Europe will be fielding a team in the Asian Winter Baseball League (AWBL). While the official roster has yet to be released by the WBSC, it is expected that Europeans from Netherlands, Romania, Italy, Germany and Spain will round out the 29-man roster. BaseballEBM has spoken with some of the players who have already personally announced their invitation to join the team in Taichung, Taiwan.
This is the second successive year Europe will send a team to the AWBL. Last year five teams played a 16-game regular season. Team Europe won one game against Japan and tied two against Korea. “In 2015 we had problems with pitching. This year we have more quality in the bullpen,” bench coach Andrea D’Auria, who served as a General Manager last year, told baseballEBM. This season, the field has expanded to six teams and 17 games.
One of the players already aware how tough it is to win a game in the AWLB is 19-year old Dutch RHP Matz Schutte, “The competition is very strong. I hope we can win more games than last time. It’s a big opportunity for the team, and for myself, to play in this league.” Schutte also hopes playing in the AWBL will be good preparation for next season. “This season I had some up and downs but I finished strong. I am very excited for spring training and hope to get moved up next year.” The off-season play is an opportunity to continue improving before the spring.
Ivan Rodriquez, who was a member of the coaching staff last year, said the AWBL is a unique chance for young players, “The players will find out what the professional baseball demands are by playing every day for over three weeks. Last season we saw some players get much better throughout their time in the league.”
The right-handed Romanian sidearm pitcher Eduard Pirvu is getting ready for his first season in the ABWL, “I’m so excited. It is a goal achieved for me and I can't wait to be part of team Europe.” Pirvu’s talent was discovered in 2012 when, at age 17, he participated in the MLB Pitching and Hitting Mini Camp held in the Netherlands.
Despite getting several offers from top European teams, this season Pirvu played in the Romanian league for the Ishido Botosani. He chose to play in Romania while completing his studies. Baseball barely exists in Romania but Eduard has a dream, “My personal goal is to build a baseball field in my hometown of Botosani so I can come there with my mates and finally play on a real baseball field in our country, in our hometown, with our fans.”
Team Europe opens the season on November 26 and will play 17 games in 17 days. In addition to team Europe, this year’s edition of the AWBL consists of two teams from Nippon Professional Baseball, one from the Korean Baseball Organization and two teams from Taiwan. According to Andre D’Auria the Taiwanese team, to be fielded by the Chinese Professional Baseball League, is a favorite. “The CPBL team looks very strong. They have a bunch of guys who played for the Chinese Taipei Training team that won the league last year.”
Japanese teams are composed of players from the NPB minor leagues - Eastern and Western League. One of the most interesting players for Japan is Orix Buffaloes’ outfielder Masataka Yoshida. In 2016, his first season in the NPB, he was selected to the NPB Western League All-Stars team. Baseball experts in Japan believe that Yoshida will be the next big star for the country. In the AWLB Yoshida represents the NPB Eastern League team.
The Asia Winter Baseball League is organized by the Chinese Professional Baseball League and sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation. The inaugural season was played in 2012. Once the team Europe roster is official, you will find all the players listed in our Winter Ball series.