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Top Nine Countries to Watch for WBC 2017

The 2013 World Baseball Classic marks the tournament's third edition, and with it comes a big change in format; unlike the previous two events, which were contested by 16 pre-determined nations, only the 12 countries that won at least one game in the 2009 event were assured of a berth, with the final four slots being filled by the winners of a quartet of qualifying tournaments.

Only two of the teams that had previous WBC cred (Canada and Chinese Taipei) re-qualified for 2013, with Panama and South Africa falling by the wayside; come 2017, when the cycle is repeated, Brazil, Australia, and the last-place teams from Pools C and D will be the ones who have to fight their way back in, and history has already proven that it won't be as easy as showing up.

We here at The Niner pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of international baseball, and so before half of this year's WBC entrants even step on the field, we want to give you a sneak peek at the nations that the relegated quartet will have to watch out for just four short years from now.

  • GREAT BRITAIN
    Baseball's departure from the 2012 Olympics robbed the U.K. of some valuable field time, but the Britons still sit at No. 21 in the IBAF World Rankings and, despite being horribly overmatched in their pool, scored one win in their qualifier last winter.
  • THAILAND
    Perhaps surprisingly, Thailand is ranked No. 26 by the IBAF and is fifth among Asian countries behind that continent's quartet of 2013 WBC teams. Johnny Damon, whose mother is Thai, played for the team in their qualifier last winter, and they could be back for more in 2017.
  • SOUTH AFRICA
    The South Africans boast very few Major League prospects on their national roster, but as a participant in the first two Classics, they likely know what they'll need to do to return. Hint: not finishing third in their four-team qualifying pool would be a good start.
  • NEW ZEALAND
    The No. 29-ranked Kiwis reached the finals of their 2013 qualifier before falling to Chinese Taipei, in the process further proving what's great about the WBC format: all it takes is a few good days to make even the most unheralded of teams a true contender.
  • COLOMBIA
    This year, Colombia finished third in a qualifier that featured four of the Top 20 teams in world, but their roster boasts Major Leaguers both old (Edgar Renteria) and new (Ernesto Frieri) as well as top prospects (like Julio Teheran), so they're a strong bet to make a deep run in the next batch of qualifiers.
  • GERMANY
    Currently No. 17 in the world, Germany has finished fourth or higher in the last four Euro Championships, lost to Canada in the finals of a 2013 qualifier, and has a handful of MLB'ers (including pitcher Edwin Jackson) born within its borders who could be eligible if they so choose in 2017.
  • ISRAEL
    The Israelis beat South Africa before falling to Spain in the finals of their 2013 qualifier, and based on citizenship rules, skipper Brad Ausmus could load up with a roster featuring Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, and Ike Davis among others if their 2017 qualifier is held after the MLB season ends.
  • NICARAGUA
    The Nicaraguans finished last in a group with Brazil, Colombia, and Panama, but the IBAF's 15th-ranked squad could have Everth Cabrera and Vicente Padilla among notable Major Leaguers on their 2017 team, and if "El Presidente" Dennis Martinez signs on to coach, anything could happen.
  • PANAMA
    After playing in 2006 and 2009, Panama was bumped in the Latin American qualifier by Brazil this year; come 2017, their roster could boast Carlos Ruiz, Ruben Tejada, and even a 40-something dude named Mariano, but at the very least they'll still be the only WBC team named after a Van Halen tune.
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