Venezuela is the Sleeper Team of the World Baseball Classic

Alex Trautwig / Major League Baseball / Getty

Venezuela is the Sleeper Team of the World Baseball Classic


Venezuela is the Sleeper Team of the World Baseball Classic


One of the unique allures of the World Baseball Classic is seeing the profuse diversity of Major League Baseball’s talent pool. The sport has proven to be an international game that is played at an elite level from North America to South America to Asia. Not every MLB player participates in this event, with many preferring to focus on the upcoming season, however, this year an extremely high number of players across the sport have chosen to represent their country. This includes extensive star power, ultimately bettering the product on the field. Rosters such as the Dominican Republic, the United States and Japan are borderline All-Star teams that are the frontrunners to win the tournament, but one quiet team that might be able to make some noise is Team Venezuela.

Offensively, they can compete with almost anyone in the WBC with a roster consisting of batting champs, MVP’s and a former Rookie of the Year. They are well-balanced with a few of the best contact hitters in the sport, and while they are not the most sinister-looking lineup, they have hitters that can rake. On the pitching side, it is quality through and through, with no Cy Young candidates, but strong pitching from the starting rotation to the bullpen.

Leading off is the 2017 AL MVP and three-time batting champ José Altuve. The All-Star second baseman has been a hit machine for the Houston Astros, whether they were a 100+ loss team or World Series contenders, Altuve always finds a way to make contact. This two-time champion has never struck out over 100 times in a season, a very rare feat in a league where swinging and missing have been consistently on the rise. Last season, his strikeout percentage was 14% compared to the league average of 22%. With his superb ability to put the ball in play, hits become a given, with Altuve just 65 hits away from 2,000, as the eight-time All-Star’s .307 career batting average has helped him to reach this pace in just his 12th season in the big leagues.

Batting second will be 2018’s NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. Coming off an ACL injury in 2021, it took some time for Acuña to return to All-Star form, but fully healthy, he is one of the most dangerous players in baseball. Altuve may have the resume, but Acuña is the guy to fear in this lineup. As recently as 2019, the outfielder was fifth in MVP voting after a 41 home run, 37 stolen base season where he had a .883 OPS. Before tearing his ACL, he was on pace for an even better season in 2021 with 24 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a ridiculous .990 OPS through 82 games.

If an opposing pitcher manages to get through the first two MVP candidates unscathed, they will just have to face last season’s AL batting champ Luis Arráez. The former Minnesota Twins infielder hit .316 with an MLB-best 7.1% strikeout percentage. This team is going to put the ball in play and cause fits for pitchers. A put away pitch simply will not do it against Venezuela, with this team drawing many similarities to the Kansas City Royals teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015. They will put the ball in play, steal bases, will not strike out and play strong defense. They are going to be a pesky team that plays hard and is going to cause trouble in Pool D for countries such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Speaking of the Royals, one of the best power-hitting catchers of all time, Salvador Pérez will be the backstop for this team. The five-time gold glove award winner is not the defender he once was at age 32, but he can still manage a pitching staff, has a cannon to control the running game and most importantly, he can take anyone deep. Pérez had 23 home runs in an abbreviated 2022, but the year before, he broke the single seasonrecord for home runs by a catcher with 48 in an incredible display of power.

Other notable players within this lineup are All-Star infielder Andrés Giménez, who was sixth in MVP voting last season after breaking out with the Cleveland Guardians. His gold glove defense, 141 OPS+ and 7.2 WAR all contributed to him becoming one of the best infielders in the American League. New York Mets third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who hit for the cycle and had multiple timely hits last season, including two walk-offs is also on the roster. Having a clutch player of this caliber potentially off the bench may end up being a tremendous asset to Venezuela.

Eugenio Suárez is another underrated piece, as this hitter may not make contact like the rest of the lineup, but he has pop. The infielder has hit over 30 home runs in four of the last five seasons, with the 2020 COVID-shortened season being the only exception. Suárez is a run producer that strikes out a lot but will run into a few during this tournament. There are many other valuable pieces as well, such as Anthony Santander and Gleyber Torres, and of course former MVP and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera to rounds out the team as Venezuela’s team captain. One through nine, this lineup will compete with any team in the WBC, whether the pitching will hold up is the question, but they are not to be trifled with either.

A first-time All-Star in his eleventh major league season, Martín Pérez, will be the ace of this Venezuela staff. After being a fourth or fifth starter for most of his career, Pérez finally figured it out in 2022. The southpaw had a career-best 2.39 earned run average and 1.26 WHIP in 196⅓ innings pitched for the Texas Rangers last year. He discovered how to limit baserunners and found his forte. Not every player pans out immediately, some are late bloomers and Pérez is a perfect example of someone that kept on improving his craft and it paid off.

The starters behind Pérez are former Miami Marlin Pablo López (Traded for Arráez in January), Philadelphia Phillies Ranger Suárez and Astros Luis Garcia. López was solid with a 3.75 earned run average, however he shined in the first half of the season. In 18 first-half games, López pitched to a 2.86 earned run average, with opposing hitters batting just .210 against him. He fell off drastically in the second half of the season, but Team Venezuela has him in March, therefore he should be fresh. Ranger Suárez posted a 3.65 earned run average in 155⅓ innings pitched, while Garcia had a 3.72 in 157⅓ innings pitched. Very similar numbers for two respectable pitchers that faced off against one another in last year’s Fall Classic.

Left-handed flamethrower Josè Alvarado is probably their best reliever out of the bullpen. In 59 appearances in 2022, Alvaradohad a 3.18 earned run average, while striking out 14.3 batters per nine innings. Brusdar Graterol and German Marquez will also support this staff and while the bullpen is one of the weaker attributes of this team, their strengths can certainly make up for it.

Do not be surprised if this team finds a way to make a run. Even 100-win teams lose to 60-win teams in the MLB. Just because a country is a favorite does not make them a guarantee. Team Venezuela is here and ready to win.

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