Recap of Revolution & Atlantic League in World Baseball Classic
The third World Baseball Classic took place March 2-19 at sites spanning the globe, and featured a record 22 players with Atlantic League ties in the tournament on the rosters of eight countries. In order to fill out the rosters outside of the baseball-centric countries, players are allowed to play for their “heritage” so to speak, if they have a blood relative hailing from one of the nations. There’s also the case of Venezuelan catcher and Atlantic League veteran Salomon Manriquez, who was permitted to play for Spain because his wife was born there. Now that the dust has settled, here is a recap of how the players with Atlantic League and Revolution ties fared in the tournament:
The team from the land down under had a decidedly Somerset Patriots flair, as two of their top contributors were starting pitcher Chris Oxspring and infielder/outfielder Justin Huber, who were also teammates in Central New Jersey in 2011. Both started in the tournament’s very first pool play game at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan. Unfortunately for Oxspring, who enjoyed Major League time with San Diego in 2005, he matched up against a suddenly healthy and resurgent Chien-Ming Wang who tossed six scoreless innings in Chinese Tapei’s 4-1 victory. It was a rough tournament for Australia as they struggled mightily to score, going 0-3 with a 6-0 loss to Korea and a 4-1 loss to the Netherlands.
Hopes were high for the Canadians to steal a second round spot in their pool from Mexico or the U.S., as they went to battle with Major League sluggers Justin Morneau and Joey Votto at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. What nobody counted on in the tournament were the Italians, who stunned the North American teams by crashing the party. Revolution alum Shawn Hill (’12) was Canada’s number one starter against Italy. Hill, who became the 3rd Revolution player to reach the Major Leagues last season, and the second to go from York to the big leagues in the same season, also became the first Revs alum to earn a winning decision in a Major League game when he defeated Andy Pettitte and the Yankees last September in Toronto, his native Provence. It was his second tour of duty with the Blue Jays, but he’s now with the Detroit Tigers organization. Hill is one of only four native Canadians to have played for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto, and also has MLB time with Washington and San Diego. Hill took the loss against Italy in Canada’s first game, a 14-4 defeat. He was joined by British Columbia-born Atlantic Leaguers Jimmy Van Ostrand, who patrolled Sugar Land’s outfield the first half of last season before being picked up by the Nationals, and R.J. Swindle, a reliever who pitched in the league in 2007 for Newark, and went on to make his MLB debut for Philadelphia in 2008. He reached the Majors a second time with Milwaukee in 2009. Both appeared in one game for Canada, as they rebounded to beat Mexico 10-3 before seeing their WBC end with a 9-4 loss to the United States. Van Ostrand drove in a run on a sacrifice as a pinch hitter against Mexico.
Also known as Taiwan, Chinese-Tapei boasted just one former Atlantic League player, Lancaster’s Ching-Lung Lo (’12). He tossed two scoreless innings with two strikeouts in their final pool play game against Korea, a 3-2 loss. Despite the setback, Chinese-Tapei had already advanced to the next round by beating Australia and the Netherlands 8-3. Lo and his teammates were ousted from the tournament in the second round, after back to back losses to Japan and Cuba at the Tokyo Dome, with Lo starting the final game against the Cubans.
On a team made up almost exclusively of current Major Leaguers, the undefeated World Champions did have one Atlantic League Alumnus. Pitcher Lorenzo Barcelo joined the Revolution for the stretch run of the 2011 regular season and playoffs, after the conclusion of the Mexican League season where he pitched for Puebla. That year for York, he won a game in each playoff series to help the Revs to their second championship. In three relief appearances and four and a third innings pitched in the tournament, Barcelo allowed just a lone run on two hits for a 2.08 ERA. Barcelo did pitch in 43 big league games for the White Sox from 2000-2002. After being eliminated in a stunning upset to the Netherlands in 2009, the Dominican Republic captured their first WBC title without a scratch after Japan captured the first two crowns.
Other than the Dominican Republic ripping through the tournament unbeaten, the story of the WBC was the upstart Italians. Mostly a team of Americans with Italian heritage, and very limited Major League experience, the club was an assumed also-ran among the star-laden rosters of the U.S., Mexico and Canada. After stunning Mexico in their first game 6-5 and bludgeoning Canada to advance, a 6-2 loss to the United States to end pool play was little deterrent, as Italy played the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – the two teams who faced off for the championship – to a pair of one run games, nearly pulling two more gigantic upsets before their tournament run came to an end. Italy had the second-most Atlantic League players in the event with five; pitcher Chris Cooper (York ’07), corner infielder Mike Costanzo (Camden ’10), middle infielder Anthony Granato (Somerset ’08 & ’09), pitcher Dan Serafini (Bridgeport ’10 & ’12) and pitcher Brian Sweeney (Somerset ’11). This group of ALPB alums represented most of Italy’s MLB experience, as Costanzo, now with the Nationals, made his MLB debut with the Reds last season, Sweeney has 73 MLB appearances with the Mariners and Padres and Serafini was the most decorated Italian with 104 big league games between 1996 and 2007 with the Twins, Cubs, Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Highlights included Costanzo driving in three runs in the tournament, and Granato hit .429 (6-14) in five games. Four of the five players are American, Granato is actually Canadian.
Journeyman pitcher Nelson Figueroa made just two starts for the Long Island Ducks back in 2006, making him little more than a footnote in Atlantic League History, but still adding him to the list of alums in the tournament. He turned out to be the hero of the WBC for runner up Puerto Rico, tossing six shutout innings allowing only two hits against the impressive USA lineup in a second round elimination game at Marlins Park in Miami. Figueroa has 145 games of MLB experience in nine different seasons for six different organizations and went 2-0 in his two WBC starts, posting a 1.80 ERA. He was joined by infielder Luis Figueroa (no relation) who played in 10 games for Sugar Land last season. Only the die-hard Revolution fans will remember infielder Andy Gonzalez, who was slated to be York’s shortstop in 2011, before being picked up by the Brewers in preseason camp. It was a big loss for the Revolution at the time, as Gonzalez has 91 MLB games under his belt between 2007 and 2009 with the White Sox, Indians and Marlins. Luis Figueroa hit. 273 (3-11) in seven games with a pair of doubles and three RBI, while Gonzalez also drove in three runs in eight games during the tournament.
Slotted into the near impossible group of Caribbean talent with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Spain made a valiant effort despite a 0-3 pool play record. They received contributions from a WBC-high six Atlantic League players; infielder Paco Figueroa (Southern Maryland ’12), catcher Saloman Manriquez (Newark ’09, York ’10 & ’12, Lancaster ’10, Camden ‘13), pitcher Eddie Morlan (Southern Maryland ’11 & ’12), infielder Yunesky Sanchez (Southern Maryland ’11, Somerset ’12 & ‘13), pitcher Nick Schumacher (York ’11 & ‘13) and veteran outfielder Gabe Suarez who has played all over the league. Despite the sour team results, Spain was not without impressive individual efforts from the ALPB alums. Sanchez had by far the most impressive batting line in WBC pool play, going 7 for 11 for a robust .636 average and an RBI. Manriquez went 3 for 7 in the three games (.429) and drove in two runs. 2011 Revolution post-season hero Nick Schumacher, who on short rest started and won Game 4 of the Atlantic League Championship Series against Long Island to help York clinch their second ALPB title two seasons ago, pitched an inning and two-thirds scoreless against the mighty Domincian Republic team during pool play in his only appearance.
Venezuela tied Mexico for the largest WBC disappointment this time around, considering the amount of Major League talent on each club with neither advancing out of pool play. Former Bridgeport (’11 & ’12) reliever and current Revolution closer Juan Rincon had a solid individual effort in the tournament. In three appearances, Rincon tossed two and a third innings, allowing one run on two hits with a pair of strikeouts and no walks. Venezuela did manage a win over Spain once eliminated after lopsided losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Rincon is easily the most notable reliever to ever suit up for York from an MLB service time perspective, with 444 big league appearances over 10 Major League seasons mostly with Minnesota, and with Cleveland, Detroit and Colorado as well between 2001 and 2010.