International baseball will host the first competition of the 2017 season including European clubs. The 2017 World Baseball Classic opens on March 6th with national teams from Israel, The Netherlands and Italy taking part.
Team Netherlands announced some changes on Monday. Replacing outfielder Christopher Garcia on the Dutch roster is shortstop Stijn van der Meer. The 23-year old signed with the Astros in June 2016, and spent last season in rookie ball for the club.
According to the Dutch Federation’s website van der Meer showed his chops this week in the team’s Arizona camp, highlighting not only his skills but his work ethic. Coaches saw something in the left-handed batter that convinced them he’s ready offensively and is a good base runner besides.
The unanswered question remains why another shortstop? With five already on the roster, four currently playing in the bigs, why add a rookie while depleting the outfield options? This leaves the team with just three aging outfielders for the tournament - 31-year old Sams, 28-year old Oduber and 32-year old Balentien - all three of whom have their MLB years behind them. 32-year old Garcia is also a former minor leaguer. Looking solely at dates of birth you would think they’d want the insurance on the bench.
Meanwhile, at short they have the starter for both the NY Yankees and the Boston Red Sox as well as the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels, not to mention a minor leaguer from the Orioles organization. Every one of these players is 27-years old or younger heading into season.
Since Garcia has been MLB inactive since 2012, and van der Meer is up-and-coming in the league perhaps, as an MLB-sponsored event, they wanted the opportunity to showcase the talent to come. Van der Meer is a graduate of the MLB academy program as well.
Also for consideration is the fact that the national team knows him. He was their shortstop during last season’s domination of the European tournaments including Honkbalweek Haarlem and the European Championship, in which he took home his fourth career MVP award.
Drew Butera, scheduled to play with team Italy, missed his first scheduled start in spring training this weekend due to injury. Butera took a fastball to the side while catching in practice earlier in the week. The bruise is healing but tightened up on him so he was sat as a precaution. He’s expected to make his next scheduled start and should be available for the Classic.
Team Israel goes into the games with a new man on the roster as well. The Mensch on the Bench will be riding along with teammate Cody Decker to the games.
The mascot made his debut for the team in mini-me form when Decker snuck him into the WBCQ games in Brooklyn. When the team went on to victory, he revealed their secret weapon.
In Yiddish, a mensch translates to “good person”. The Mensch on the Bench is Chanukah’s answer to The Elf on the Shelf and the book explains the meaning of Chanukah. During his off-season, the Mensch has new duties, mainly mascot for team Israel baseball. Following their final victory over Great Britain in September, Decker revealed the Mensch during the press conference. The coverage resulted in an unexpected life-sized delivery. Now the supersized Mensch is buckled in and ready for his trip to Seoul. Hopefully he knows how to read a map!