Complete guide to the Classic’s Panama qualifier

The favorite is Panama, but who could be the Cinderella story?

September 30th 2022

Six teams enter the Panama City qualifiers. Two make it to the World Baseball Classic tournament in March 2023.

And if it ends up being anywhere near as exciting as the European qualifiers in Germany, you’ll want to be watching all week long.

But who are the teams? And who are the players? Who is the favorite … and who has a chance at putting on some glass slippers and advancing as an underdog at Estadio Nacional Rod Carew?

Here’s your guide for who to watch in Panama from Sept. 30-Oct. 5.

Argentina

WBSC ranking: No. 27

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: Has never qualified

Nicknamed “The Guachos,” Team Argentina has never entered the World Baseball Classic. They even had to put a Twitter callout to qualified candidates who might want to play for their team this year.

Although they’re not considered a world power, they have won the long-running South American Baseball Championships seven times (1959, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018). And you could say they’re just a little bit excited to be heading to Panama this weekend — tweeting almost every single day upon arrival.

They’re a big-time underdog, but with their entire country and a famous soccer player behind them, they could make some noise in the qualifying rounds.

Brazil

WBCS ranking: No. 25

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: 2013 (finished 14th)

If you follow MLB, you know that Brazil has had some players in the league over the years: All-Star catcher Yan Gomes and Paulo Orlando, to name a few. And their coaching staff also has some former Major League stars — Steve Finley is their manager, while LaTroy Hawkins is the pitching coach. They both have stayed on since joining Barry Larkin’s Brazil staff in 2017.

Team Brazil also has six players affiliated with MLB organizations on their roster in 2022, including brothers Christian and Timothy Lopes. Christian got into a few A’s games this year after a solid 10-year MiLB career and Tim played sporadically for the Mariners and Brewers from 2019-21. Tim’s first hit of his career was actually a homer for Seattle back in ’19.

The 20-year-old pitcher Gabriel Barbosa has also been improving through the Minors — including an undefeated season for the Rockies’ Class-A affiliate this year. And speaking of Orlando, the 36-year-old, who hasn’t played in the Majors since 2018, is slated to suit up for his home country. It’s always nice to have a veteran with a World Series ring in your lineup.

New Zealand

WBCS ranking: No. 46

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: Has never qualified

Baseball, as you may have guessed, isn’t considered a major sport in New Zealand — trailing more popular pastimes like rugby and cricket. But there have been some breakthroughs in recent years — including Ben Thompson getting drafted by the Braves three years ago (He’s on the team and was in the Braves system for years).

Their brightest star, though, might be Nikau Pouaka-Greco, an 18-year-old shortstop in the Phillies system. He put up a .301./.424/.460 line with three homers in 103 at-bats this past season. He’s also been known to be pretty clutch.

The Kiwis unfortunately face a tough draw in the first round against the more baseball-savvy Brazil. Coach Scott Campbell has some faith, though.

“Who knows? Maybe we’ll do something special against Brazil and move on into the winner’s bracket.”

Nicaragua

WBCS ranking: No. 15

Last World Baseball Classic appearance: Has never qualified

Nicaragua is one of two clear favorites in the Panama qualifiers: Their national sport is baseball and they’ve had multiple MLBers over the years — from Dennis “El Presidente” Martínez to Vicente Padilla to current Yankee pitcher Jonathan Loáisiga. They’ve never played in the Classic but they did finish in a tie for fifth in the 1984 Summer Olympics and slotted in fourth place in the ’96 Games.

They also have a couple young, rising stars on their roster heading to Panama: 23-year-old shortstop Steven Leyton has shown off a dynamic glove and power for the Reds in Triple-A.