TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With a lineup boasting power hitter Lee Seung-yeop, South Korea is seen as the Group B favorite in the opening round of the World Baseball Classic.
Host Taiwan is expected to compete with Andruw Jones and the Netherlands for the second spot in the four-team group, which starts play Saturday (Friday night EST) at Taichung, while Australia appears to have little chance of advancing in the 16-team tournament. The top two nations move on to the second round in Tokyo.
While South Korea is without any major leaguers, Korean Baseball Organization slugger Lee Dae-ho could provide power along with Lee Dae-ho, who plays for Orix in Japan's Pacific League.
Kim Tae-kyun, Jung-Ho Kang and Kim Hyun-soo also are on the roster of South Korea, which advanced to the 2009 final before losing to Japan.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin and Cincinnati outfielder Choo Shin-soo are skipping the tournament to stay at spring training with their new clubs.
Some of Taiwan's hopes rely on Chien-Ming Wang, the former New York Yankees ace, who has struggled with injuries in recent years. Wang, a free agent after going 2-3 with a 6.68 ERA last year for the Washington Nationals, gave up three runs — two earned — and three hits in 4 2-3 inning Sunday during a tuneup game Sunday against with a local team in southern Taiwan.
Taiwan will be looking to five-time local league batting champion Cheng-Ming Peng for offense and 19-year-old Tseng Jen-ho to provide pitching help.
Jones, who hit .197 with 14 homers last year for the New York Yankees, was born in Curacao and is on the Dutch team along with Boston Red Sox shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts, who is from Aruba. They are joined by Baltimore Orioles third base prospect Jonathan Schoop, also from Curacao.
Texas shortstop Jurickson Profar, born in Curacao and Baseball America's top-rated prospect, skipped the tournament to remain at spring training with the Rangers.
Australian team features two former major leaguers in left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith and infielder Luke Hughes, but Oakland Athletics teammates Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley are sitting the tournament out.
AP writer Sam Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.