Australia has qualified for every World Baseball Classic and the rosters have had several players with MLB experience and many more with minor league experience, but that hasn't resulted in much success. Australia is a combined 1-8 in the past three tournaments and were winless back in 2013.
The road does not get much easier this time around, as Australia was drawn into Pool B with Japan, Cuba and China. A win at the tournament would go a long way in continuing to build a baseball foundation in the country.
The strength of the Australian team, at least in terms of major-league talent, will likely be its pitching. Several members of the pitching staff boast major league experience including Liam Hendriks, Peter Moylan, and Travis Blackley. There are also several arms that continue to pitch in the minor leagues, looking for an opportunity to get to the bigs.
The most notable name for the Aussie's is Liam Hendriks, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. He has bounced around with several teams, but threw 64 innings last season in Oakland and compiled a respectable 3.76 ERA. While he does have starting experience, he pitched out of the bullpen in Oakland. It remains to be seen where Australia plans to use Hendriks, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen, but he remains one of their top arms.
Reliever Peter Moylan is known for his odd delivery, but he provides valuable experience in both the World Baseball Classic and MLB. He spent the majority of his MLB career with the Atlanta Braves and pitched well, becoming a key part of the bullpen until injuries plagued him and his effectiveness. Moylan last pitched for the Kansas City Royals last season, logging a 3.43 ERA over 44 innings out of the pen.
Infielder Stefan Welch has a vast record of experience in the minor leagues, but spent the past couple of seasons in the Australian Baseball League. He has been one the stronger performers for the Australian National Team and in the 2013 WBC, he finished 3-10 with a home run. Australia will need much of the same if they hope to advance past the group stage for the first time.
Steven Kent, a 27 year-old left-handed pitcher, is a member of the Atlanta Braves' organization. He has slowly worked his way up from the rookie leagues and pitched primarily at the Double-A level last season. At Double-A, he finished with a 3.36 ERA in 56 innings. He should feature as one of the better arms out of the bullpen during the tournament. While many pitchers have struggled on the big stage for Australia, Kent has had the most success.
Aaron Whitefield is just a 20-year-old outfielder and has no prior experience in the World Baseball Classic, but he is an intriguing part of the current team. He played last season with the Minnesota Twins rookie team, the Elizabethton Twins of the Gulf Coast League. He performed quite well in 51 total games. He compiled a .298/.370/.366 slash line over 191 at bats. He clubbed 2 home runs and drove in 17 runs. In addition, he stole an impressive 31 bases. As one of the younger talents on the roster, Whitefield figures to have significant future for the Aussie's.
Pitchers: Tim Atherton, Tom Bailey, Travis Blackley, Justin Erasmus, Josh Guyer, Liam Hendriks, Samuel Holland, Jon Kennedy, Steven Kent, Daniel McGrath, Peter Moylan, Chris Oxspring, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Dushan Ruzic, Warwick Saupold, Ryan Searle, Sam Street, Josh Tols, Todd Van Steensel, Alex Wells, Lachlan Wells, Matthew Williams
Catchers: Allan de San Miguel, Robbie Perkins,
Infielders: James Beresford, Brad Harman, Luke Hughes, Tim Kennelly, Mitch Nilsson, Logan Wade, Mike Walker, Stefan Welch
Outfielders: Mitch Dening, David Kandilas, Trent Oeltjen, Aaron Whitefield
In a stacked pool with Japan, Cuba and China, Australia will need to bring its A game in order to advance to past pool play. Japan and Cuba are heavy favorites to move on, but Australia has experience in this tournament and are looking for an opportunity to prove themselves on the biggest stage. Australia has a veteran team and has several arms with MLB experience. The pitching has been the weak spot for the Aussie's in previous tournament, but they are looking to make it a strength this time around. If they do figure out the question marks surrounding the team, they may have enough talent to surprise. Realistic expectations for this tournament should be Australia focusing on building for the future, trying to win its game against China and qualifying for the next World Baseball Classic.