By Elie Gelman
The World Baseball Classic has begun, with pools A and B jumping into pool play this past Monday. Team Israel will start their World Baseball Classic journey this Sunday when they take on Nicaragua in Miami, Florida. Israel is in Pool D and will play the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua each once to determine if they will advance to the quarterfinals. Israel will be looking to surprise everyone for the second tournament in a row. In the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Israel was ranked 41st in the World and last in pre-tournament rankings but finished 6th with a record of 4-2. This Team Israel is ranked as the 20th best team in the World and is considered heavy underdogs again.
This year’s roster is filled with MLB talents, including two-time MLB ALL-Star and World Series Champion Joc Pederson and Dean Kremer, and Garrett Stubbs. The team also has some young guys looking to prove themselves on an international stage. In 2021 pitcher Jacob Steinmetz became the first Orthodox Jew to be selected in the MLB draft when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the third round. In 2022 Steinmetz started seven games for the Arizona Complex League Diamondbacks.
First baseman Matt Mervis signed with the Chicago Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2020. In 2022 Mervis split time between three minor league teams and led the minor leagues with 119 RBIs, was second in doubles with 40, and third in home runs with 36.
Team Israel will have a great coaching staff leading them into this year’s tournament. Brad Ausmus is a former mangar for team Isreal and will be on the coaching staff this year. Ausmus is an 18-year MLB veteran and won three Gold Glove Awards. The team’s hitting coach will be Kevin Youkilis, who is a three-time all-star, two World Series champion a Gold Glove winner. Josh Zeid, who pitched for Team Isreal in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, will be the team pitching coach.
The main piece of the coaching staff is manager Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is a 13-year MLB veteran who -played for the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, and San Diego Padres. Kinsler is a World Series champion, 4x All-Star, and a Two Time Golden Glove winner. In the 2020 Olympics, Kinsler played second base for the Israeli National Team.
Kinsler, while being the manager for the national team, was also the team’s head recruiter. Kinsler said that recruiting and convincing the players to join Team Isreal differed from player to player. While he was able to recruit a great team, some players that were expected to join were unable to due to injuries. Most notably, Houston Astros’ third baseman Alex Bregman. The two-time World Series champion broke his left index finger in game six of the 2022 World Series. Bregman is still healing his finger and has all of his attention on getting healthy for the 2023 MLB season.
Team Isreal has played two exhibition games before pool play starts on Sunday. While most of the roster is in Miami preparing for the tournament, both Joc Pederson and Dean Kremer are finishing spring training with their respective MLB team. Pederson and Kremer will join Team Isreal in Miami on Saturday before they take on Nicaragua.
This Sunday against Nicaragua, right-hander Dean Kremer will be starting on the mound for Team Isreal. Kremer is one of the most experienced pitchers on the roster. He has pitched the last three years for the Baltimore Orioles, starting 38 games and ending 2022 with an 8-7 record and a 3.23 ERA.
Manager Ian Kinsler said it was an “easy and straightforward” decision that Kremer would be pitching game one. Kinsler is looking to start the tournament strong by putting his number one pitcher out there to pitch game one. While game one was an easy decision, Kinsler will wait and see how game one goes before deciding on a starter for two.
In 2017 Isreal played their pool games in South Korea, but this year, the National team will be playing their first four games in Miami, Florida. With over 500,000 Jews living in the South Florida area, LoanDepot Park will be packed with fans cheering on Team Isreal as they look to build off their success in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. While most are counting out, Team Isreal Manager Ian Kinsler and the rest of the team are ready to shock the World again.