Strong Aussie squad prepares for WBC Qualifier
4 February 2016
Having selected arguably its best available squad for the World Baseball Classic Qualifier starting in Sydney on 11 February, Australia has embarked on its preparations with an intensive camp programme starting on Thursday 4 February.
While some of the squad are otherwise committed – in particular with the Australian Baseball League Championship Series starting in Brisbane on Friday - Head Coach Jon Deeble is confident that our national team will be in terrific shape for the series.
Aside from aiming to qualify for its fourth World Baseball Classic – in 2017 – the Sydney event is one that will be vital to the future of Australian baseball at international level.
Finishing last of its group at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Australian was one of four participating nations required to go through the qualifying process – with Brazil, Mexico and Spain all faced with the same challenge in further events scheduled during this year.
To make the 16-team cut for 2017, Australia will need to win the four-nation qualifying series that starts at Blacktown International Sportspark on Thursday 11 February. To do so it will need to qualify for and win the final in a double elimination series against New Zealand, South Africa and Philippines – all emerging baseball nations who should certainly not be underestimated.
By any measure the 28-man Australian squad is about the best that Australia could reasonably expect to muster at this point in time, although Australian Head Coach Jon Deeble remains well cognisant of the challenge that his side will face.
“We will go into these games as the favourite,” Jon Deeble told Australian Baseball Alumni from Boston yesterday. “Most international games we go to we are the underdog from the start, so this is definitely something different. It will be a very hard tournament to win as New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa have all really improved and they have some former big leaguers on their teams.”
Boasting a wealth of players either currently or more recently affiliated with Major League clubs, Australia will be expecting plenty from the likes of pitchers Ryan Rowland-Smith, Peter Moylan, Travis Blackley, Steven Kent, Steven Chambers and Ryan Searle along with former MLB players in Brad Harman, Trent Oeltjen and Luke Hughes – along with a host of well-credentialed others including up and coming stars such as Aaron Whitefield, Sam Gibbons, Logan Wade and Mitch Nilsson.
Shaping as the main threat to Australian prospects is New Zealand, which will be without pitching ace John Holdzkom but has been planning for this series for months under Manager and former Major League player Chris Woodward. The New Zealand squad includes MLB affiliated players and it boasts several others who have enjoyed successful stints in Australian Baseball League over recent years.
Although they are minnows on the world stage, the South Africa and Philippines squads both include MLB affiliated players and they will be well prepared as emerging baseball nations desperate to gain international ranking recognition.
“Both South Africa and New Zealand will be tough,” Deeble said. “A lot of the NZ guys have played in the Australian Baseball League. Even Philippines have some players with United States experience and they are going to be tough to beat in that first game.”
A veteran of the sport, a long-term scout for Boston Red Sox, an Australian baseball Hall-of-Famer and an Olympics silver medallist, Deeble has managed our senior men’s team for over sixteen years and has been head honcho for the three World Baseball Classics already played. He is acutely aware of the importance of this qualifying series.
“This tournament is critical for Australian baseball, as are all games we play now with sports funding on the line,” he said. “Qualifying for the 2017 World Baseball Classic is a part of the process, but we need to be planning even further ahead.”
Effectively a world baseball championship, the World Baseball Classic will be a forerunner to the 2019 Premier 12 tournament, which is in turn expected to be treated as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics should baseball be reinstated - as anticipated by most.
“Playing at more international tournaments - and doing well - translates into a higher national ranking for us,” Deeble said. “We were not far off making it to the Premier 12 last November and it is vital that we produce our best for the WBC Qualifier.”
“The series is an opportunity for our players as we build towards these big events coming up. It gives our kids a chance to showcase their skills – especially kids who haven’t signed before or ones who have been released.”
While it has been a hectic few months in Australian domestic baseball, Jon Deeble is confident that his squad will be fully prepared for the WBC Qualifier after an intensive week of preparation.
“Our training camp started in early February, with Phil Dale and Tony Harris overseeing the programme until I get back on Sunday. The guys who are involved in the ABL playoffs will join us as soon as possible after the Championship Series.”
“We will work out every day leading into the Qualifier,” he said. “We have some night practice games organised, and also a hit-out against the Doosan Bears – the Korean big league team that is doing its spring training in Australia.”
Australia will play its first game against Philippines as the second of a double-header at Blacktown Sportspark on Thursday 11 February. The winner of that game will meet the winner of the New Zealand versus South Africa clash – with the successful team from that contest going straight to the final on 14 February.
While respectful of the opposition, Jon Deeble is confident that his high-quality squad has the wherewithal to get the job done.
“Our pitching depth will be our strength, although we have to manage that properly,” he said. “I haven’t decided on our starters yet, and it is hard to put a rotation together when it is a double elimination played over a few days.”
“We have some quality arms and I would hope to wheel out one of our very best to start the final if we can get there. Hopefully it will come down the final for us, when we need to have the firepower to win,” he said.
“We need to make sure we have that power at the end – it is no good going to a showdown when you have fired all of your bullets.”