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Can Puerto Rico return to the finals of the World Baseball Classic?

Can Puerto Rico return to the finals of the World Baseball Classic?

With less than a month to go until the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic, teams have already built their rosters, hoping they can win a championship for their country. One team that looks promising this year is Puerto Rico with Edwin Rodriguez returning as the team manager. The team should benefit from an infusion of young talent mixed with veterans as they hope to return to the finals of the WBC after finishing as the runner-up in 2013 to the Dominican Republic. 

Roster

Key Players

There's plenty of Major League talent on the roster for Edwin Rodriguez and their dreams of a second straight finals appearance could come true. Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran will play in the fourth classic while Eddie Rosario returns after playing in his first classic in 2013. Joining the veteran talent is a trio of rising young superstars, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Francisco Lindor, who should boost the offense and defense, significantly. With this roster, it gives Rodriguez plenty of options to move his players around the field and some rest for the veterans. Beltran has a .274 batting average with three home runs, six doubles, nine runs batted in, and 15 walks in 21 Classic games. Molina has .289 average in 14 Classic games. Baez and Lindor are coming off a historic meeting in the World Series while Correa has won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and hit at least 20 home runs in his first two Major League seasons. 

What to watch for

The only "problem" I see when looking at this roster is a dynamic infield. Correa, Baez, and Lindor can all play shortstop so it'll be interesting to see how Rodriguez will utilize their talent and if they're willing to take a bench role while Mike Aviles and T.J. Rivera get playing time during some games of the tournament. Baez has more experience at second base and will most likely stay there for the entire tournament, but Correa and Lindor are both starting shortstops for their respective major league team. My guess is Correa and Lindor can split time at shortstop and third base. This works out for the Houston Astros because they can see what type of player Correa is, defensively, at third base and they could move him there at some point in the future, so Alex Bregman can play shortstop. 

Pool Play

Pool D's collection of talent is one of the best in this year's edition of the World Baseball Classic, however, I think it will come down to Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Italy might come up with an upset or two, but will find it diffcult to advance. As for Mexico, they're limited on offense and will have to rely on a dominant pitching staff. Venezuela's best showing in the WBC came in 2009 by finishing in third place, so Omar Vizquel will seek to get his star-studded roster over the hump and reach the finals for the first time in the tournament's history. As for Puerto Rico, their young infield and veteran presence will be tough to knock down. 

Expectations

After being one victory shy of winning the 2013 World Baseball Classic, this year's team will look to silence the critics. With the veteran influence of Beltran and Molina, Molina's ability to lead a pitching staff, and the young star power of Baez, Correa, and Lindor, expect to see Puerto Rico in the finals and winning the 2017 World Baseball Classic. 


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