Israel made a Cinderella run in the 2017 World baseball Classic, finishing in sixth place out of 16 teams despite entering the tournament ranked 41st in the world. The Israeli National Team has only grown from there, qualifying for the 2021 Olympic Games, and attracting major league stars like Ian Kinsler and Danny Valencia. Now, with the 2023 World Baseball Classic on the horizon, Team Israel is gearing up for another successful tournament.
Israel’s unique history has led to some lax citizenship laws, which greatly benefits the nation during the WBC. In this tournament, a player doesn’t need to hold citizenship to represent a country, he only needs to be eligible to attain citizenship. This has led to some high-profile players representing other countries, like Freddie Freeman suiting up for Canada. Team Israel has used this to its advantage in the past, reeling in big fish like Kinsler, Shawn Green and Jason Marquis. Seeing as baseball is still only a fledgling sport in Israel, they are reliant upon American Jews to fill out a competitive roster.
Team Israel received a huge boost recently, as four MLB stars committed for next year’s WBC. Harrison Bader, Joc Pederson, Richard Bleier and Dean Kremer agreed to don the blue and white next February. Bader is the reigning National League Gold Glove Award winner for center field, while Pederson is a two-time All-Star and has a pair of World Series rings. While lesser known, Bleier and Kremer are both solid players as well. The 35-year-old Bleier has struggled to a 4.15 ERA with the Marlins this year, but owns an excellent 3.08 mark for his career. Conversely, the 26-year-old Kremer came into 2022 with an ugly 6.84 career ERA, but has posted a terrific 2.59 number so far this season. All four players will bring some much needed star power to Team Israel, and help them in their bid for another strong WBC showing.
With over six months to go until the tournament starts, this is surely just the beginning for Team Israel. Newly-minted Manager Ian Kinsler had a borderline Hall of Fame career, and has connections all over the game, while this quartet of stars will lead to even more major league-caliber players wanting to join in. There are some true superstars out there for Israel to woo, as Braves’ ace Max Fried, Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman and Cardinals’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt all come from Jewish ancestry. There are plenty of quality role players to choose from as well, like Rowdy Tellez, Scott Effross, Eli Morgan, Kevin Pillar and Garrett Stubbs. The future is also quite bright, with recent first-rounders Hunter Bishop and Atlanta’s Jared Shuster making their way up the minor league ladder. If Team Israel can succeed in getting all, or even some, of these high-quality big leaguers to suit up, they’ll be a serious contender to walk away from next year’s WBC with a gold medal.