WBCQ Projected Rosters: Philippines

In every World Baseball Classic Qualifier, a Southeast Asian representative has always had one player with impressive name recognition. In 2013, Thailand featured Johnny Damon. Last time, the Philippines had Chris Aguila and Clay Rapada. This time, the island nation could boast Tim Tebow, to say nothing of Chase d’Arnaud a  nd MLB Draft Pick Andrew Magno. Whether these names and the success of December’s gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will come together for the nation’s first WBCQ win remains to be seen.

On balance, the Philippines appears to have opted for a more Filipino-centred team as it attempts to recover from the sport’s nadir in the middle part of the decade. From 2013-18, there was no national baseball league in the Philippines and one newspaper described the sport as “dead” [link]. In advance of the SEA Games in Manila, however, the Philippines Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) re-formed and hired Philippine sport legend Chito Loyzaga to right the ship [link].

The move seems to have worked, as PABA fielded a team that won the 2018 East Asia Cup, qualifying for last year’s Asian Championship (ABC). In 2019, a Philippines Baseball League was recreated for the first time since 2012, with a heavy emphasis on university teams and playing time for national teamers. Perhaps most impressively, a newly formed women’s baseball national team won bronze at the Asia Women’s Baseball Cup and qualified for the World Cup.

The Philippines are poised to return 10 players from the 2016 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, six of whom were developed in the Philippines. Gone from that squad are major leaguers Aguila and Rapada, though Filipino-American veterans J.R. Bunda, Brady Conlan, Brad Haynal, and Angelo Songco return. Eleven SEA Games gold medal winners (including Dino Altomonte, below, with gold medal-winning softball sister and mother) and 12 ABC players ensure some continuity from more recent rosters.

Lineup
Veterans like d’Arnaud and Songco will play important roles if they travel with the team to Arizona. Having the presence of a player like d’Arnaud will anchor the lineup, particularly as the only player with a full-season above Double-A. Songco and, indeed, Tebow are the only others out of six current and former minor leaguers to progress beyond A-ball. When we saw Songco in Double-A in 2013, his power was legitimate. Five years in independent ball have confirmed that.

The rest of the lineup should feature four players with NCAA Division-I and low-level minor league experience: Andre Mercurio, Brady Conlan, Haynal, and Devon Ramírez. One intriguing young player, however, could play a crucial role: Ripken Reyes. Reyes was a 30th-Round Draft Pick by the Padres out of the University of San Diego, for whom he hit .366/.462/.500. Although older than the average player, Reyes continued to put up excellent numbers in his first pro season: .308/.412/.430 with 15 stolen bases. In his university, summer league, and professional career, he has walked almost as much as he has struck out (109-to-153 in 1,166 plate appearances) with a .405 OBP.

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
SS
Addison Russell
Chicago Cubs
MLB
2B
Tyler Saladino
Milwaukee Brewers
MLB
C
Travis d’Arnaud
New York Mets
MLB
CF
Andre Mercurio
Florence Freedom
Frontier League
SS
Ripken Reyes
Padres
A-
3B
Chase d’Arnaud
Texas Rangers
MLB
1B
Angelo Songco
Free Agent
AA
LF
Tim Tebow
New York Mets
AAA
DH
Brady Conlan
Free Agent
A+
C
Brad Haynal
Retired
A+
CF
Matt Vance
Buchbinder Legionäre
Bundesliga
RF
Devon Ramirez
Napa Silverados
Pacific Association

Bench
Even if Filipino-Americans dominate the starting lineup, native Pinoys may get a shot at playing time as well. Especially interesting are Diego Lozano, Erwin Bosito, and Adriane Ros Bernardo. Lozano was the resurrected 2019 Philippines Baseball League (PBL) MVP and led the league in slugging (.842) and home runs (3). He was also the All-Star first baseman at the 2018 ABC after slashing .400/.429/.800 in 21 at bats.

Meanwhile, Bosito hit .375 and stole four bases at the November ABC, most in the competition. Bosito was a star player for the PBL-winning Adamson University team, from which he graduated last summer. Bernardo was an East Asia Cup All-Star after slashing .471/.526/.765, stealing three bases, and scoring five runs. In the top-tier Asian tourney, he delivered once more: .267/.421/.400 and did not strike out in 19 PAs.

A trio of dual citizens provide further depth. Jared Cruz is Filipino-Australian and played 49 games in the low minors in 2014-15, continuing to play in the ABL for Melbourne. Only 24, he can play six positions. Jonhil Carreon will join from the independent Baseball Challenge League in Japan, while Brady’s brother Riley Conlan has been confirmed after a stint with the same Australian club as Brady, Ramírez, and Peter Reyes.

There will likely be more players with a connection to Japan as the Yomiuri Giants have opened an academy with two locations, the Samurai Baseball Academy [link]. With 65 children already training in baseball and softball, some will assuredly turn into members of youth national teams. There is a plan to include Under-18 and university-age members as well. Interestingly, part of the Giants’ reasoning is because the club played a game in the Philippines in 1934, the year of its foundation.

Two surprising omissions are long-time Philippines hitters Jonash Ponce and Jennald Pareja. Ponce only hit .231 at the most recent ABC (and .154 in 2017), but was 1-for-4 and drove in a run against New Zealand in 2016. Ponce has played for the squad since 2005, when he was only 23, so age may play a factor. Stranger is Pareja, who made the roster in the last two WBCQs and was in fine form in November, going 10-for-20 with five extra base hits and a walk, claiming All-Star 2B honours.

[Ed. Note, Mar. 21: Two other names on the Filipino roster have come to light [link]. The first is Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Dom Abbadessa, a 21-year old outfielder that struggled in A-ball after a strong 2018. The other is 18-year old Menelik Israel who was hitting .452 with a 1.013 OPS in 12 high school games this spring. An outfielder, Israel is only a junior (Year 11).]

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
C
Mark Manaig
Unknown
N/A
C
Dino Altomonte
Ateneo de Manila University (2019)
PBL
1B
Dean Long
Retired
A-
3B/2B
Juan Alvaro Macasaet
Ateneo de Manila University
PBL
INF
Adriane Ros Bernardo
Unknown
N/A
UTIL
Jared Cruz
Melbourne
GCL
OF
Erwin Bosito
Adamson University (2019)
PBL
OF
Jonhil Carreon
Kanagawa
BCL League
OF
Riley Conlan
Free Agent
NCAA I
OF/1B
Diego Lozano
De la Salle University
PBL
OF
Jonash Ponce
Thunderz All-Stars
PBL

Pitching
The pitching staff is where Filipinos may see significant innings. There had been some hope among fans that Tim Lincecum might appear, but instead, the Pinoys appear to have lured 15th-rounder Magno to their staff. The southpaw had a 2.09 ERA out of the Ohio State bullpen in 2019 and then almost matched that figure with a 2.05 mark in Low-A after the Tigers took him. In 100 career university and professional-level innings, Magno has struck out 110 and allowed only 69 hits, but walked 82. He will pitch in any key spot for the Philippines given his “nasty” curveball and plus fastball.

The rotation, meanwhile, could potentially feature only Philippines-based players. The one exception could be Devon Ramírez, who will likely return from the previous two WBCQ rosters. Ramírez has played in five countries, including three years in the Pacific Association (PACA) and three years in the Czech Extraliga, most recently with the 2018 champion Arrows Ostrava. In the PACA, he had a 4.93 ERA in 158.2 career innings and a .376 OBP and 13 stolen bases in 52 games as an outfielder.

Francis “Kiko” Gesmundo had a strong 2019 season in the PBL, capped by an MVP award in the finals, and excelled in an ABC start against Pakistan (4IP, 3H, 0R, 0BB, 3K). He then shut out Hong Kong for seven innings, whiffing eight and permitting only four hits and one free pass. Romeo Jasmin, Jr. earned a win in the Asian tourney in a 1-0 upset over China, going 6.2 frames with seven strikeouts and no walks, scattering five hits. The righty then tossed two innings against Sri Lanka in a 7-1 victory. Two years prior, Jasmin earned wins over Sri Lanka and Hong Kong in the same event and has been on the national squad for 10 years.

Others who could get a look include long-time Pinoy national teamer Jon-Jon Robles and youngster Jerome Yenson. Robles was named to the East Asia All-Star Team after winning two games with a 1.00 ERA, but was not selected for the ABC. The lefty has, however, been a part of the national team for 14 years. In the late 00s, Robles also pitched for two years in the Czech Republic, the Philippines’ first qualifier opponent.

On the other hand, the youthful Yenson (right) was the 2018 University finals MVP and won the PBL title with Adamson last summer.

Rotation

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
RHP
Tim Lincecum
FA
MLB
RHP/3B
Francis “Kiko” Gesmundo
De la Salle University (2019)
PBL
RHP
Romeo Jasmin Jr.
Philippine Air Force
PBL
LHP/OF
Devon Ramirez
Free Agent
Pacific Association

Bullpen
Magno is the headliner and, along with J.R. Bunda, a five-year independent league veteran. Working his way up to the American Association, the returning staff member has a 2.65 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 156 career indy frames. The only other professionals are 21-year old Yuki Takayama, who already has two seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters under his belt, PACA’s Peter Reyes (4.16 ERA in three season), and the Bundesliga’s Miguel Salud, who pitched last year for the Mannheim Tornadoes.

A bevy of PBL players make up most of the rest of the bullpen, from 10-year veteran Vladimir Eguia to Carlos Alberto Muñoz (left). The latter threw the first no-hitter in Filipino league play as a 17-year old in 2011 and is a rare player that is “half-Spanish, part-Filipino, part-Chinese, part-Swiss, part-Scottish roots” [link]. Muñoz has represented the Philippines at the Little League World Series, IBAF (!) Under-18 events, and senior team tournaments during this career.

Bullpen

Position
Player
Team
Current/Peak
RHP
J.R. Bunda
Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks
American Association
P
Pablo Luis Capati
De la Salle University (2019)
PBL
LHP
Ron Christian de la Cruz
University of Santo Thomas
PBL
LHP
Junmar Diarao
Philippine Air Force
PBL
LHP
Vladimir Eguia
Unknown
N/A
RHP
Austin Haynal
Retired
NCAA I
RHP
Tsuyoshi Horibata
Retired
NCAA I
LHP/OF/1B
Diego Lozano
De la Salle University
PBL
RHP
Juan Pablo Macasaet
Ateneo de Manila University (2019)
PBL
LHP
Andrew Magno
Tigers
A-
RHP/SS
Clarence Lyle Molina Caasalan
Philippine Air Force
PBL
P/OF
Carlos Alberto Muñoz
Katayama Baseball Academy
PBL
LHP
Ryuya Ogawa
Saitama Seibu Lions
NPB
RHP
Peter Reyes
Vallejo Admirals
Pacific Association
LHP
Jon-Jon Robles
Philippine Air Force
PBL
RHP
Miguel Salud
Mannheim Tornadoes (2019)
Bundesliga
LHP
Yuki Takayama
Nippon Ham Fighters
NPB
P/IF
Kennedy Torres
Unknown
N/A
RHP/OF
Jerome Yenson
Adamson University (2019)
PBL
RHP
Kevin Vance
Retired
AAA

Above, we have used guest writer Alex Ayala’s projected rosters from a year ago that, as you can see, accurately predicted most of the players, with the exception of emerging Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. Below, we leave you with a few thoughts from Ayala.

Overall
The chances of this team [as wishfully constituted above] happening is probably pretty slim, but [it was] assuming the team receives all their players. You can look at it as a best-case scenario, which is what the main point of these WBC thread is.

Anyway, should the players I’ve listed here join, then this is a pretty good team. This team has depth which some countries might not have. A good hitting line-up with a so-so rotation and a bullpen which should rely heavily on the Filipino-Americans. Because of the hitters on this team, they might be able to hold their own against higher-tier countries like Panama or Nicaragua in the qualifiers if the pitching holds up.

Strength: Hitting
Tim Tebow (pictured left in the Philippines [link]) joining might seem like a huge stretch but stranger things have happened in the WBC, so let’s have fun with this!

It’s a good hitting line-up. No reason for it to not be successful. Not only do they have current MLB players, which is a huge boon in itself, but they also have hitters from independent ball, so the bottom of the line-up can hold their own and won’t be over-matched.

If these hitters were facing, let’s say China or New Zealand, not only is there the chance to score a decent amount of runs due to the top half of their line-up being MLB-heavy.

Devon Ramierez has a 4.93 ERA in his independent ball career all in the Pacific Association. His best chance at success is probably pitching against one of the of lower ranked teams (i.e China or New Zealand).

Everyone else like Gesmundo and Yenson probably won’t do well against other teams besides maybe Pakistan and possibly China and New Zealand though history says otherwise.

Weakness: Bench, Bullpen
I’ll start off with the bench. Many of these players regularly hit the line up during non-WBC tournaments but here, there are obviously better options. Many of these players are, at best, a pinch running option. I doubt they’ll get any pinch hitting opportunities or take a spot in the line-up. I don’t know how well their defense is to be a late-in-game defensive replacement.

Now for the bullpen. After the Filipino-Americans and Ogawa [the loss of whom is a big blow], it is pretty [light]. A trend with the Philippines (and a lot of low-tier baseball countries in general) [is that in a game against] a high-tier baseball country, it is close for about four-to-five innings before it blows up in one big inning.

Team
Tournament
Score and innings before blowout
Inning it blows up
Final Score
South Korea
2019 Asian Baseball Championship
3-0 for three innings
7 runs in the fourth
12-2
South Korea (Super Round)
2017 Asian Baseball Championship
4-0 for six innings
7 runs in the seventh
11-0
New Zealand
2016 WBCQ
5-7 for five innings
6 runs in the fifth
17-7
Australia
2016 WBCQ
3-1 for six innings
7 runs in the seventh
11-1
Taiwan
2012 WBCQ
3-0 for four innings
8 runs in the fifth inning
16-0

What does this mean? Besides bad hitting (all these games ended via mercy with little to no hits), it means pitching is thin for the team and it’s the same story here. The Filipino-Americans can probably hold their own, but everyone else can’t. Not only do the relievers in the bullpen have a history of games being blown up by them. Tandem starting is not really an option since I’m not sure how long the Filipino-Americans and Japanese relievers can go. Not to mention their rotation is [already] pretty thin.

Despite Ayala’s accurate reading of past qualifiers, perhaps the tide has turned. It is clear that Loyzaga and PABA are making a real effort to re-set the sport in the Philippines and it appears to be paying off. Its most recent Asian Championship included a nail-biting win over China and dominant victories over Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka, all of whom seemed like nations ready to ascend to the second-tier of Asian countries with China and, possibly, the Philippines. If the PBL and university baseball are, indeed, offering quality opposition, the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers offer a chance to display an ascendant Pinoy squad.

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

Thanks to the PhilStar [link], ABS-CBN Sports, and the Tiebreaker Times [link] for their excellent coverage of Filipino baseball. Pictures copyright PABA, Rappler.com, Napa Valley Register, ABS-CBN Sports, the Adamson Chronicle, the Tiebreaker Times, and Christianity Today [link].

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.
This entry was posted in Asia, Asian Baseball Championship, Philippines, Tournaments, World Baseball Classic Qualifiers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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