By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Panama defeated Brazil 4-0 back in October of 2022 to become the 19th country to qualify for the World Baseball Classic. Shortly after, Nicaragua became the 20th.
Over the course of the winter, the Panama roster began to fill up, with current MLB and MiLB players committing. Now, just under 20 days from the start of the tournament and the roster complete, team Panama looks to be a tough out for their opponents.
The Panama roster will feature 18 pitchers, three catchers, seven infielders, and six outfielders. The roster does not lack a veteran presence.
On the offensive side of the ball, Panama does not feature the star power that teams like The United States or The Dominican Republic possesses, but there are names that opposing pitchers should be wary of. Christian Bethancourt, a catcher with the Tampa Bay Rays has plenty of pop. He hit seven home runs in 44 games with Tampa Bay after being traded from Oakland. Jonathan Arauz has seen utility man action with the Boston Red Sox the last four years, but has shown spurts of a potential breakout season incoming. Perhaps playing for his home country will help jolt the 24-year olds offensive development.
Lastly, a familiar name to New York Mets fans, infielder Ruben Tejada, will bring a contact first approach to the Panama team. Before breaking his leg in the 2015 NLDS, Tejada was a key member of the Mets lineup, striking out in less than seven percent of his at-bats in seven years with the team. He will look to continue that trend with Panama.
The Panama pitching should be the team’s key strength. There are multiple pitchers with plenty of MLB experience and innings recorded. Jaime Barria of the Los Angeles Angels will be one of the members of the starting rotation. The pitch to contact righty does not strike out many hitters, but keeps the ball in the park and walks very few. He had a 2.61 ERA in 79.1 innings pitched in 2022.
Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Justin Lawrence had baseball Twitter on fire in 2021 when the sidewinder consistently hit over 100 mph on the radar gun. Lawrence will certainly see big, close game innings for Panama. The 28-year old has struck out 65 hitters in 59.1 career innings with Colorado. Per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com,
Washington Nationals veteran Paolo Espino will not pitch for Panama in the World Baseball Classic. This would have been the 36-year old’s fifth time competing in the WBC, a milestone only five other players will reach in 2023. Espino felt obligated to stay with his MLB ball club. “It’s just too far to go…I would have to miss too much of camp, and I know I have work to do here.”
Panama will compete in Pool A alongside Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, and Italy. The last time the event took place in 2017, Panama did not qualify. It will not be a gimme for the team to make it past pool play, as players like Xander Boagerts from the Netherlands and Luis Robert from Cuba will also be battling to lead their teams to the quarterfinals.
Panama will open up the tournament on March 8, at 6 a.m. EST against Chinese Taipei.
Panama’s 2023 World Baseball Classic Roster
Harold Arauz (Federales de Chiriqui)
Alberto Baldonado (Washington Nationals)
Jaime Barria (Los Angeles Angels)
Miguel Cienfuegos (San Diego Padres)
Randall Delgado (Aguilas Cibaenas)
Steven Fuentes (Federales de Chiriqui)
James Gonzalez (Oakland Athletics)
Severino Gonzalez (Federales de Chiriqui)
Javy Guerra (Milwaukee Brewers)
Alberto Guerrero (Tomateros de Culiacan)
Matt Hardy (Milwaukee Brewers)
Justin Lawrence (Colorado Rockies)
Carlos Luna (Minnesota Twins)
Humberto Mejia (New York Mets)
Andy Otero (CBTC Brothers)
Wilfredo Pereira (St. Louis Cardinals)
Erasmo Caballero (Federales de Chiriqui)
Christian Bethancourt (Tampa Bay Rays)
Ivan Herrera (St. Louis Cardinals)
Jonathan Arauz (New York Mets)
Jose Caballero (Seattle Mariners)
Gerald Chin (Aguilas Metropolitanas)
Allen Cordoba (Algodoneros de Union Laguna)
Edgar Munoz (Atlanticos de Bocas del Toro y Colon)
Ruben Tejada (Long Island Ducks)
Joshwan Wright (Oakland Athletics)
Luis Castillo (Atlanticos de Bocas del Toro y Colon)
L.J. Jones (St. Louis Cardinals)
Rodrigo Orozco (Ottawa Titans)
Jose Ramos (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Jahdiel Santamaria (Federales de Chiriqui)
Jhonny Santos (Federales de Chiriqui)
Manager – Luis Ortiz
Bench Coach – Luis Caballero
Hitting Coach – Victor Preciado
Pitching Coach – Enrique Burgos
Pitching Coach – Wilfredo Cordoba
First Base Coach – Cirilo Cumberbatch
Bullpen Coach – Hipólito Ortiz
Third Base Coach – Vicente Garibaldo
Coach – Umberto Guevara