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2023 World Baseball Classic Preview: Pool B

Host nation Japan takes on four visitors.


Can you boil an entire group down to one player?

Pool B features three Asian teams, with Japan, South Korea, and China joined by Australia and the Czech Republic. The Japanese side opens the tournament as the top-ranked team in the world, with Korea ranked fourth. The pool features a plethora of major and minor-league names, but the big one is of course Shohei Ohtani.


Baseball America Ranking: 2

2017 Result: Lost in semifinals (6-1 overall)

2023 Roster

Among the overall favorites to win the whole thing, Japan features a young, dynamic roster with Yu Darvish the only pitcher above 30. Rōki Sasaki, a 21-year old phenom who topped 101 mph in high school, will feature in the rotation alongside Darvish and Ohtani, giving Japan perhaps the best ceiling of any pitching staff in the tournament. The latter is already flashing his superstar status in exhibition play as Japan prepares to begin its quest for a third WBC title.

At the plate, we’ll get our first look at new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida, and Lars Nootbaar of the Cardinals is the only non-Japanese born player on the squad. The big bat in the lineup will be Munetaka Murakami, the third baseman who cracked 56 home runs last year, an NPB record for a Japanese-born player.


Baseball America Ranking: 7

2017 Result: Eliminated in first round (1-2 overall)

2023 Roster

I think a lot of American coverage of baseball might consider Korea the younger brother to Japan in international competition, but the Korean team boasts elite talent of its own and should advance out of the group stages. Three major leaguers, including Ha-Seong Kim of the Padres and Tommy Edman of the Cardinals, stand out on the roster, but the real stars may feature behind the plate, at the hot corner and in the outfield.

Eui-ji Yang will be Korea’s starting catcher, a two-time MVP and one of the best backstops in KBO’s history. Jeong Choi is in the Nelson Cruz mould of a player that’s competed at the highest level forever, with a .917 OPS across 18 KBO seasons, and still posted an .890 mark last year. Finally, in the outfield Korea will showcase the reigning KBO MVP, Jung-Hoo Lee, a 23-year-old who posted a .996 OPS in 2022 while playing all three outfield positions.

The pitching side isn’t quite as overpowering as the offense, but Korea is going to be one of the most exciting squads in the tournament.


Baseball America Ranking: 18

2017 Result: Eliminated in first round (1-2 overall)

2023 Roster

The best known baseball ‘roo, Liam Hendriks, will miss the WBC as he undergoes cancer treatment. Despite his absence, the Aussies have put together a high-floor team that could make some noise, although they clearly are the third best team in this group in terms of raw talent.

Aaron Whitefield, who spent most of 2022 in the Angels’ system at Double-A, is the most recognizable name for Australia, a two-time winner of ABL’s regular season MVP. Shout-out to reliever Chris Oxford though (a Brewer back in 2005), who is the oldest WBC competitor at age-45 after pitching 13 games for the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League.

Czech Republic

Baseball America Ranking: 19

2017 Result: N/A (WBC debut)

2023 Roster

The only group member from outside the Eastern Hemisphere, the Czech squad enters play as something of the WBC’s Cinderella story. Almost everyone on the roster works a regular day job, and the club bonded over a thrilling qualification process — being hammered 21-7 by Spain in the first qualifier before coming back to beat the same Spaniards in the qualifying tournament’s finals.

The nation itself has a complicated relationship with baseball. During the Cold War, Americans stationed in various parts of Western Europe and Asia helped spur the growth of the sport around the globe, but for countries in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, like then-Communist Czechoslovakia, America’s pastime was viewed with extreme suspicion.

The Czechs will be a sentimental favorite for the entire tournament, and although they’re unlikely to advance, will continue to be one of the best stories in baseball this year.


Baseball America Ranking: 20

2017 Result: Eliminated in first round (0-3 overall)

2023 Roster

Just 2-10 in all-time WBC play, the Chinese will once again be serious underdogs in Pool B. The Chinese National Baseball League has been on COVID-related hiatus since 2020, meaning that many of the team’s players haven’t competed in real baseball in three years. Although the club has been practicing together more than others, the lack of recent playing experience is going to be a unique challenge for China this year.

Pool B kicks off play on March 8th, with Australia facing off with Korea. All games will be played at the Tokyo Dome, and while the times may be inconvenient for a lot of American viewers, there’s more than enough talent in the group to make some late nights worth it.

PSA WBC previews

Pool A
Pool B
Pool C
Pool D