster is Rays top shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee, who is from South Korea. But based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s already clear that Rays are going to play a big role in the World Baseball Classic this coming March, and it’s going to be very exciting to see them representing their countries in what will undoubtedly be an exciting tournament.
In other news, the Rays are starting to give out numbers to their offseason acquisitions, and with players actually getting fitted for uniforms, you know that the season can’t be too far away. Per Marc Topkin, Yunel Escobar will wear number 11, James Loney will wear number 21, Jake Odorizzi will wear 23, Mike Montgomery gets to wear 31, Roberto Hernandez will wear number 40, and Wil Myers is wearing number 60 for the moment at the Rays’ Prospect Developmetn Camp- although once he arrives in the major leagues, he could very well be wearing number 4 or number 6, the two unclaimed single-digit numbers the Rays have available. A couple of players got their numbers displaced as well- Jose Lobaton moves from 21 all the way to 59 while Brandon Guyer moves from 11 to 10, which is a nice little upgrade for him. Topkin also tweeted that the Rays won’t give out the numbers 2, 33, and 39 in deference to the tenures of B.J. Upton, James Shields, and J.P. Howell. Nice to see that gesture to respect to a trio of players that played critical roles in the Rays’ success the last several years. It will hurt to see those three putting on different uniforms next season, but the Rays still feature a promising group of players on their team, and Rays fans can’t wait for their favorite team to take the field at Charlotte Sports Park when spring training begins to kick off a season with as much potential for greatness as ever before.