The nation of Venezuela has produced some of modern baseball’s greatest names. From Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to Felix Hernandez and Pablo Sandoval, 63 total players in 2016 were able to proudly claim Venezuelan roots.
Historically, in the World Baseball Classic, the Venezuelans have always entered as a favorite but have never gotten to play for the big one. The Rangers are sending three players to this year’s tournament, all with something to prove and carry-over into the 2017 season.
Second baseman Rougned Odor was a late addition to the Venezuelan team. When Phillies’ shortstop Freddy Galvis had to be scratched due to a groin strain, the team turned to the Rangers’ scrappy Odor. On a team that boasts an infield including Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Alcides Escobar and Martin Prado, it doesn’t appear that there’s a regular slot for Odor.
Before you go celebrating the fact that there isn’t an increased chance for Odor to get injured in the Classic, keep in mind that if he doesn’t get any action, that’s three weeks without doing anything but drills and warm-ups.
It’s likely that he'll still get SOME playing time, but as a bench player in a three-week tournament, the regular repetitions aren’t likely to come, especially backing up an MVP candidate like Altuve. Jon Daniels himself has said he would like Odor to get some meaningful playing time in the tournament.
The other part of Odor’s experience in the WBC won’t manifest itself until the season starts. The 23-year old is coming off of a season in which he may have hit a monstrous 33 home runs, but also walked an absurdly low 19 times. Coming into this Spring Training, Odor has publicly stated that he wants to be a more selective hitter.
Being around three of the greatest hitters today – Altuve, Cabrera and Martinez – should do nothing but increase his knowledge of the strike zone and discipline at the plate. Odor has also acknowledged his inability to make routine plays last year. He will be playing behind two Gold Glove middle infielders in Altuve and Escobar. Odor’s best hope would be to start at least one game per round in the WBC and spend as much time around some of baseball’s most successful players.
For catcher Robinson Chirinos, the challenge is more physical than mental. Having started no more than 88 games in a single year over his career as a catcher, Chirinos played in progressively fewer games over the last two seasons. Now, with Jonathan Lucroy as the Rangers’ primary catcher, Chirinos finds himself only tentatively in position to be the backup backstop.
Both Lucroy and Chirinos will be in the World Baseball Classic, which means that the other candidates for backup catcher will get a plethora of opportunities to prove themselves. Homegrown product Brett Nicholas, as well as Patrick Cantwell, Steve Lerud, Brett Hayes and A.J. Jimenez are all in camp, vying to become “Next Man Up” if Lucroy or Chirinos go down.
Chirinos is playing back up to Salvador Perez, who has his own longevity to consider. The Royals’ catcher led all of Major League Baseball in games caught in both 2014 and 2015. He didn’t exactly take a huge step down in 2016, catching “only” 139 games. Chirinos and Perez will likely get equal catching time during the World Baseball Classic.
How will that affect the Rangers catching situation in 2017? We’ll have to wait and see.
Martin Perez will be entering his second full year coming off of Tommy John surgery. The second year is supposed to be where a pitcher can really go full bore with no limitations on his arm. Perez has already been declared the starter for Venezuela’s second game in the first round against Italy.
Depending on how far the Venezuelans go in the tournament, Perez could get 3-4 more starts. That’s a lot of extra mileage being put on that elbow, even if the lefty is 100% healthy going into the 2017 season.
Remember that Perez was the only pitcher to make all of his scheduled starts in 2016 – a total of 33 for 198.2 innings.
Mentally, the three week tournament could be a boon. One of Perez’ biggest challenges in 2016 was keeping his emotions in check. Every runner reaching first, every error made behind him had Rangers’ fans holding their collective breaths, waiting to see how Perez would react. Sometimes, the result would be great, but more often than not, Perez would be subject to the “big inning,” allowing runners to reach consecutively.
As the 26-year old pitches for his country, he would do well to converse and pick the brains of some of the more veteran starters on the team – specifically Felix Hernandez. Getting this experience under his belt and out of the way early might help Perez get off to a hot start for Texas in 2017.
Venezuela, as a member of Pool D, gets a late start in the WBC, not playing their first games until four days after the tournament gets started. In fact, the day before they take on Puerto Rico in Jalisco, the Venezuelan team will take on the Rangers in Surprise, Arizona. The Venezuelans will also work-out and practice in Surprise, making the trek for your Rangers’ representatives relatively easy.
Who do you think will win the World Baseball Classic this year? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.