Here's what the USA roster could look like for the next World Baseball Classic

Saturday night at Petco Park, USA advanced to the World Baseball Classic semifinals with a thrilling win over the Dominican Republic. USA joins Japan, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands in the final four. The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, is going home. They won the event last time around in 2013.

Although the general feeling towards the WBC seems to be apathy in the U.S., the event is very popular around the world, and there’s no reason to think it’s going away anytime soon. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently shot down reports indicating this could be the last WBC if revenue doesn’t increase. For now, the WBC is alive and well.

Because we all like to look ahead to the future, let’s try to imagine what the USA roster might look like for the next edition of the WBC, which is still four years away. This is sure to be wrong -- 2021 is long time away in baseball years -- so make sure you bookmark this post for future mocking purposes. We’re just having a little fun here.

Below is our our projected USA roster for the 2021 WBC. I used the same roster blueprint as the 2017 WBC -- same number of infielders, same number of outfielders, etc. -- and I’m assuming everyone will be willing to play, which we know won’t happen in real life. Each player’s 2021 season age is listed in parenthesis. Let’s get to it.

Catchers

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Up-an-comer Austin Hedges could be USA’s best option behind the plate in 2021. USATSI

By time the 2021 WBC rolls around, Buster Posey will be 34 and Jonathan Lucroy will be 35. As great as they are right now, catchers in their mid-30s usually aren’t all that productive. It’s entirely possible Posey will be a full-time first baseman by then.

Hedges will be San Diego’s starter this season and he is, if nothing else, an elite defensive catcher. Great pitch-framer, great thrower, great at blocking balls in the dirt. He can also hit a bit, as his .326/.353/.597 batting line with 21 home runs in 82 Triple-A games in 2016 shows. (To be fair, El Paso is incredibly hitter friendly.)

At backup catcher, Zunino gets the nod because by 2021, he might be the best power-hitting catcher in baseball. Contact has been an issue at times, no doubt, but he made some improvements in that department last year. He’s also a very good pitch-framer. I think his power and framing ability earns him a spot as Hedges’ caddy.

Honorable Mention: Carson Kelly, Cardinals (26); Tom Murphy, Rockies (30); J.T. Realmuto, Marlins (31);  

Infielders

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Dansby Swanson is the future at shortstop for Team USA. USATSI

Somehow Hosmer has taken over as America’s first baseman -- he was on the 2013 WBC roster and has thoroughly outplayed Paul Goldschmidt in the 2017 WBC -- and the fact he’s still so young leads me to believe he’ll be back in 2021. Bellinger, who has yet to make his MLB debut, is one of the best prospects in the minors and Adrian Gonzalez’s heir apparent at first base for the Dodgers. I think he’ll make enough of an impact between now and 2021 to land on the WBC roster.

(I should note Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman were not considered for our hypothetical roster because they’ve played for other countries in previous WBCs. Rizzo played for Italy in 2013 and Freeman played for Canada in 2017. Nothing in the rules say they can’t represent USA in the future, though I assume they’ll return to those countries if they do play in the WBC again.)

USA looks to be pretty light at second base. The best USA born second basemen in baseball right now (Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, Dustin Pedroia, etc.) are all going to be well into their 30s by time 2021 rolls around. So, instead, I’ll lean on a bunch of shortstops. Russell has played second at the MLB level and so has Bregman. They’re my second base options.

Third base came down to Bryant or Nolan Arenado, and, simply put, I think Bryant will be the better player come 2021. The final infield spot it came down to Bregman or Arenado, and Bregman’s versatility wins out. I have every reason to believe Arenado will still be incredibly productive come 2021, but he’s not the best fit for our hypothetical roster.

Honorable Mention: 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (33); 1B Greg Bird, Yankees (28); 2B Joe Panik, Giants (30); SS SS Trevor Story, Rockies (28), SS Kevin Newman, Pirates (27); SS J.P. Crawford, Phillies (26); 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies (30); 3B Anthony Rendon, Nationals (31); 3B Nick Senzel, Reds (26)

Outfielders

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If Mike Trout wants to play, he’s on my 2021 WBC roster no questions asked. USATSI

Trout and Harper declined to participate in the 2017 WBC, but I’m not going to make assumptions about their intentions to play in the 2021 WBC, so they’re on our roster and the center pieces of the offense. Betts is excellent and might be the best non-Trout outfielder in baseball. Yelich? I would be surprised if he doesn’t have at least one batting title to his name by time the 2021 WBC rolls around. He’s on the cusp of breaking out as a monster offensive player. 

It should be noted both Bryant and Bellinger have spent plenty of time in the outfield in their careers, giving our hypothetical 2021 USA roster a little extra outfield depth. Heck, even Bregman has played some left field. Even though USA is not lacking in high-end outfield options, the four top candidates for our hypothetical 2021 WBC roster are pretty clear, I’d say.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox (26); Lewis Brinson, Brewers (27); Byron Buxton, Twins (27); Austin Meadows, Pirates (26); Joc Pederson, Dodgers (29); George Springer, Astros (31); Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (31)

Starting Pitchers

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Noah Syndergaard is a leading candidate to be USA’s ace in 2021. USATSI
  1. LHP Madison Bumgarner, Giants (31)
  2. RHP Noah Syndergaard, Mets (28)
  3. RHP Jon Gray, Rockies (29)
  4. RHP Kevin Gausman, Orioles (30)

This is where it starts to get difficult. Clayton Kershaw is undeniably the best pitcher in baseball right now. But will he be one of USA’s top rotation options in 2021, his age 33 season? All those innings are going to start to take their toll eventually. That’s the hard reality of baseball. We’re seeing it happen to the great Felix Hernandez right now. Kershaw declined to participate in the 2017 WBC and my hunch he is won’t be at the top of USA’s wishlist come 2021 despite his star power.

As for Bumgarner, he is two years younger than Kershaw, and I think the odds of him being on top of his game in 2021 are much better, so he’s on my roster. Syndergaard is a no-brainer, right? Right. The last two spots are difficult only because there are so many good rotation candidates. I’m a big Jon Gray fan and I think he’ll be among the game’s top hurlers in four years, once you adjust the Coors Field out of his performance.

Gausman gets the nod for the final spot because I think he’s about to take a huge step forward and become one of the game’s elite starters in 2017. It’s entirely possible he made that step last year -- Gausman had a 2.83 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings in his final 12 starts of 2016. Trying to project pitching four years into the future is going to require some leaps of faith, and that’s why Gray and Gausman are in my 2021 rotation.

(I would have had Aaron Sanchez in my starting four easily, though he was hoping to play for Mexico in the 2017 WBC, so I’m assuming he’ll play for them should he participate in the 2021 event.)

Honorable Mention: RHP Dylan Bundy, Orioles (28); RHP Gerrit Cole, Pirates (30); RHP Michael Fulmer, Tigers (28); RHP Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (31); LHP Steven Matz, Mets (30); HP Aaron Nola, Phillies (28); RHP Joe Ross, Nationals (28); RHP Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays (30); Jameson Taillon, Pirates (29)

Relief Pitchers

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Is Carl Edwards Jr. the next closer for Team USA? USATSI

Okay, now we’re basically just guessing. Relievers are so darn volatile that it’s tough to know what you’re going to get from one year to the next. Projecting four years into the future? It’s damn near impossible. To really drive that point home, here are USA’s relievers in the 2013 WBC:

  1. Ross Detwiler (4 innings)
  2. Craig Kimbrel (3 2/3 innings)
  3. Jeremy Affeldt (3 1/3 innings)
  4. Steve Cishek (2 1/3 innings)
  5. Heath Bell (2 innings)
  6. Luke Gregerson (2 innings)
  7. Glen Perkins (2 innings)
  8. Vinnie Pestano (2 innings)
  9. David Hernandez (1 2/3 innings)
  10. Mitchell Boggs (1 1/3 innings)
  11. Tim Collins (1 innings)

Yeah. Not the best looking group, in hindsight.

For our 2021 bullpen, I’m just picking the best arms on the right side of 30 and hoping for the best here. Who’s to say USA’s relief ace in 2021 won’t be, say, Michael Kopech or Carson Fulmer? Anyway, Montgomery is going to fill the Tanner Roark role as the experienced swingman while everyone else will be a true short reliever. I hope. Who knows what’ll happen in 2021?


With any luck, USA’s success in this year’s WBC will inspire some bigger name players to participate in the 2017 edition, like Trout and Harper. If not though, USA is picking from the deepest talent base in the world, and they have plenty of quality options at each position. 

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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