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Seven Yankees set to play in World Baseball Classic

02/28/2013 9:02 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte is one of seven Yankees on WBC rosters this year.(AP)
Officially, the World Baseball Classic begins late Friday night/early Saturday morning United States time, as Pools A and B kick off the tournament in Japan and Taiwan respectively. The other two pools do not begin play until March 7, but by the end of the weekend, those players on the eight teams in Pools C and D will be headed to join their respective countrymen and begin preparations for the tournament.

As it relates to the Yankees, much of the focus on the World Baseball Classic this winter has been on Andy Pettitte and Francisco Cervelli’s declining of invitations to play for Team USA and Team Italy, respectively, but there will still be a total of seven Bombers players and one coach headed to the WBC over the next week.

The two marquee names are of course first baseman Mark Teixeira, who will man first base for Joe Torre’s American squad, and second baseman Robinson Cano, who will be part of the Dominican Republic squad managed by Yankees bench coach Tony Pena.

Outside of those two mid-lineup stalwarts, however, there are a pair of Yankees prospects who will join Cano on Pena’s Dominican roster, two Minor League infielders who will play for Team Mexico, and a famously-ambidextrous hurler heading off to pitch for the Cervelli-free Italian squad.

Dominican Republic: OF Melky Mesa and LHP Juan Cedeno
Mesa, 26, is a true center fielder headed to the WBC off a strong season that started at Double-A Trenton and ended in the Bronx. Last year, he hit .264 with 23 home runs, 67 RBI, and 22 steals between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before his September call-up, and is a member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster for the second straight season.

With Curtis Granderson sidelined until at least mid-May with a fractured forearm, Mesa may be in the running to earn a roster spot with the Yankees on Opening Day; playing in the WBC could have jeopardized that possibility – and Mesa said he would back out if asked – but manager Joe Girardi said that he knows Mesa is set to get a lot of playing time in the tournament, and he is comfortable that Pena will be there to evaluate his performance first-hand.

Mesa started three of the Yankees’ first four Grapefruit games, and given that the Dominicans’ run in the WBC will end sometime between the end of pool play on March 10 and the tournament final on March 19, he could get another long look over the final two or three weeks of camp as well.

As for Cedeno, the 29-year-old southpaw came back from two years in the independent leagues and overseas to impress as a non-roster invitee in Yankees camp last spring. He didn’t win the team’s lefty specialist job but did earn a spot in Scranton, where he went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA and four saves in 53 games and was named to the International League team for the Triple-A All-Star Game.

He will be one of two lefties in Pena’s ‘pen, where he’ll get to spend a lot of time with another Cano: Robinson’s father Jose, who is the team’s bullpen coach.

Mexico: IF Walter Ibarra and IF Gil Velazquez
Ibarra and Velazquez are two of the eight infielders on Mexico’s roster, a group that includes Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez, his brother Edgar, and ex-Yankee Ramiro Pena, who is now with the Braves.

Velazquez is a 33-year-old shortstop by trade with 32 games of Major League experience, and was a non-roster invitee to Yankees camp this spring. He spent 2012 in the Marlins organization, hitting .312 with 42 RBI as a shortstop/second baseman at Triple-A New Orleans, and will likely begin 2013 as a utility infielder at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Photos: Yankees in the World Baseball Classic

Ibarra, meanwhile, is a 25-year-old who was signed in 2004 and has been in the Yankees’ American system since 2006. A true utility player, Ibarra hit .276 in 144 plate appearances at Double-A Trenton last season, and made an impression in his short Yankees spring by making a nice grab on a foul pop during Tuesday’s loss to the Phillies.

Italy: RHP/LHP Pat Venditte
Well-known for his ability to pitch with either arm, Venditte, 27, was a two-time draftee of the Yankees out of Creighton, first in 2007 and again in 2008. After working his way through the system, Venditte was promoted to Triple-A Scranton for 2012, but made just seven appearances (going 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings pitched) before landing on the disabled list with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Venditte missed the remainder of 2012, and after wavering between rehab and surgery, elected to have the tear surgically repaired in September. He was thought to be sidelined until sometime in mid-2013, but his inclusion on Italy’s roster means one of two things: either he is way ahead of schedule, or is there to fill up a roster spot and be used exclusively as a southpaw (if at all) during the tournament.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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