The World Baseball Classic is almost here. The tournament starts March 2 and runs through March 19 with 16 teams hoping to rule the baseball world. Since international baseball brings new players and storylines, Big League Stew is helping you get ready this worldly clash with previews of each team.
Pool: Pool B, Taiwan
'09 finish: Went 1-2 and failed to advance out of pool play
First game: Saturday March 2, vs. Chinese Taipei
Biggest star(s): Though he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010, Ryan Rowland-Smith is a familiar name to many baseball fans. Infielder Luke Hughes has also played for a couple of big league teams, most recently Oakland.
Notable absences: Oakland teammates Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley will not participate. Fellow pitcher Peter Moylan is also not on the team since he's trying to earn a full-time job as a non-roster invitee in Dodgers camp.
Name you may not know, but should: Remember Chris Snelling? Once a decently-rated prospect in the early 2000s, the outfielder experienced a string of injuries and only played 93 big league games. Now 31, Snelling will try and help the Aussies grab some WBC glory.
Important questions to ask about Australia:
Can the Australians play the role of spoiler?: The Aussies appeared in the first two World Baseball Classics but have only one win to their name — a 17-7 thumping of Mexico in the 2009 opener in which they set a WBC record with 22 hits. However, with a trip to the second round on the line, they fell to Mexico 16-1 four days later.
Australia has had the misfortune of being placed in some pretty tough pools. In 2006, it was the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, in '09 it was Mexico and Cuba. They'll face off against Korea, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei this time around so things aren't going to get any easier. Australia being one of the two teams to advance out of pool B would rank as a surprise.
Travis Blackley in 2009 (AP)Why aren't Balfour and Blackley filling out that pitching staff? Australia's chances would look a lot better with both hurlers, but Balfour is recovering from arthroscopic surgery to his right knee. He didn't play in the 2009 WBC either as the Rays requested he not pitch.
As for Blackley, he was all set to go before having an epiphany about Oakland's competitive pitching staff and the damage it might do to his chances in 2013. It's an understandable position given that the 30-year-old has never made a team out of spring training.
"I love playing for my country, but I love my career more," Blackley told MLB.com's Jane Lee. "I got to do whatever I can to defend my position. It might not even be about me pitching badly here, but if I go there, there could be someone else in their face pitching well while I'm not around to defend the job.
"I worked too long and hard to get to where I am right now. Granted, I can't control things, and a spot on this team isn't just mine automatically. I still have to win it, and that'd be nice."
Can Graeme Lloyd help out then? Balfour is the career WAR leader when it comes to Australian-born pitchers with 7.7 wins but Lloyd was the Aussie trailblazer after pitching for seven teams and racking up 4.5 WAR from 1993 to 2003. Now 45, he'll serve as a coach for Australia's WBC squad.