WBCQ Projected Rosters: Czech Republic

Our series of WBSC roster projections continues with Czech Republic, which had a solid 2019, claiming the European Under-23 title, finishing third at the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier, and performing admirably at the Under-12 World Cup. Baseball Czech will bring its usual WBC roster of Extraliga veterans, young prospects with minor league or U.S. university experience, and a few Czech-American professionals. The biggest name on the roster was a surprise addition, given that he is 46 years old: Brett Tomko.

Despite writing in September 2018, guest contributor Alex Ayala accurately predicted almost the entire roster, including multiple U.S. professionals. Only six players he listed were left off the federation’s long-list and, of those, one has a realistic chance of winning a job on a major league roster (Hunter Červenka) and two others are regulars for a top NCAA Division-I university (Vojtěch Menšík and Marek Chlup). We have written extensively about Menšík and Chlup, the former of which has a very good chance to be the first Czech taken in the MLB Amateur Draft. Unfortunately, their status as legitimate prospects means they are unavailable for their home country in the middle of the university season.

Fortunately, the rest of the roster is quite strong, if lacking in a superstar talent. Martin Červenka seems likely to become the first Czech-born major leaguer as soon as this summer, and will be relied on heavily to lead the pitching staff as well as deliver big hits. Eric Sogard and Mike Červenak will offer veteran leadership and hot starts from them could prove to make the difference. Watch out for Martin Mužík (above), who we have touted for three years, as he makes his World Baseball Classic debut. The former Wake Tech slugger showcased serious power in last summer’s European tournaments.

The pitching staff is filled with the usual mix of tall, lanky hurlers, only two of whom are currently active in the professional ranks: Mitch Horacek and 19-year old Viktor Vecerka. Horacek is a new addition to the Czech federation’s roster and struggled with control last year en route to a 6.52 ERA in the high minors. Those numbers, however, are skewed from 12 innings in what is likely the most offence-friendly stadium of all-time, that of the Albuquerque Isotopes. A jaw-dropping .604 batting average on balls in play describes this bandbox in a single number.

Vecerka is likely to make the roster as it will only take him a few miles from the Royals’ spring training home. Whether he is a significant contributor remains to be seen. Retired major leaguers Tomko and Anthony Slama, however, will be relied on to provide clutch innings in whatever role they fill. It is anyone’s guess what either has in the tank after last pitching in 2014.

Most of the roster will have played in three or four tournaments together in the last eight months, a factor that could work in its advantage. In its last outing tournament, Czech Republic recovered from two close losses to the Netherlands and Israel to win three in-a-row at the Olympic Qualifier in Italy, knocking off two countries loaded with minor leaguers in Spain and Israel.

To survive the gauntlet of World Baseball Classic qualification, it will have to repeat the feat at least once. The Czechs match up with the Philippines in game one, placing them on a collision course with Panamá, the heavy favourite in Group 2. Great Britain, New Zealand, and Spain also lurk as competition.

Below is the projected roster, with any additions to Alex Ayala’s list in italics. Players that will not take part have a line through them, while an asterisk indicates players on the bubble or that may not be released by university.

Rotation

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
RHP
Brett Tomko
Retired
MLB
LHP
Jan Novak
Kotlářka Praha
GCL
RHP
John Straka
Free Agent
AA
RHP
Marek Minařík (above)
Tempo Praha
R
RHP
Michal Sobotka
Draci Brno
Extraliga
LHP
Tomáš Duffek
Eagles Praha
NCAA III

Bullpen

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
RHP
Boris Bokaj
Arrows Ostrava
IBL
RHP
Filip Čapka*
Wake Tech Eagles
NJCAA DII
LHP
Hunter Cervenka
Orioles
MLB
RHP
Radim Chroust
Draci Brno
Extraliga
RHP
Ondřej Furko
Draci Brno
Extraliga
RHP
Lukáš Hlouch*
Nuclears Třebíč
Extraliga
LHP
Mitchell Horaček
Rockies
AAA
RHP
Petr Minařík
Draci Brno
Extraliga
RHP
Jan Nebenführ
Draci Brno
NJCAA DII
RHP
Tomáš Ondra*
Regensburg Legionaere
Bundesliga
RHP
Ondřej Satoria*
Arrows Ostrava
Extraliga
RHP
Martin Schneider
Draci Brno
Extraliga
RHP
Anthony Slama
Retired
MLB
LHP
Alex Sogard
Wright State Head Coach
AAA
RHP
Jan Tomek
Regensburg Legionaere
Hoofdklasse
RHP
Jiří Vavruša
SaBaT Praha
NAIA
LHP
Viktor Večerka
Royals
Extraliga

Line Up

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
2B
Eric Sogard
Rays
MLB
CF
Matěj Hejma
Eagles Praha
A
C
Martin Červenka
Orioles
AAA
3B
Michael Červenak
Retired
MLB
DH
Petr Čech
Draci Brno
R
LF
Martin Mužík
Kotlářka Praha
NJCAA DII
1B
Daniel Vavruša
Kotlářka Praha
DSL
RF
Jakub Malík
Arrows Ostrava
Hoofdklasse
OF
Marek Chlup
NC State Wolfpack
NCAA D1
SS
Martin Schneider
Draci Brno
Extraliga

Bench

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
C
Jakub Vojak
Skokani Olomouc
Extraliga
C
Martin Zelenka*
UNC-Charlotte
NCAA I
INF
Martin Červinka
Kotlářka Praha
NJCAA DII
INF
Adam Hajtmar*
Draci Brno
Extraliga
INF
Jakub Hajtmar
Draci Brno
GCL
INF
Tomáš Juněc
Arrows Ostrava
Extraliga
INF
Vojtěch Menšík
NC State Wolfpack
Extraliga
INF
Jakub Sladek
Kotlářka Praha
GCL
INF/OF
Petr Zýma
Eagles Praha
NCAA I
UTIL
Radim Chroust*
Draci Brno
Extraliga
OF
Michal Ondráček
Cardion Hroši Brno
Extraliga
OF
Arnošt Dubový
Draci Brno
Extraliga

Overall
“…Recent performances against higher tier senior teams in the last few years are paying dividends. At the last WBC qualifier, the Czech Republic nearly beat Mexico (2-1 loss) and Nicaragua (7-6 loss in 11 innings). It also blasted Germany 15-3.

In the 2018 World University Baseball Championship, the Czechs nearly beat South Korea (10-9 lost). A the 2017 Summer Universiade, they beat South Korea (4-3) in the first round and then had a close game against the same team (6-2 loss) in the bronze medal game, so this is not a team that should be taken lightly. This is a team that can make it to the main tournament if put in an easy pool (i.e. a pool with China, Pakistan, and a European team). Even if put in a hard pool, the team [could] pull an upset of a higher tier team.

The good news is that many of their players are still active in a league, the Extraliga (Czech Baseball League). This is good for two reasons: 1) They are still getting plenty of reps, even if it is not against top-tier players. Playing in some type of organized league is better than not playing at all. 2) I still believe that the best players in any of the lower tier world baseball leagues can hold their own in tournaments like these, especially with former minor league players, which always helps.

Strength: Catcher and Starting Pitching
Catcher is one of, if not, the most important position in baseball and the Czechs not only have a possible MLB player in Martin Červenka, his defense is above average. He’s strong defensively with a strong arm and calling games. He will be to the Czech Republic what Yan Gomes is to Brazil or Yadier Molina to Puerto Rico: a very important player on the team who can help guide a pitching staff.

[This affects] why I put the pitching staff as strength [as well,] as he’ll be able to help guide them against tougher teams, especially now that he has way more experience and is playing on a much higher level. I would also like to mention that since the 2013 WBCQ. where they gave up a combined 28 runs, their pitching seems to be holding its own in recent tournaments.

[There is] not much to talk about in the bullpen as Mike Griffin seemed to use my favorite form of bullpenning in the 2017 WBCQ: tandem starting. He seems to know that since this is a short series, he is not going to use his average relievers for crucial games since the qualifiers are short. The bullpen is not very strong, so what I’m assuming he is going to do again is that once the starter reaches his pitch limit or innings limit, [he will] save him for another game. [Griffin is likely] going to ride out one of his better relievers for as long as he can until whatever limit he has on them. This worked very successfully last time around and I believe he will have success with that.

Weakness: Hitting
If you look at the box scores and line-ups to the games mentioned above, Czech hitters struck out a combined 29 times against Mexico (11) and Nicaragua (18). They have some hitters with minor league experience, but like Nicaragua, they only have two MLB calibre hitters in Martin Červenka and Eric Sogard. The good news is that many of their hitters play in the Extraliga and can at least hold their own.

The hitters can hold their own so it is not like they will be totally over-matched, but at the same time, if you compare the rosters of hitters for the Czech Republic to Panama or even Canada—who would have players not just from MLB but NPB, KBO and LMB, where the hitters are consistently facing a higher level of competition—the hitters from the Czech Republic might be at a disadvantage.

Also [noteworthy is that] many of the players I listed here have played in the last two WBC qualifiers and some international tournaments (i.e. U23 World Cup), so it is not like they [have not] faced more advanced pitching before. [Ed: In fact, it is possible that 22 players could return from a previous World Baseball Classic roster, including nine that appeared in both of the last qualifiers.] Some of these players also have minor league experience which helps, though many of their former minor league players topped out in rookie ball.

Articles in this series:
Introduction [Link]
Nicaragua [Link]
Pakistan [Link]
Panama [Link]
Philippines [Link]

Thanks to Milujeme Baseball for its always useful articles on Czech baseball. All photos copyright Extra Innings UK and may not be reproduced without permission.

About Gabriel Fidler

Extra Innings UK covers baseball around the world, focussing on the sport at the national team level, with features on prominent players, scouting reports, and occasional breaking news. We are fully credentialled by MLB and have covered the World Baseball Classic, continental championships, and the U.S. minor leagues.
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