If you think of favorites for the World Baseball Classic Championships, teams such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Japan, and the United States likely come to mind. One that many overlook is the China, and while they might not be a favorite, the underdog will enter the tournament looking to make a name on the world stage.
After winning one game in each of the past two tournaments, China, led by Phillies bullpen coach John McLaren as manager, will look to continue to build upon previous entries and look to surprise some teams. While China isn't necessarily a baseball hotbed, it has seen rapid growth in the past decade and the hope of many is that a strong performance on the biggest will continue to increase the interest of baseball in the country. In previous tournaments, China eliminated Chinese Taipei in 2009 and secured a victory over Brazil in the 2013 edition.
Bruce Chen: The most notable name on a Chinese roster lacks a superstar or a highly-regarded player that many from other nations may recognize is veteran left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen. With no Major League Baseball players on the roster, the former big league pitcher Chen, who is now 39, retired after the 2015 season. He spent time with 11 different teams and will draw on his 17 years of major league experience and anchor the pitching staff, hoping to bring China another victory.
Wei Wang: China isn't what many consider a baseball hotbed, but they do have a couple talents that many will see for the first time this weekend. The 38-year-old backstop, a member of the Seattle Mariners organization, has played and starred in the Chinese League for many years. He provides a veteran presence behind the plate.
Guiyuan Xu: A prospect in the Baltimore Orioles' organization and a key piece for the future of the Chinese National Team, Xu is a first baseman and designated hitter by trade, as he represents the best chance for a Chinese-born player to make it to the big leagues. At just 21, he still has a ton of development left. The Orioles minor leagues have even tried to get him reps in the outfield, giving him added versatility. Last season, his first with the Orioles on their Gulf Coast League team, as he slashed .247/.271/.284 with nine runs batted in in 85 plate appearances.
Pitchers: Bruce Chen, Kun Chen, Andrew Chin, Quan Gan, Haicheng Gong, Kwon Ju, Xin Li, Yu Liu, Chao Lu, Yusong Lu, Xia Luo, Jiping Qi, Menghao Wang, Yanyong Yang, Chaoqun Zheng
Catchers: Ning Li, Weiqiang Meng, Wei Wang
Infielders: Ray Chang, Fujia Chu, Xiaolei Du, Zeyuan Li, Joey Wong, Guiyuan Xu
Outfielders: Yanpeng Chen, Zhenhong Lu, Chuang Na, Shunyi Yang
China will be playing in Pool B. Other teams in the pool include Championship contender Japan, Cuba, and Australia. Japan is looking to win the WBC for the third time in four tournaments. Cuba is a very talented team with a rich baseball history. They are looking to build on their silver medal in the inaugural World Classic back in 2006. Australia also has several talented players and will be looking to advance to the next round. Based on talent alone, China looks to be fourth in its pool. They will need a tremendous team effort in order to make it out of pool play and advance to the next round.
After winning a game in each of the previous two tournaments, the expectations for this tournament again are to win a game. The road to winning a game will be much tougher this time around as the competition in Pool B is as good as it gets in the tournament, especially with medal contenders Japan and Cuba. While the Chinese will be seen as underdogs in every game they play, they have a chance to surprise a team if they play well. It is undeniable that this team is getting better, but it still lacks quality talent at several positions in order to compete with the best of the best in the world.