Projecting Team USA's roster for 2021 World Baseball Classic, including Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger

Major League Baseball is on indefinite hiatus because of the growing coronavirus threat, and Opening Day has already been pushed back to mid-May. It could be pushed back even further depending how the next few weeks unfold. I feel confident, perhaps irrationally so, that we will have baseball at some point in 2020. I just don't know exactly when.

The good news is 2021 promises to bring us extra baseball as a World Baseball Classic season. Earlier this month MLB announced dates and revenues for the fifth installment of the WBC, which will feature 20 teams for the first time. The 16 competitors from the 2017 WBC have automatic bids into the 2021 WBC, and four other spots will be up for grabs in upcoming qualifying events.

Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Venezuela are locked into spots. Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Panama, Philippines, Nicaragua, Pakistan, South Africa, and Spain will compete in qualifying events.

Marcus Stroman, who led Team USA to WBC gold in 2017, is already hard at work recruiting players for next year's event. He calls it the "Dream Team" and has secured commitments from 2017 teammates Eric Hosmer and Christian Yelich, among others. MLB has struggled to get big names in the WBC in the past. Stroman doesn't seem to want to take "no" for an answer.

The 2021 WBC rosters won't be announced until next spring, but that won't stop us from putting together a Dream Team roster right now. I compiled a potential 2017 WBC roster in April 2016 and only eight of my 28 players made it onto Team USA's roster. A lot can and will change the next few months and that's OK. Here is my Team USA 28-man roster one year out from the 2021 WBC.

Catchers (2)

Mitch Garver, Twins
J.T. Realmuto, Phillies

I was very tempted to take Orioles prospect and 2019 No. 1 draft pick Adley Rutschman over Garver. Rutschman is the best catching prospect since Buster Posey, but 2021 might be a little too early for him. If we were putting together a 2022 WBC roster, then yeah, I'd take him. For now, it's Garver backing up Realmuto, the game's best all-around catcher and perhaps the easiest call at any single position on Team USA. Carson Kelly and Will Smith are next in line behind the plate.

2017 WBC catchers (2): Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey

Infielders (7)

Pete Alonso, Mets
Tim Anderson, White Sox
Alex Bregman, Astros
Matt Chapman, Athletics
Jeff McNeil, Mets
Max Muncy, Dodgers
Trevor Story, Rockies

The WBC is a fun event and I'm putting an emphasis on fun with my roster. Anderson is awesome and exciting to watch, so he's in. Muncy pimps home runs like few others and the WBC is an event made for guys like him. The WBC is appointment viewing for bat flip aficionados. McNeil is easy to love because he puts everything in play and goes all out, all the time. Alonso socks dingers and has quickly established himself as a great ambassador for the sport. Bregman, Chapman, and Story are simply among the game's best players.

As for positional coverage, we have Alonso and Muncy at first base, McNeil and Muncy at second base, Anderson and Story at shortstop, and Bregman and Chapman at third base. Bregman can also slide over to shortstop, if necessary, and McNeil can handle third base as well. He's also our emergency outfielder after playing 71 games in left and 42 games in right last season. Two great options at each position with good backup plans beyond that as well.

Apologies to Nolan Arenado, Paul DeJong, DJ LeMahieu, Matt Olson, Anthony Rendon, Marcus Semien, and Trea Turner, among others. They are all WBC worthy ballplayers who are left on the outside looking in at my roster.

2017 WBC infielders (8): Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Brandon Crawford, Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Harrison, Eric Hosmer, Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy

Outfielders (5)

Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Mookie Betts, Dodgers
Whit Merrifield, Royals
Mike Trout, Angels
Christian Yelich, Brewers

If those five players all get abducted by little green aliens and have to miss the 2021 WBC, Team USA could still trot out an outfield that includes Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Austin Meadows, and George Springer, with Michael Brantley and Tommy Pham next in line. Don't sleep on Byron Buxton either. If that long awaited breakout comes in 2020, Buxton could force his way into Team USA's starting outfield next spring.  

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Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts headline Team USA's star-studded outfield. USATSI

Otherwise Bellinger, Betts, Trout, and Yelich are the four titans of American-born outfielders right now. They have won the last four MVPs (Trout and Betts in the AL, Bellinger and Yelich in the NL) and are all primed-aged superstars. Putting all four on our roster is an easy call. As for Merrifield, he's a great all-around player and very versatile. He can play pretty much anywhere and provide a speed and contact element off the bench. Merrifield could factor into the second base picture as well.

2017 WBC outfielders (4): Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich

For fun, here's how I would build Team USA's starting lineup given our rosters above (WBC managers have not been announced, so we don't know who will be building Team USA's real lineups just yet):

  1. RF Mookie Betts
  2. LF Christian Yelich
  3. CF Mike Trout
  4. DH Cody Bellinger
  5. 1B Pete Alonso
  6. 3B Matt Chapman
  7. 2B Max Muncy
  8. SS Trevor Story
  9. C J.T. Realmuto

The top four comes together pretty easily, I believe, and Alonso's power makes him a natural fit for the No. 5 spot. You could put the other players in the Nos. 6-9 spots in any order and I wouldn't argue. There are no wrong answers there. For what it's worth, when you plug that lineup into the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool with each player's 2020 ZiPS projection, you get an average of 6.63 runs per game. That's close to a 1,100-run lineup in a 162-game season.

Starting Pitchers (4)

RHP Gerrit Cole, Yankees
RHP Jacob deGrom, Mets
RHP Jack Flaherty, Cardinals
RHP Marcus Stroman, Mets

I desperately wanted to get Shane Bieber into the rotation -- I love Bieber and think he'll soon be an undisputed top five starter in the game -- but Stroman was great during the 2017 WBC and he's been a great ambassador for the event and USA Baseball, so I'm cool with giving him a spot in the rotation. Cole and deGrom are no-brainers and the third rotation spot came down to Bieber or Flaherty. You pick one and I'll happily take the other. No wrong answer there.

The big names among the second tier Team USA starters are Justin Verlander and Nationals co-aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. All great! Scherzer and Verlander will be 36 and 38, respectively, when the 2021 WBC rolls around though, and age-related decline could soon begin. Strasburg is unbelievable in big moments -- he owns a 1.46 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 55 1/3 career postseason innings -- and can be on my team any day. For me, his injury history puts him behind Flaherty.

Other notable American-born pitchers include up-and-comers Walker Buehler and Lucas Giolito, old reliables like Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Charlie Morton, and other big names like Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Patrick Corbin. A repeat of 2019 in 2020 would put Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Mike Minor on my WBC radar as well.

2017 WBC starters (4): Chris Archer, Danny Duffy, Tanner Roark, Drew Smyly

Relief Pitchers (9)

RHP Nick Anderson, Rays
LHP Aaron Bummer, White Sox
RHP Chad Green, Yankees
LHP Josh Hader, Brewers
RHP Michael Lorenzen, Reds
RHP Ryan Pressly, Astros
LHP Taylor Rogers, Twins
LHP Will Smith, Braves
RHP Kirby Yates, Padres

No position in the sport is more volatile than relief pitcher. At this time last year guys like Brad Hand, Jeremy Jeffress, and Blake Treinen would have been shoo-ins for the WBC. Now? Not so much. A lot changes in the bullpen world each year and that will again be true in 2020. Our proposed bullpen is subject to change moreso than any other position by a factor of about 10.

Hader and Yates have been arguably the two most dominant relievers in baseball the last two seasons. I'd use Yates as the closer and employ Hader as a fireman, that guy who comes into big situations to get a key strikeout. Green, Pressly, and Smith have been among the game's best late-inning relievers the last few years, Anderson and Rogers are emerging as elite relievers, Bummer is a ground ball machine, and Lorenzen is really good too. His pitching success sometimes gets overshadowed by the two-way thing.

Red Sox closer Brandon Workman can pitch his way into the 2021 WBC mix should he carry his 2019 success into 2020. Yankees setup men Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino deserve consideration, though it's worth noting Britton's mother is Dominican, and the Dominican Republic recruited him for the 2017 WBC. If he plays in the event, it might not be for Team USA. Ken Giles and Scott Oberg also deserve a mention here.

2017 WBC relievers (9): Tyler Clippard, Sam Dyson, Mychal Givens, Luke Gregerson, Nate Jones, Jake McGee, Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek, David Robertson

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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