Cepeda, Despaigne, Prieto Highlight Cuba Olympic, Caribbean Rosters

Cuba has released rosters for two early summer competitions, the third Caribbean Cup and the Americas Olympic Baseball Qualification Tournament. The Copa del Caribe is set for May 8-15 after a postponement from a scheduled start this past weekend and the final roster has been announced (below). From May 31-June 5, a full Cuban team is likely to travel to Florida for a shot at an Olympic berth, with several of its top stars in NPB listed on the preliminary roster.  Both squads are notable in that they feature the veteran talent for which Cuba is known, but each contains several highly regarded players in their early 20s. We break down the rosters, which include several of the most famous Cuban béisboleros ever and one of the top international prospects.

Cuba’s Murderers’ Row Returns

The big three still remain: Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne, and Yosvani Alarcón. Undoubtedly one of international baseball’s greatest pure hitters of all time, Cepeda drew a mind-boggling 98 walks (against only 21 strikeouts) in 320 plate appearances in the 60th Cuban National Series, which concluded recently. He hit .369/.563/.607 in his age-40 season, raising his career line to .325/.474/.556 over 24 seasons. Cepeda has, of course, been a driving force in Cuba’s success since the last millennium.

Unlike Cepeda, Despaigne has spent a fair portion of his career in Japan, hitting .261/.350/.498 in parts of eight NPB seasons. Combined with his absurd CNS numbers, he has a .313/.408/.582 mark in 18 seasons. He returned for another year with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks this spring and is in a race with Cepeda (who has three more safeties to his name) for hit No. 2000. Despaigne currently has more than 1,900 professional hits and over 400 homers.

Alarcón has been behind the plate for many of Cuba’s victories in the past 15 years and, like Cepeda, has mostly remained in Cuba. The Lenadores de Las Tunas star had a normal season by his standards this year, slashing .328/.375/.507, virtually identical to his career line through 16 seasons.

Erisbel Arruebarrena is a final name that will sound quite familiar after the Dodgers signed “The Flea” following an exhilarating 2013 World Baseball Classic performance. He is the only player on either roster with MLB experience, albeit only 41 at bats in 2014. Arruebarrena is one of a number of high profile defectors to return to the CNS and thrive.

Yurisbel Garcia, who has also played on the grass for NPB’s Hawks the past four seasons, also returns to the roster, as does Yadir Drake. Garcia is a .302/.353/.520 hitter in Japan, similar to his overall numbers in 13 professional seasons. Drake has plied his trade in Cuba, the U.S. minor leagues, Mexico, Venezuela, and Japan, hitting .307 as a rightfielder with discipline since the Dodgers granted him his release.

Prospects to Watchcepeda
There are several names you may not know, but should. César Prieto is arguably the top prospect in Cuba and, indeed, one of the most exciting young Cubanos in recent memory.  This year, he shattered the CNS record by hitting in 45 consecutive games, which ties Wee Willie Keeler for the second-longest of any top league worldwide. In fact, in the last 99 seasons, only Prieto and Joe DiMaggio have streaks of 40 or more games in any top league. Even including the minors, only 13 other hitters have reached that number, while the previous Cuban mark of 37 came with a metal bat [link].

Prieto led in hitting this season at .403, the only player to top the four-hundred plateau. He had 31 walks and only 11 strikeouts in 360 plate appearances, and had 27 percent more hits (128) than the second-place finisher (101). After hitting .370/.443/.520 in his first 157 CNS games, the middle infielder—only 21 years old—became one of the rare Cubans to sign with the Mexican League, inking a contract with the Tabasco Olmecas for the 2021 season [link].

Loidel Chapellí Jr. was the 59th CNS Rookie of the Year after hitting .288/.390/.366 in 2019-20, adding the award to his 2016 WBSC Baseball Player of the Year nod, his 2016 U15 Baseball World Cup MVP award, and his 2017 U18 World Cup appearance [link]. Only 19, the leftfielder upped his numbers to .317/.442/.496 this year.

It is rare to strike out more than a batter per inning in the Serie Nacional, but Yunior Tur Pozo claimed the CNS 60 Reliever of the Year at age 22 after punching out 45 in 38.1 frames with a 2.11 ERA. After not permitting even an unearned run in 22 innings in 2019-20, his career 1.51 run prevention mark and 10.7 K/9 are eye-popping.

Chapelli has signed to play in Panamá’s professional league this year, along with heralded Camagüey teammate Yosimar Cousín, who it was believed would be named to one of the rosters. Prieto, Tur, and Geyser Cepeda (see below) will also play in the Central American country.

Mid-Career Veterans to Remember
Although past the prospect age, Rafael Viñales is young enough that he could still develop into a national team star. The catcher-first baseman was second in the league in average (.387), home runs (19), and slugging percentage (.659). Viñales has a .517 slugging percentage in this last five CNS campaigns.

Those power numbers were second only to Lisbán Correa, who returned to Cuba after defecting and has taken his game to another level. This year, he became the first defector to win National Series MVP after a monster season in which he led the league in roundtrippers (28) and slashed .320/.457/.692, slightly behind his .408/.539/.708 mark in only 18 games the year before. He has also signed in Mexico for 2021.

Frank Madán threw the 60th no-hitter in 60 seasons of the Cuban National Series on Dec. 29, one of five shutouts in the 2020-21 campaign. The burly right-hander (listed at 5-10, 248 at age 29) was named Pitcher of the Year after going 13-5 with a league-leading 109 strikeouts in 141.2 innings.

Other pitchers that could make a start include Yoennis (“Yoanni”) Yera, who looked good in five starts in the Mexican Winter League (2.93 ERA and 4.17 K/BB in 27.2IP), Carlos Viera, and Yoen Socarrás.

Olympic Qualifier Pre-Selection
Catchers (4): Yosvani Alarcón (LTU), Luis Gomez (CMG), Ariel Martinez (MTZ), Rafael Viñales (LTU).
Infielders (14): Erisbel Arruebarrena (MTZ), Guillermo Avilés (GRA), Alexander Ayala (CMG), Humberto Bravo (CMG), Lisbán Correa (IND), Jeferson Delgado (MTZ), Dayán García (ART), Raúl González (CAV), Yurisbel Gracial (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), Yordan Manduley (HOL), Yadil Mujica (MTZ), César Prieto (CFG), Yordanis Samon (CMG), Luis Sánchez (GTM)*.
Outfielders (7): Frederich Cepeda (SSP), Alfredo Despaigne (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), Yadir Drake (Leónes de Yucatán), Yhosvani Peñalver (IND), Raico Santos (GRA), Roel Santos (GRA), Loidel Chapellí Jr. (CMG).
Pitchers (14): Lázaro Blanco (GRA), Bryan Chi (IND), Carlos Font (SCU), Pavel Hernández (IND), Frank Madan (CMG), Raidel Martínez (PRI), Liván Moinelo (PRI), Andy Rodriguez (IND), Yariel Rodriguez (Chunichi Dragons and CMG), Yudier Rodriguez (LTU), Yuen Socarrás (SSP), Yunior Tur (SCU), Carlos Viera (LTU), Yoanni Yera (MTZ).
Technical Corps: Manager: Armando Ferrer (MTZ); Carlos Martí (GRA), Ricardo Eizmendiz (CNB), José Hernández (CAV), Alexander Ramos (IJV), Raicel Sánchez (PRI), Jesús Salgado (MTZ).
*Late addition.

Caribbean Cup Final Roster
There are a handful of fairly interesting players on the roster for the Caribbean Cup and the squad is a representative “Cuba B” team, as it has sent to so many tournaments. It is scheduled to face Dominican Republic, Curaçao, Panamá, and then Puerto Rico in the “Elite Group”.

Geyser Cepeda is the top prospect on this list, as he hit above .350 for the second year in-a-row. Cousin of the more famous Cepeda, the 23-year old plays centre and combines great plate discipline (51 walks and 15 strikeouts in 317 PA in 2020-21) with speed and increasing power (.504 slugging in the 60th CNS).

Pablo Luis Guillén is a moderately intriguing right-handed pitching prospect. Debuting at 18, the now 22-year-old has a 2.73 ERA as a starter across five professional seasons, including three starts in the 2020-21 Venezuelan Winter League. Marlon Vega earned Rookie of the Year honours for Mayabeque with a 4.36 ERA and 8.0 K/9 in relief, though he did walk 6.6 per nine.

Luis Mateo had a breakout season this winter, slashing .361/.438/.469 as a 24-year old and was tabbed as the league’s All-Star SS and “Best All-Around SS”. He had 37 walks and only 18 strikeouts in 325 plate appearances and is a .313 career hitter in 278 games. Yasniel González and Dennis Laza both had very good campaigns for Mayabeque and joined Geyser Cepeda as All-Stars and “Best All-Around” outfielders. González (age 29) hit .338/.481/.565 as the Huracánes’ rightfielder, while the 35-year old Laza manned the opposite corner and slashed .321/.450/.571.

Manager: Pablo Civil
Catchers (3): Iván Prieto González (GRA), Andrys Pérez García (MTZ), Osvaldo Vázquez (CAV)*.
Infielders (7): Osvaldo Abreu (GRA)*, Juan Carlos Arencibia (PRI), Guillermo Garcia (GRA), Luis Vicente Mateo (CFG), Daniel Pérez Pérez (CFG), Pavel Quesada Pedroso (CFG), Santiago Torres Baena (SCU).
Outfielders (4): Geyser Cepeda Lima (SSP), Yasniel González Vega (MAY), Yoelkis Guibert Stevens (SCU), Dennis Laza Spencer (MAY).
Pitchers (10): Frank Alvarez Díaz (PRI), Naykel Cruz Saldívar (MTZ), Dariel Fernández Baz (PRI), Cesar Garcia (GRA)*, Yander Guevara (CAV)*, Pablo Luis Guillén (VCL), Yankiel Mauri Gutiérrez (SSP), Yadián Martínez (MAY), Reinier Rivero Estrada (MTZ), Marlon Vega Travieso (MAY).
*Not on preliminary roster.

Cut from Preliminary Roster
Catchers (2):
Rafael Viñales Álvarez (LTU), Yosvani Alarcón Tardío (LTU).
Infielders (7): Guillermo Avilés Difurnó (GRA), Lisbán Correa Sánchez (IND), Dayán García Ortega (ART), Andrés Hernández Díaz (IND), Yordan Manduley Escalona (HOL), Yadil Mujica Díaz (MTZ)César Prieto Echevarría (CFG).
Outfielders (3):
Yadir Drake Domínguez (MTZ), Raico Santos Almeida (GRA), Roel Santos Martínez (GRA).
Pitchers (7):
Lázaro Blanco Matos (GRA), Bryan Chi Montoya (IND), Carlos Font Mustelier (SCU), Frank Madan Montejo (CMG), Yunior Tur Pozo (SCU), Carlos Juan Viera Álvarez (LTU), Yoanni Yera Montalvo (MTZ).

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Start Dates for 2021 National and Independent Leagues

With another year of baseball affected by COVID-19, many leagues around the world have delayed the start of the 2021 season. In fact, of the 57 leagues surveyed here—most of them national leagues—only 10 were active on April 1 and only 34 intend to be active by June 6. Asia is the continent that is least affected, while several notable circuits in the Americas (the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol and MLB’s minor league teams) and Europe (Italy’s leagues, the Netherlands’ Hoofdlkasse, and French hardball) are all delayed, the latter three indefinitely. Eleven other leagues—all but one a national league—have yet to even comment on the possibility of a campaign this summer. We will continue to update this list as more information becomes available.

Last updated: April 30.

Africa
The only known leagues—Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda—do not play at this time of year.

Americas
Active as of April 1: 3/12
Active as of April 25: 3/12
Active as of June 6: 9/12

El Salvador: February 10
Mexico (LMB): May 20
Nicaragua (Germán Pomares): February 19
USA (Atlantic League, MLB Partner): May 28
USA (American Association): May 18
USA (Empire League): After June 10
USA (MLB): Apr. 1
USA (MLB minor leagues): May 4
USA (Pecos League): June 2
USA (United Shore League): May 28
No reports on a 2021 season: Curaçao, USA (Pacific Association)

Asia
Active as of April 1: 5/6
Active as of April 25: 6/6
Active as of June 6: 6/6

Japan (NPB): March 26
Laos (men): Jan. 16
Laos (women): Jan. 16
South Korea (KBO): April 6 (delayed a day due to rain)
Taiwan (CPBL): March 13
Vietnam: Jan. 8-11 (National Championship)

Europe
Active as of April 1: 2/39
Active as of April 25: 9/39
Active as of June 6: 19/39

Austria: April 9
Belgium: Postponed, TBD
Croatia: April 9
Czech Republic (Extraliga): April 9
Denmark: May 1
Euro Inter League: TBD
European Super League: Not before early May, when a European tryout is scheduled.
France: June 5
Germany: April 1 (South), May 9 (North)
Great Britain (BBF, all leagues): May 2 (except South West: May 16)
Great Britain (BSUK Universities): Postponed, TBD
Great Britain (East Midlands): TBD, may have folded
Great Britain (East of England): TBD
Great Britain (Herts Spring League): April 24-25
Great Britain (Northern League): June 6
Great Britain (West Country): May 16
Great Britain (West Midlands): TBD
Great Britain (Women’s Baseball UK): May 22
Hungary: March 21
Italy: Postponed, TBD (not before April 20)
Lithuania: April 17
Netherlands: April 30
Norway: Postponed, TBD (was April 24)
Poland: April 25 (was April 2 and April 18)
Russia: May 24
Scotland: June 6
Spain: April 10
Sweden: June 5 (was early May)
Switzerland: TBD (was April 10)
No reports on a 2021 season: Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Moldova, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine

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BREAKING: Germany’s Wittman Commits to West Texas A&M

Another European player has signed with an American university for the 2022 season, the third announced in the past week. Paul Wittmann is one of five German-raised players due to play in the U.S. next spring, and the fourth European baseballer to commit for 2022. Wittman, a product of the Regensburg Baseball Academy, will join West Texas A&M University, a NCAA Division II institution.

Last year, Wittman was MVP in the Under-18 Bavarian Championship and was part of the national title-winning Werner von Siemens Gymnasium team. He has appeared on multiple German national teams, most recently starting at catcher and right field in the 2018 U18 European Championship. Germany was 3-3 at the event and Wittman hit .273/.500/.545 with five walks in 19 plate appearances. Wittman, listed as “Paoul” at the time, threw out 1-of-4 runners from behind the plate.

A year earlier, Wittman was young enough to compete in the Under-15 Euros, where he slashed .400/.571/.500 with four walks and no strikeouts in 15 plate appearances as the team’s leadoff hitter. Germany defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in the final, though Wittman did not play.

Other 2022 commits inclide Lucas Khemache (France), Mathias LaCombe (France), and Jesse Velders (Netherlands). In total, 151 players eligible for European teams are already known for next season, very close to this year’s mark of 164. Of those, 87 were developped in Europe, comparable to the 93 for the 2021 season.

Graphic copyright Sportinternat Regensburg.

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Updates on Europeans at U.S. Universities

Below are updates on selected players from the list of 164 European and European-eligible players at North American universities. Included are a national statistical leader, two Italian Serie A players, and a Honkbal Hoofdklasse pitcher, among others.

Great Britain’s Richard Brereton transferred to Duke University for the 2021 season, a big step up from NCAA Division III baseball, even with highly regarded Emory University. Brereton has appeared in four games, all on the hill, striking out seven in 4.1 innings, but surrendering five runs, including two round-trippers.

Tommaso Giarola made his IBL debut in 2020 with Parma and returned this year for his second season with Frontier College. The experience has paid off for the Bobcats, for whom Giarola is mashing at a .377/.500/.672 clip in 19 games, with more walks (11) than strikeouts (10).

Dave Janssen is No. 1 in the entirety of NJCAA Division I in on-base percentage (.710), checking in at second in batting average (.591) and No. 11 in slugging (.955). Unofficially, he is fifth in the nation in K% (striking out in 3.2% of PA). He leads both ICCAC Div. I and II universities in batting average, OBP, and K% and is No. 2 in SLG. The Indian Hills CC backstop also has five stolen bases and has scored 12R in 8G.

Meanwhile, Drew Janssen (no relation and Belgian rather than Dutch) has whiffed 25 in 19 innings for Frontier, posting a 4.26 ERA. Last year, that mark was at 2.81 and accompanied by 39 K in 25.2 frames.

Leo Jiminian leads Clarendon College in AB (63, tied) and has hit .302/.366/.460 in 17 games. Fellow Frenchmen Pierre-Emmanuel Planes (3-for-11) and Lilian Amoros (4.50 ERA, 14IP) have seen action as well, while the Netherlands’ Leandro Anasagasti is 1-for-8.

Already a veteran of four IBL Serie A seasons, Giulio Monello is in his third season with Odessa Junior College and has already committed to the University of New Mexico for 2022. The Italian catcher is off to a slow start, hitting .245/.327/.388 after a red-hot 2020.

Daniel Monti is in the midst of his second-straight strong campaign for Odessa, with a .340/.375/.528 line in 16 games that mirrors his .333/.400/.500 output in 17 contests in 2020.

Tijmen Takke (pictured above) is No. 6 in the ACCAC in doubles (7) and slashing .310/.437/.483 in his second season for Phoenix College. On March 16, he went 3-for-4 and was a triple short of the cycle. Last year, the 1B hit .338/.422/.571 and slugged four of the teams seven home runs.

Luke ter Beek has a 2.63 ERA and a 12-to-1 K/BB ratio in 13.2 innings for Arizona Western College, one of the prime destinations for European players. The Matadors boast two other Dutch players, Delano Selassa and Jeandro Tromp, plus France’s José Paula, and Czech Republic’s Ondřej Furko.

Picture of Takke at the 2019 MLB Elite Tournament copyright Extra Innings. Graphic courtesy of the ICCAC. 

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Red Sox’ Rincónes Now on JuCo Route

Just after the 2017-18 international signing period began, we broke the news that the Red Sox had signed a new Aruban shortshop, Brandon Rincones [link]. Mike Andrews of SoxProspects reported in November that Rincónes had been released in January 2020, in a move that had not been reported. We can now confirm that the Aruban’s baseball career has not ended, though, as Rincónes is playing this year for Odessa Junior College in Texas.

Rincónes suited up for 73 games over the 2018-19 seasons for Boston’s Dominican Summer League team, slasshing .247/.350/.288. His plate discipline was a strength, with 30 BB and 32 K in 266 plate appearances. Rincónes played mostly 2B, where he posted a .975 fielding percentage (though minor league fielding stats are notoriously unreliable).

Although his batting line appears fairly unexciting, in the light-slugging DSL, Rincónes posted a 95 wRC+, meaning he created only five percent fewer runs than the average player over those two seasons. Considering he was quite unlucky (.289 BABIP; 29% less than league average .314), it would appear Rinónes was roughly an average player, no mean feat.

You may be wondering how a former professional athlete could be allowed to play university baseball. According to the NJCAA 2019-20 Eligibility Pamphlet [link], Section 4 – Amateur Status of NJCAA Student-Athletes, Article A4:

An athlete loses amateur status and shall be deemed permanently ineligible for competition in an NJCAA certified sport if any of the following criteria applies once the athlete reaches their 19th birthday or once they enroll in college as a full-time student, whichever comes first

The nine clauses of Article A4 are primarily concerned with what an athlete might do while already enrolled in a JuCo, but Clause I specifies, “Competes professionally or contracts to compete professionally in a sport regardless of its format“.

Rincónes was born on Oct. 1, 2000, meaning he last competed in a professional game 39 days before his nineteenth birthday. As a result, Rincónes was, in fact, eligible for JuCo competition, without any loophole or special consideration, making the Netherlands-eligible infielder a great signing for Odessa.

Odessa has recruited heavily in Europe and the Caribbean in the last five years and currently features a second Aruban, Lenin Ashby, plus two Italians, Giulio Monello and Daniel Monti, and the Netherlands’ Dylan Farley. In theory, the team’s starting lineup could have find European national teamer, though the Aruban duo have never suited up for a Dutch youth team.

Rincónes is off to a slow start for the Wranglers through 12 games, slashing .171/.237/.286, though he ripped his first home run outside of Aruba on Mar. 9 and had a three-hit game on Feb. 5. He has appeared regularly at DH, otherwise playing 3B and a little SS, positions he played on a few occasions as a pro. He received the weekend of Mar. 21-22 off.

Photo of Rincones is copyright Baseball Aruba.

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WBSC Olympic Qualifiers Set for June in Florida, Taiwan


Press release by World Baseball Softball Confederation. It has been edited only to provide the correct name for Taiwan. 

PULLY, Switzerland; 16 March 2021 — The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) today announced the timing and locations of the two remaining baseball qualifiers for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier is expected to be held in early June (exact dates/venues to be confirmed) in Florida, with the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier to follow from 16-20 June in Taichung.

The groups, format and game order of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier will remain as previously announced, with eight nations competing over 16 games for a place in the six-team Tokyo Olympic baseball event.

“Today’s confirmation regarding these qualifiers should cause great anticipation and excitement amongst both the Olympic and baseball worlds,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari. “I would like to express the WBSC’s deepest gratitude to our hosts in Florida and Taichung, who will be providing us with the necessary settings in which to stage these important international competitions in a safe and successful manner. Good luck to all the teams and athletes on the Road to the Tokyo Olympics. It’s time to play ball.”

WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier – Florida, USA
Group A: No. 2 USA, No. 10 Dominican Republic, No. 11 Puerto Rico, No. 15 Nicaragua.
Group B: No. 8 Cuba, No. 9 Venezuela, No. 13 Canada, No. 14 Colombia.

After group play concludes, the top two finishers from each group will advance to the Super Round, where they will each play two games. Head-to-head contests among these teams from the opening round will carry over into the Super Round standings.

The team with the best Super Round record will be declared the winner and become the fifth National Team to advance to the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament, joining world No. 1 Japan, No. 3 Korea, No. 5 Mexico and No. 18 Israel. The second- and the third-place teams will qualify for the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier.

WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier – Taichung and Douliu, Taiwan
The WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier — which will award the sixth and final berth to the Tokyo Olympic baseball event – is scheduled from 16 to 20 June at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium and Douliou Baseball Stadium in Douliu City.

The participating teams are world No. 4 Taiwan, No. 6 Australia, No. 9 Netherlands, No. 22 China and the second- and the third-place teams from the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier.

The format, groups, and schedule of the final qualifier will be announced in a future communication.

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WBSC Women’s, U15 World Cups Postponed


Press release from WBSC.

PULLY, Switzerland / TIJUANA, Mexico; 23 February 2021—The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) has asked the Tijuana Organizing Committee and the Mexican government to postpone the 2021 WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup® and the U-15 Baseball World Cup to later this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated international travel restrictions.

The two Baseball World Cups, which were set to take place in Tijuana this March, were originally part of the 2020 international baseball calendar.

“The WBSC is greatly disappointed for the teams and their athletes regarding this difficult decision,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari. “The WBSC remains in close contact with the Local Organizing Committee, the concerned National Federations/Teams and the respective authorities to determine the next course of action.”

A final decision has yet to be made as to when the next editions of the Women’s and U-15 Baseball World Cups will take place. The biennial global tournaments were last staged in 2018.

The 2021 WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup remains on schedule for 24 September to 3 October in Mexico.

Qualified teams to the respective 2021 Baseball World Cups:

WBSC U-15 Baseball World Cup 2021
  • Africa (1): South Africa
  • Americas (6): Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, USA and Venezuela
  • Asia (2): Chinese Taipei and Japan
  • Europe (2): Germany and Italy
  • Oceania (1): Guam
WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup 2021
  • Americas (4): Canada, Mexico, USA and Venezuela
  • Asia (3): Defending World Cup Champion Japan, Chinese Taipei and Philippines,
  • Europe (1) France
  • Oceania (1): Australia
  • Wild Card (3): Cuba, Dominican Republic and Netherlands
WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup 2021
  • Africa (1): South Africa
  • Americas (4): Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua
  • Asia (3): Japan, Chinese Taipei and China
  • Europe (2): Czech Republic and Germany
  • Oceania (1): New Zealand
  • Wild Card (1): Korea
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BREAKING: Italy Awarded 2021 U23 Euros, Apparent Qualification

The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) has been awarded hosting rights for the 2021 Under-23 (U23) European Championship. Italy will now host the Senior, U23, and U18 tournaments, the first time ever that one country will host Europe’s top three men’s baseball events. In fact, it is only the second time since records are available in 2007 that one country hosted three European national team events at any level. The announcement also served as a postponement to the tourney’s original dates.

Hosting a Treble
The U23s will now be the penultimate European baseball tournament of the summer. Originally due to start Aug. 3 or 4, the event will run from Aug. 24 to 28 at two sites in greater Verona. The northern Italian city is home to a Roman amphitheatre generally regarded as the best preserved in Europe. Two weeks later (beginning Sep. 11 or 12), the action will move slightly west to the Piedmont region for the senior men’s tournament. Meanwhile, the U18 title bout will run from July 5-11.

The feat of hosting three continental championships in one year is a very rare one. No country on any other continent can claim that feat for at least a decade and, quite possibly, ever. In Europe, it was common between 2007-2016 for a country to host two national team events (every year except 2009)—with the Czechs the most frequent—but even that feat has become uncommon of late. A treble of tournaments, however, is historic.

In 2012, the Czech Republic hosted three continental competitions. That year, the Central European nation welcomed teams to the U12, U15, and U21 (the predecessor to the U23) Championships over three consecutive weeks. It is worth noting that the Czech Republic is also the only other country in Europe to host the senior and U23/U21 championships in the same year (2014).

Italy’s Mysterious Qualification
All of this discussion of historicity, however, obscures the fact that Italy will somehow host a tournament—for which one has had to qualify since 2018—without ever fielding a team at the U23 level. Although it competed in the initial U21 European Championship in 2006, it has not sent a team since. The press release today [link] by FIBS announced a “newly-created U23 baseball division”, led by manager Alberto d’Auria, which will “have the daunting task of putting together a squad that will win the inaugural U23 European Baseball Championship”.

Yet Italy has not qualified for the tournament it will host. The CEB ‘Competition Rules’ document [link], last updated in 2019, states in Article 23B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23: Participants: ‘The participants are the 6 first classified of the previous championship and the 2 first classified of the last Qualifier.’

Given that Italy did not compete in the previous championship or qualifiers, a solution to its inclusion in the championship cannot be found in Article 23. The article concludes with Section D, Promotion and Relegation, which declares, ‘The teams that finished 7th and 8th place are relegated to the next Qualifier. The winner and the runner-up of the Qualifier in the following year are promoted to the next Championship.’

Article 26 (QUALIFIER FOR THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23, JUNIORS U18, CADETS U15 AND JUVENILES U12) further clarifies the preceding statement. In Section B (Promotion and Relegation), Clause 1 (Qualifier for the European Championships U23, Juniors U18, Cadets U15), the CEB affirms that ‘The winner and the runner-up of the qualifier competition is promoted to the next championship. In case the qualifier is played in two different countries, the winner of each group is promoted to the championship.’

The Search for a Qualifying Loophole
The possible exemption to Article 23B and D and Article 26B is contained in 26A: ‘For these qualifying competitions, the CEB Technical Commission will decide yearly the format of the competition based upon the number of subscriptions.’ Given that two U23 Qualifiers were meant to be held in 2020, it is possible that this has been applied as a ‘Pandemic Exception’ and the 2021 U23s will feature a number of other unqualified teams.

Unlike the senior men’s and women’s tournaments and the U12 Championship, this also indicates that there is no set formula for the number of subscribed U23, U18, or U15 teams to automatically trigger the creation of either a qualifying round or whether that qualifier should be split into two pools. In fact, given a directive in Article 26A “In case the qualifying competitions for the Championship Juniors and/or Cadets are played in two different countries,” the U23 Championship is the only CEB tournament with no guidance on how to form a multi-pool qualifier. Moreover, unlike the aforementioned three tournaments, there is no suggestion of a third-tier qualifying tournament and, instead, the Technical Commission has more leeway to determine format.

A tweet yesterday from FIBS provides little more information, with the ‘Consiglio Federale’ (Federal Council) in question that of Italy’s federation, not the CEB (as tweets from the hour previous make clear). The wording of the tweet suggests that FIBS’ Federal Council chose the two Veronese sites, rather than the confederation’s executive committee. 

It is worth noting that in Article 20B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: Participants), the CEB ruling for senior men’s tournaments is that the 10 participant teams are the top nine from its most recent edition, the winners of the two qualifying pools, and “the organizer country”. The clause also provides instructions for the allotment of the tenth place team should one of the top nine serve as hosts. The senior men’s championship is the only tournament for which an “organizer country” is mentioned.

Deciphering CEB’s Decision
CEB Europe Baseball LogoSeveral assumptions have been made in this piece. First, that Italy will field a team in the tournament. Second, that CEB members have not voted to allow an exception given the unusual circumstances of the last year. Third, that a document not available on www.baseballeurope.com stipulates an automatic birth for any host nation, regardless of qualification. The most likely of these theoretical or actual missing documents is the ‘Host Agreement’, first drafted for the 2012 Congress [link] and referenced in the ‘Competition Rules’. The ‘Site Request for CEB Competitions 2019’, and ‘Statutes’ (last updated 2017) are silent on the matter of qualification.

The date of the ‘Competition Rules’ document (“Valid for 2019”) and its stipulation of a 12-team Euros, however, provide clues that the CEB’s rules for competition may have been updated, given the Aug. 17 announcement by the confederation that the men’s European Championship would expand to 16 teams. What seems most likely is that—despite the postponement of the 2021 WBSC (and CEB) Congress to November 2021—European federations have revised the ‘Competition Rules’ to allow for a guaranteed spot for an ‘organizer country’ at the U23 category, and possibly others.

At least two federations to whom we spoke were unaware of a new provision for host nations to gain an automatic berth in tournaments other than seniors. Should this change not have taken place, then the two relegated countries from the most recent championship in 2019 (Croatia and Ukraine) and the remaining teams from the 2018 qualifier (Austria, Belarus, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland) may have cause for a grievance. Other teams already in the championship might also take issue as well, given as it as a 2022 U23 World Cup qualifier. 

On the other hand, the U23/U21 tournament has always been the unique one since its creation in 2006, with teams regularly making sporadic appearances. For example, Spain hosted the tournament in 2008 and then did not reappear until 2017. Israel made its only appearance as hosts in a four-team 2016 championship, and Hungary and Malta materialised in the inaugural event, never to be seen since (as with Georgia since 2017). Given the unusual path the tournament has taken, with tournaments as large as 16 teams and as small as four, perhaps a few idiosyncracies should be expected.

Action shots copyright Extra Innings UK.

 

The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) has been awarded hosting rights for the 2021 Under-23 (U23) European Championship. Italy will now host the Senior, U23, and U18 tournaments, the first time ever that one country will host Europe’s top three men’s baseball events. In fact, it is only the second time since records are available in 2007 that one country hosted three European national team events at any level. The announcement also served as a postponement to the tourney’s original dates.

Hosting a Treble
The U23s will now be the penultimate European baseball tournament of the summer. Originally due to start Aug. 3 or 4, the event will run from Aug. 24 to 28 at two sites in greater Verona. The northern Italian city is home to a Roman amphitheatre generally regarded as the best preserved in Europe. Two weeks later (beginning Sep. 11 or 12), the action will move slightly west to the Piedmont region for the senior men’s tournament. Meanwhile, the U18 title bout will run from July 5-11.

The feat of hosting three continental championships in one year is a very rare one. No country on any other continent can claim that feat for at least a decade and, quite possibly, ever. In Europe, it was common between 2007-2016 for a country to host two national team events (every year except 2009)—with the Czechs the most frequent—but even that feat has become uncommon of late. A treble of tournaments, however, is historic.

In 2012, the Czech Republic hosted three continental competitions. That year, the Central European nation welcomed teams to the U12, U15, and U21 (the predecessor to the U23) Championships over three consecutive weeks. It is worth noting that the Czech Republic is also the only other country in Europe to host the senior and U23/U21 championships in the same year (2014).

Italy’s Mysterious Qualification
All of this discussion of historicity, however, obscures the fact that Italy will somehow host a tournament—for which one has had to qualify since 2018—without ever fielding a team at the U23 level. Although it competed in the initial U21 European Championship in 2006, it has not sent a team since. The press release today [link] by FIBS announced a “newly-created U23 baseball division”, led by manager Alberto d’Auria, which will “have the daunting task of putting together a squad that will win the inaugural U23 European Baseball Championship”.

Yet Italy has not qualified for the tournament it will host. The CEB ‘Competition Rules’ document [link], last updated in 2019, states in Article 23B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23: Participants: ‘The participants are the 6 first classified of the previous championship and the 2 first classified of the last Qualifier.’

Given that Italy did not compete in the previous championship or qualifiers, a solution to its inclusion in the championship cannot be found in Article 23. The article concludes with Section D, Promotion and Relegation, which declares, ‘The teams that finished 7th and 8th place are relegated to the next Qualifier. The winner and the runner-up of the Qualifier in the following year are promoted to the next Championship.’

Article 26 (QUALIFIER FOR THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS U23, JUNIORS U18, CADETS U15 AND JUVENILES U12) further clarifies the preceding statement. In Section B (Promotion and Relegation), Clause 1 (Qualifier for the European Championships U23, Juniors U18, Cadets U15), the CEB affirms that ‘The winner and the runner-up of the qualifier competition is promoted to the next championship. In case the qualifier is played in two different countries, the winner of each group is promoted to the championship.’

The Search for a Qualifying Loophole
The possible exemption to Article 23B and D and Article 26B is contained in 26A: ‘For these qualifying competitions, the CEB Technical Commission will decide yearly the format of the competition based upon the number of subscriptions.’ Given that two U23 Qualifiers were meant to be held in 2020, it is possible that this has been applied as a ‘Pandemic Exception’ and the 2021 U23s will feature a number of other unqualified teams.

Unlike the senior men’s and women’s tournaments and the U12 Championship, this also indicates that there is no set formula for the number of subscribed U23, U18, or U15 teams to automatically trigger the creation of either a qualifying round or whether that qualifier should be split into two pools. In fact, given a directive in Article 26A “In case the qualifying competitions for the Championship Juniors and/or Cadets are played in two different countries,” the U23 Championship is the only CEB tournament with no guidance on how to form a multi-pool qualifier. Moreover, unlike the aforementioned three tournaments, there is no suggestion of a third-tier qualifying tournament and, instead, the Technical Commission has more leeway to determine format.

A tweet yesterday from FIBS provides little more information, with the ‘Consiglio Federale’ (Federal Council) in question that of Italy’s federation, not the CEB (as tweets from the hour previous make clear). The wording of the tweet suggests that FIBS’ Federal Council chose the two Veronese sites, rather than the confederation’s executive committee. 

It is worth noting that in Article 20B (EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: Participants), the CEB ruling for senior men’s tournaments is that the 10 participant teams are the top nine from its most recent edition, the winners of the two qualifying pools, and “the organizer country”. The clause also provides instructions for the allotment of the tenth place team should one of the top nine serve as hosts. The senior men’s championship is the only tournament for which an “organizer country” is mentioned.

Deciphering CEB’s Decision
CEB Europe Baseball LogoSeveral assumptions have been made in this piece. First, that Italy will field a team in the tournament. Second, that CEB members have not voted to allow an exception given the unusual circumstances of the last year. Third, that a document not available on www.baseballeurope.com stipulates an automatic birth for any host nation, regardless of qualification. The most likely of these theoretical or actual missing documents is the ‘Host Agreement’, first drafted for the 2012 Congress [link] and referenced in the ‘Competition Rules’. The ‘Site Request for CEB Competitions 2019’, and ‘Statutes’ (last updated 2017) are silent on the matter of qualification.

The date of the ‘Competition Rules’ document (“Valid for 2019”) and its stipulation of a 12-team Euros, however, provide clues that the CEB’s rules for competition may have been updated, given the Aug. 17 announcement by the confederation that the men’s European Championship would expand to 16 teams. What seems most likely is that—despite the postponement of the 2021 WBSC (and CEB) Congress to November 2021—European federations have revised the ‘Competition Rules’ to allow for a guaranteed spot for an ‘organizer country’ at the U23 category, and possibly others.

At least two federations to whom we spoke were unaware of a new provision for host nations to gain an automatic berth in tournaments other than seniors, while a third was uncertain. Of these teams, one has qualified for the A-Pool and two have not sent teams. Should this change not have taken place, then the two relegated countries from the most recent championship in 2019 (Croatia and Ukraine) and the remaining teams from the 2018 qualifier (Austria, Belarus, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland) may have cause for a grievance. Other teams already in the championship might also take issue as well, given as it as a 2022 U23 World Cup qualifier. 

On the other hand, the U23/U21 tournament has always been the unique one since its creation in 2006, with teams regularly making sporadic appearances. For example, Spain hosted the tournament in 2008 and then did not reappear until 2017. Israel made its only appearance as hosts in a four-team 2016 championship, and Hungary and Malta materialised in the inaugural event, never to be seen since (as with Georgia since 2017). Given the unusual path the tournament has taken, with tournaments as large as 16 teams and as small as four, perhaps a few idiosyncracies should be expected.

The CEB website and social media accounts have yet to be updated with the announcement (and, indeed, the Twitter has been silent since September—and May, excluding retweets) for a while. In the meantime, we will keep you updated as more details emerge. 

Action shots copyright Extra Innings UK. Hat tip to Cam McHarg for his assistance in gathering information. 

 

Posted in CEB, Europe, Italy, U23 European Championship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hong Kong Postpones International Open until March

BREAKING: The Hong Kong Baseball Association has officially postponed its annual International Baseball Open (HKIBO). The decision means that only one more international baseball tournament is still left on the 2020 calendar, The World Comes to Palm Beaches, still scheduled for November.

The HKIBO has occurred annually in December since its first edition in 2012. According to the federation, the 2020 edition is now scheduled for March 2021, assuming public health conditions permit.

The event grew out of the Zhujiang Cup International Invitation Baseball Tournament, an event held since 2000 and featuring smaller teams from Southeast Asia. It alternated between a men’s event and one for youth, eventually focusing only on the latter. According to the 2007 programme [link] (and a little help from Google Translate), “The name Zhujiang is employed to lay down our hope to develop baseball to all walks of people like the forever flow of Zhujiang [The Pearl River].”

A team has represented the Philippines in many of the Zhujiang Cups for men and HKIBOs, most commonly the Ateneo University Eagles. Other club teams have come from Australia (Sydney University), China (Shenzhen, Lanzhou), Russia (Vladivostok Tigers, often playing as “Russia”), and Taiwan (Brett, Da-Ho). Clubs have even represented Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.

Since 2013, the HKIBO has usually included the national teams of both Hong Kong and Singapore. Last year, Hong Kong defeated “Russia” 20-4 in the final. Recent coverage of the event can be accessed below.

HKIBO 2019 [link]
HKIBO 2018 [link]
HKIBO 2017 [link]

Posted in Asia, Hong Kong, Hong Kong International Baseball Open, Singapore, Tournaments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U18 Asian Championship Postponed Again, U12s Moved to March 2021

BREAKING: The Under-18 and Under-12 Asian Championships have been postponed until 2021. The U12s were recently confirmed for December, after having once been listed in September. Taiwan will retain hosting rights to both tournaments. 

On May 11, [link] Baseball Federation Asia (BFA) confirmed that the U18 tournament would be held from September 6-12 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Federations were told to submit applications for participation on May 20. However, on June 11, BFA postponed the event until December 18-26 [link]. Today, it seems, the board decided to postpone the championship to 2021 through a Facebook post, declining to pose a date. No press release was issued. 

A fortnight ago, the Under-12 Championship was pushed to March 2021, apparently as a combined decision by BFA and the host Chinese Taipei Baseball Association [link]. In the release, BFA President Tom Peng took the sensible position that “The exact date of the event next March has yet to be decided as we will continue to monitor the situation with the pandemic and review the best timing to organize the BFA U12 Championship.”

We will include the two tournament in our 2021 calendar once further details emerge. 

 

Posted in Asia, Chinese Taipei | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments