After advancing out of pool play the past two World Baseball Classic's and finishing fourth in 2013, the Netherlands is looking to make a statement this time around and possibly compete for the championship.
The Netherlands is a European power and has had some big moments during the previous tournaments. Having beaten some of the world's best teams in the Dominican Republic and Cuba in previous tournaments, manager and San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens is looking to lead his squad to a medal for the first time.
The Netherlands has an abundance of MLB talent across the infield, led by Boston Red Sox superstar shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Other prominent names include Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, and Jonathan Schoop. Offensive talent will be the central focus of this Netherlands team and they will go as far the talented infielders can carry them.
Xander Bogaerts: The fascinating shortstop figures to be the team leader going into the Classic. He is coming off of back-to-back superb seasons with the Boston Red Sox and has earned two Silver Slugger awards. He was named an All-Star last season after hitting .294 with 21 home runs and driving in 89 runs. He does have prior experience in the tournament, but was just a youngster back in 2013. With four years of MLB experience now under his belt, many expect the young shortstop to be one of the best players in the tournament.
Andrelton Simmons: The 27-year-old shortstop broke into the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves and is revered as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. He isn't just a defensive player, however, and has a potent bat with some pop. Last season with the Angels, he hit .281 with four home runs and 44 runs driven in.
Didi Gregorius: The 26-year-old Dutch shorstop spent this past season with the New York Yankees after being traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2015 season and he had a career year. In 153 games, the young shortstop hit .276 with 20 home runs and 70 runs batted in. Not known for his power, the home runs were a welcome surprise in the Bronx and they hope he can continue to produce, even if those numbers aren't expected every year. He does have a slick glove as well and continues the theme of young, athletic infielders on this Netherlands team.
Jonathan Schoop: The former top prospect played in a career-high 162 games last season for the Baltimore Orioles. After a few injury-plagued years, he bounced back with a big year offensively, helping the Orioles back to the playoffs. In 2016, the second baseman hit .267 with 25 home runs, while also driving in 82 runs.
For some, it may be hard to consider a former top prospect in MLB underrated, but Jurickson Profar on this Netherlands team may be a key piece due to his versatility. Back in 2013, he was a member of the Netherlands team and the same year he played 85 games with the Texas Rangers. After that season, Profar has had several injuries that cost him valuable time in the and it really put a dent in his prospect status. While he may not be the player he was four years prior, he is still an immensely talented player that may be an overlooked piece of such a talented infield. Profar is capable of playing second, short and third and it would not surprise anyone if they possibly try him in the outfield this tournament, trying to get all the legitimate talent on the field at one they can.
Another underrated addition to the roster that many are not focusing on is former All-Star pitcher Jair Jurrjens. In 2011, Jurrjens had a career year with the Atlanta Braves. He went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA and was well on his way to a possible Cy-Young award before he injuries ruined the second half of his season. Injuries continued to derail his career in MLB and his effectiveness waned to the point that he was out of baseball after the 2014 season. He is attempting a comeback and will be one of the more notable pitchers on the Netherlands staff. It will be interesting to see how he fairs and he could be a key piece to a championship run.
Pitchers: Nelmerson Angela, Mike Bolsenbroek, Rob Cordemans, Tom de Blok, Kevin Heijstek, Lars Huijer, Kenley Jansen, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Kelly, Ruderly Manuel, Diego Markwell, Shairon Martis, Ryan Oduber, Mark Pawelek, Jim Ploeger, Tom Stuifbergen, J.C. Sulbaran, Rick VandenHurk, Berry van Driel, Loek van Mil, Orlando Yntema
Catchers: Shawn Zarraga, Dashenko Ricardo
Infielders: Xander Bogaerts, Yurendell DeCaster, Didi Gregorius, Dwayne Kemp, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, Sharlon Schoop, Andrelton Simmons, Curt Smith,
Outfielders: Wladimir Balentien, Chris Garia, Randolph Oduber, Kalian Sams
The Netherlands is in Pool A with South Korea, Israel, and Chinese Taipei and should be considered as one of the favorites to advance along with South Korea. The Netherlands have impressive talent across the infield and one of the best closers in the tournament in Kenley Jansen. How far the Netherlands go in the tournament will depend on what they are able to get out of their pitching staff.
Veterans Jair Jurrjens and Rick VandenHurk headline a staff that will need to be solid if they expect to compete for the championship. Another issue facing the Netherlands is where to play several of the players.
The logjam of infielders will need to be sorted out in order to get the best talent on the field. Several may need to play out of position to get their bats in the lineup and questions will remain about how that will play on defense, but there is no denying this is one of the more talented teams in the tournament. After finishing fourth in 2013, expectations will be higher this time around and a championship is not out of the question if some of the bigger question marks get answered.