Let’s kick off our all-time World Baseball Classic with an up-and-coming baseball nation. Australia has had some success on the world’s stage, winning a gold medal at the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, as well as earning silver in the 2004 Olympic Games. They’ve participated in each World Baseball Classic to date, and are set to compete in the upcoming 2023 tournament. Baseball is a growing sport Down Under, and the nation’s top level of competition is the Australian Baseball League. The ABL has helped develop unmitigated stars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Liam Hendriks, as well as dozens of other solid big leaguers. Hendriks, a three-time All-Star, is Australia’s best homegrown export at the moment, but he’ll likely pass that crown to 21-year-old Rays prospect Curtis Mead in the near future. With a trio of MLB All-Stars in the nation’s history, as well as some solid rising talent, Australia is an impressive example of baseball thriving as a niche sport.

Catcher: David Nilsson (1992-1999)

Photo: Olympic Channel

David Nilsson is one of Australia’s top all-time exports, and without a doubt the best homegrown position player. Appearing in eight seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers, Nilsson provided excellent production as a catcher, first baseman and corner outfielder. His career .284/.356/.461 triple slash over 3,153 plate appearances, 157 doubles and 105 home runs are good for a rock solid 110 OPS+. His excellent 1999 campaign, in which he hit .309/.400/.544 across 404 plate appearances with 41 extra base hits earned him an All-Star selection, making him the first of only three Aussies to accomplish the feat.

First Base: Jason Phillips (2001-2007)

Photo: Flickr (JamesV34)

Part-time player Jason Phillips provides Team Australia with its starting first baseman due to his marriage to a New South Wales woman he met while playing in the ABL. A veteran of seven big league campaigns with the Mets, Blue Jays and Dodgers, Phillips made his bones as a reliable, if unimpressive backup catcher and first baseman. Over 1,537 career plate appearances Phillips racked up 77 doubles, 30 long balls and 168 RBI, to go with a .249/.314/.370 line and 80 OPS+. Dubbed “the slowest man in baseball” by FanGraphs’ Craig Burley in 2006, Phillips won’t contribute anything on the basepaths, and was largely neutral in the field. However, with a complete lack of starting-caliber first basemen, the bespectacled Phillips gives the Australians a steady contributor who has the added bonus of being able to shift behind the plate to spell the All-Star Nilsson.

Second Base: Joe Quinn (1884-1886, 1888-1901)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

Joe Quinn, the first Australian MLB player, was somewhat of a household name during the late nineteenth century. Quinn was universally lauded for his professionalism, loyalty and pleasant disposition, and acquitted himself well during his 17 years in the majors. Playing in the dead ball era, he racked up a .262/.303/.328 slash line over 7,367 plate appearances with 328 extra base hits, 800 RBI and 270 stolen bases. Having suited up at every position but catcher and pitcher, Quinn provides tremendous versatility along with blazing speed and a contact-oriented approach at the top of the lineup.

Third Base: Pat Kelly (1991-1999)

Photo: Flickr (apardavila)

Philadelphia native Pat Kelly may not immediately jump out to fans searching for Aussie ball players, but the utility infielder married an Australian woman in 1994. A veteran of nine big league campaigns, seven of which came with the Yankees, Kelly filled a backup role, providing solid defense at second and third base. Over 2,237 career plate appearances Kelly logged a .249/.307/.369 triple slash with 156 extra base hits, 217 RBI and 61 stolen bases for a lackluster 81 OPS+. While his hitting is clearly below average, Kelly does provide decent wheels and a solid glove at the hot corner.

Shortstop: Craig Shipley (1986-1987, 1989, 1991-1998)

Photo: Flickr (US Embassy)

Infielder Craig Shipley parlayed solid fielding into a career spanning 11 major league seasons split between five teams. Best known for his six years with the Padres, Shipley logged 169 appearances at shortstop throughout his career, making him the obvious choice there for this squad. His lifetime .271/.302/.371 slash line with 89 extra base hits over 1,433 plate appearances leaves much to be desired, as evidenced by his 81 OPS+. However, with steady glovework he’s far from the weakest link on the team.

Left Field: Trent Oeltjen (2009-2011) 

Photo: Flickr (Daniel Guzman)

Much like many of the Australians on this list, Trent Oeltjen had only a brief major league run, suiting up in 99 games for the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. However, he managed to hold his own in the big leagues, never becoming even a league average player, but providing enough to justify his roster spot for a handful of seasons. Through 194 plate appearances the Sydney native posted a .220/.299/.384 slash line, with 14 extra base hits and 11 RBI for an 84 OPS+. A steady fielder at all three outfield positions with nine stolen bases to his credit against only one failed attempt, Oeltjen provides the Australian team with solid speed and defense in left field with a decent enough bat.

Center Field: Jay Johnstone (1966-1985)

Photo: Flickr (Brandon Burke)

Born in Connecticut to an American father and an Australian mother, longtime role player Jay Johnstone proves to be a Godsend for this offensively challenged squad. Johnstone filled the role of platoon outfielder admirably for eight different franchises over a rock solid 20-year big league career. Johnstone earned World Series rings in 1978 and 1981, and racked up 5,229 lifetime plate appearances of .267/.329/.394 hitting with 215 doubles, 102 home runs, 531 RBI and a solid 103 OPS+. Never an All-Star, Johnstone still did very well for himself in the big leagues, and with a well-rounded offensive profile, he provides a desperately needed boost to a mostly anemic lineup.

Right Field: Chris Snelling (2002, 2005-2008)

Photo: Flickr (Cathy T)

Chris Snelling is yet another Aussie player with an abbreviated career, as his tremendous potential was ruined early on by injuries. The Florida-born, Western Australia-raised Snelling debuted for the Mariners with eight games in 2002 before multiple injuries, including an ACL tear, shelved him for over two years. After battling back to the big leagues in 2005 he showed well in the limited playing time he received, appearing in 93 career games for Seattle, Washington, Oakland and Philadelphia. In 273 lifetime plate appearances Snelling posted a .244/.360/.400 line, with 19 extra base hits and 20 RBI for a respectable 102 OPS+. While injury issues cut his promising career short, Snelling still provides the Aussie team with a decent left-handed bat and above-average defense in right field.

Designated Hitter: Chili Davis (1981-1999)

Photo: Flickr (Scott U)

Jamaican-born slugger Chili Davis is a tricky fit for Team Australia, as he was born in Kingston, living there until the age of 10 when his family moved to the United States. His connection to Australia didn’t come until after his playing days ended, as he lived Down Under for three years between 2003-2005 coaching at MLB’s Australian Academy, and served as hitting coach for the Australian National team. Davis instantly becomes Team Australia’s most potent offensive weapon. The 19-year veteran carved out an incredibly productive career, ultimately yielding three All-Star berths and three World Series rings. A subpar fielder, almost all of Davis’ value came from his bat, as he put up a fantastic .274/.360/.451 slash line and 121 OPS+ over 9,997 lifetime trips to the plate. Davis piled up 424 doubles and 350 dingers with 1,372 RBI, and added a nice speed element to his game with 142 stolen bases. As a bat-first outfielder, Davis fits nicely into the designated hitter role for Team Australia, and adds an All-Star-caliber stick to a lineup sorely lacking in punch.

Bench Player #1: Luke Hughes 1B/2B/3B (2010-2012)

Photo: Flickr (januarys_gem)

Incielder Luke Hughes tallied only 348 total plate appearances in three big league seasons for Minnesota and Oakland. He struggled in his limited playing time, accumulating 20 extra base hits and a subpar .217/.277/.331 triple slash for a 68 OPS+. However, with slim pickings left to compile the Australian bench, Hughes will likely be called upon to pinch hit more often than Manager Jon Deeble feels comfortable with. 

Bench Player #2: Kevin Jordan 1B/2B/3B (1995-2001)

Photo: Youtube (Andy Utting)

San Francisco-born former Phillie Kevin Jordan married a woman he met while playing in the ABL, and is now an Australian citizen. Jordan split his 560 career games pretty evenly between first, second and third base, with over 100 appearances at each position. Through 1,508 career plate appearances Jordan compiled a .258/.297/.363 triple slash with 98 extra base hits and 175 RBI for a bleak 69 OPS+. However, his stellar glove gives him at least some value off the bench.

Bench Player #3: Trent Durrington 2B/3B (1999-2000, 2003-2005)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

Trent Durrington played sparingly across five big league seasons with the Angels and Brewers due to his severe offensive shortcomings. Over 261 career plate appearances Durrington produced an anemic .196/.250/.268 slash line with 10 extra base hits for a putrid 34 OPS+. However, his 14 steals show some capability on the base paths, and with an excellent glove Durrington does provide a bit of pinch running and defensive value off the bench.

Bench Player #4: Glenn Williams 3B (2005)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

Incidentally, Glenn Williams, a third baseman who managed a brief stint with the Twins in 2005, is now the CEO of Baseball Australia. Despite his extremely limited big league tenure, he did show very well, posting a .425/.452/.450 slash line over 43 plate appearances for a 141 OPS+. With only one extra base hit and one stolen base, Williams lacks much power and speed, but his contact-oriented approach gives the team at least one bench player that can put together quality at bats.

Starting Pitcher #1: Jim Colborn (1969-1978)

Photo: Flickr (tibob1)

Having served as the pitching coach for the Australian national team in 2016, California native Jim Colborn sits atop the rotation for Jon Deeble’s squad. The workhorse right-hander accumulated 200 or more innings pitched in five of his 10 major league seasons, topping out at a yeoman-like 314.1 in 1973. In total, he tossed 1,597.1 lifetime frames with a 3.80 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, 688 strikeouts and a serviceable 98 ERA+. Colborn may not be a strikeout artist, but he does have the ability to go deep into games while keeping opposing offenses at bay. With an All-Star nod and a no-hitter on Colborn’s resume, Team Australia could do worse when it comes to the top of the rotation.

Starting Pitcher #2: Damian Moss (2001-2004)

Photo: Flickr (JamesV34)

The lack of established Australian starters comes into play here, as the unheralded Damian Moss is this rotation’s number two. Hurling a grand total of 361.2 innings for four different teams, Moss tallied a 4.50 ERA, 5.33 FIP, 1.48 WHIP and 204 strikeouts for a decent 94 ERA+. While his career numbers are wholly unimpressive, Moss provides Team Australia with a consistent innings-eater towards the top of the rotation.

Starting Pitcher #3: Ryan Rowland-Smith (2007-2010, 2014)

Photo: Flickr (nickpiecoro)

Longtime Mariners swingman Ryan Rowland-Smith earns the number three spot in the Aussie rotation. The left-hander tossed 370.0 career frames for Arizona and Seattle, posting a 4.57 ERA, 4.91 FIP, 1.42 WHIP, 229 strikeouts and a 91 ERA+. Much like Moss, Rowland-Smith’s value to the rotation comes not from sheer dominance, but from providing quality innings before handing the ball to a loaded bullpen.

Starting Pitcher #4: Mark Hutton (1993-1994, 1996-1998)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

Helping to flesh out the starting rotation is five-year big league veteran Mark Hutton. He served mostly as a reliever, but did start 18 of his 84 career appearances. Hutton put together 189.2 lifetime innings of 4.75 ERA work, with a 5.24 FIP, 1.58 WHIP, 111 strikeouts and a 92 ERA+. While Hutton is better served as a back-end innings-eater rather than a frontline stopper, he’ll be able to keep his team in the game, and that’s all that can be asked of him.

Starting Pitcher #5: Luke Prokopec (2000-2002)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

Rounding out the rotation is former Dodger and Blue Jay Luke Prokopec. With 231.0 major league innings to his credit, Prokopec compiled a 5.30 ERA, 5.61 FIP, 1.42 WHIP and 144 punch outs for a lackluster 80 ERA+. The right-hander doesn’t provide a ton of value outside of soaking up innings, but the otherworldly Aussie bullpen should be able to bring home any lead he can deliver to them.

Relief Pitcher #1: Grant Balfour (2001, 2003-2004, 2007-2015)

Photo: Flickr (Michael Baron)

Sydney native Grant Balfour provides Team Australia a proven closer with an excellent body of work over 12 major league seasons. The 2013 All-Star fired 539.2 career innings of 3.49 ERA ball with a 3.55 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, 571 strikeouts, 84 saves and an excellent 119 ERA+. Best known for his stretch of dominance with Tampa Bay and Oakland, Balfour gives the squad a shutdown reliever that can be counted on to close out games whenever they have a lead. 

Relief Pitcher #2: Liam Hendriks (2011-Present)

Photo: Flickr (Scott U)

Liam Hendriks has overtaken the title of greatest Australian baseball player with his sudden rise to superstardom. He spent his first eight MLB seasons bouncing from Minnesota to Toronto to Kansas City to Oakland. However, he found a home with the A’s and in 2019 established himself as the best closer in baseball, earning his first All-Star selection that season and racking up 25 saves. Hendriks parlayed an excellent 2020 campaign into a hefty three-year, $54 million contract with the White Sox. He picked up right where he left off with the Southsiders, earning two more All-Star nods in his first two seasons. The 33-year-old is still going strong, and has more than made up for his lackluster opening act in the bigs. Through the 2022 season Hendriks has tossed 643.0 lifetime innings of 3.82 ERA work with a 3.25 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 719 strikeouts and 113 saves, the most of any Aussie. With a tandem of Balfour and Hendriks in the late innings, any lead large or small will be safe.

Relief Pitcher #3: Peter Moylan (2006-2013, 2015-2018)

Photo: Flickr (Bill Setliff)

One of the more under-appreciated Australian players, Peter Moylan turned a devastating sinker and wipeout slider into 12 very productive Major League seasons. The sidewinding right-hander put up a 3.10 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 1.31 WHIP and 324 strikeouts over 418.2 lifetime innings pitched for a terrific 136 ERA+. While never an All-Star, Moylan’s funky delivery and filthy stuff make him a fantastic high-leverage option out of the bullpen for Jon Deeble’s squad.

Relief Pitcher #4: Graeme Lloyd (1993-1999, 2001-2003)

Photo: Flickr (trishp2115)

Graeme Lloyd became Australia’s first ever pitching export when he debuted with the Brewers in 1993. The 6’8” lefty provided seven franchises with 533.0 career innings of 4.04 ERA work with a 4.22 FIP, 1.35 WHIP, 304 strikeouts and a 115 ERA+, earning two World Series rings in the process. The only Aussie-born world champion, Lloyd provides even more value as a left-hander in this righty-heavy bullpen.

Relief Pitcher #5: Josh Spence (2011-2012)

Photo: Flickr (Cotuit Kettleers Baseball)

With four lockdown relievers already in the fold, the Australians see a drop off to their final set of hurlers. Balfour, Hendriks, Moylan and Lloyd all provide All-Star-caliber work, or close to it. With that being said, Josh Spence begins a trend towards relievers who are more suitable for lower-leverage situations. Spence appeared in a grand total of 51 games for the Padres over two seasons, putting together 40.0 innings of 3.15 ERA ball with a 3.92 FIP, 1.28 WHIP, 41 strikeouts and a stellar 116 ERA+. Given his short track record, the southpaw doesn’t provide the longevity or dominance of those listed before him, but his respectable numbers and strikeout stuff mean he’ll be capable of getting batters out when called upon.

Relief Pitcher #6: Rich Thompson (2007-2012)

Photo: Flickr (Paul Moseley)

A veteran of six major league seasons with the Angels and A’s, Rich Thompson brings a serviceable, if unspectacular, body of work to Team Australia. Over 104.2 innings Thompson recorded a 4.21 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.36 WHIP and 105 strikeouts for a lukewarm 97 ERA+. While his overall stats don’t jump off the page, he adds another arm capable of doing the job when needed to a terrific bullpen.

Relief Pitcher #7: Michael Nakamura (2003-2004)

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

The names listed above Michael Nakamura all had solid MLB careers. The Japanese-born, Australian-raised Nakamura changes that, as he only lasted two rough seasons in the big leagues. Across 12 relief appearances for the Twins and 19 for the Blue Jays, Nakamura posted a 7.51 ERA. Yikes. However, in 2005 he made the journey to Japan to compete in NPB, and became one of the league’s most dominant relief pitchers. Nakamura led the Pacific league in saves in 2006 with 39, and wound up with 104 total in his eight-year NPB career. He used his sidearm delivery and hammer curveball to help win two Japan Series titles in 2006 and 2009. Overall, Nakamura pitched 317.0 career NPB innings, recording a 2.61 ERA and 1.08 WHIP and piling up 294 strikeouts. Despite flaming out in North America, Michael Nakamura still put together a heck of a career for himself, and adds an unconventional delivery and overseas success to a stacked Australian bullpen.

Relief Pitcher #8: Dae-Sung Koo (2005)

Photo: Flickr (raymond chang)

Rounding out an overpowering Australian relief corps is South Korean lefty Dae-Sung Koo. Koo had a legendary baseball career all across the globe, spending 13 seasons in the KBO, four in NPB and one in MLB at the age of 35. He showed well in 2005 for the Mets, tossing 23.0 innings of 3.91 ERA work, with a 4.11 FIP, 1.52 WHIP, 23 punchouts and a 107 ERA+. However, Koo was an unmitigated star in his native South Korea, appearing in 569 contests and posting a sparkling 3.29 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 1,221 strikeouts over 1,128.2 frames. He was a lockdown closer, earning 214 saves in that span. Koo wasn’t quite as dominant in Japan, but was still effective as both a starter and reliever, racking up 503.0 innings of 3.88 ERA pitching, with a 1.33 WHIP and 504 punchouts. As for his ties to Australia, he enjoyed his time there during the 2000 Sydney Olympics so much that he moved Down Under after his playing career concluded. He became a fixture in the newest iteration of the ABL, and even suited up for the Australian National Team in 2014 when they faced the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in two exhibition games. A true baseball nomad, Koo brings a wealth of experience and an electric left arm to a dominant Aussie pen.

Manager: Jon Deeble

Photo: Youtube (Baseball com au)

While Jon Deeble is not a familiar name to American fans, he has led quite an accomplished baseball career. Starting out as a pitcher for the Australian national team from 1983-1995, Deeble appeared in the 1988 Olympic Games and also captured an Australian Baseball League championship in 1993. After his playing days ended, he transitioned to managing in the minor leagues, becoming a skipper for five total seasons in the Red Sox and Marlins organizations. Additionally, Deeble was at the helm of the Australian Olympic squad in 2000 and 2004, earning a Silver medal in the latter event. After he stopped managing in the minors, Deeble became a well-respected scout for 15 seasons, inking high-profile stars such as Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima. Recently, he led the ABL’s Melbourne Aces to a championship and managed Team Australia in the first four World Baseball Classics. With an abundance of managerial and scouting experience, Deeble provides a steady hand capable of guiding a relatively inexperienced Australian team.

Starting Lineup

  1. Joe Quinn (R) 2B
  2. David Nilsson (L) C
  3. Chili Davis (S) DH
  4. Jay Johnstone (L) CF
  5. Chris Snelling (L) RF
  6. Craig Shipley (R) SS
  7. Trent Oeltjen (L) LF
  8. Pat Kelly (R) 3B
  9. Jason Phillips (R) 1B

Conclusion

Australia is far from the top when it comes to dominant baseball countries, but it isn’t for lack of trying. Considering that baseball is only a second, or even third-tier niche sport Down Under, the Aussies have done a remarkable job in developing over 30 big leaguers. Unlike many other nations, Team Australia isn’t heavily reliant upon non-citizens to put together a competitive all-time WBC team, with Johnstone, Davis and Colborn being the only difference-making foreigners. Ultimately, this team’s strength is its bullpen. Hendriks, Balfour, Moylan and Lloyd are all good enough to close for any team, and even the backend is filled with quality arms. The rotation, however, is a different story. Jim Colborn is a workhorse, but he can only take the ball every fifth day. After that, they’ll rely on role players without a ton of big league success. Similarly, the offense has only a few bright spots. Nilsson, Davis and Johnstone are rock solid, but the other six spots in their lineup are suspect to say the least. There aren’t any reinforcements coming off the bench either, as the Australians have seemingly struggled to develop offensive talent. Ultimately, Team Australia should be able to take down plenty of lower level competition, but will be in way over its head if matched up against any of the powerhouses like Venezuela, Italy, or God forbid, the United States. 

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