Three Red Sox-Related Questions Entering 2023 World Baseball Classic

The Red Sox have 11 WBC participants


Mar 6, 2023

Before players across Major League Baseball officially embark on the 2023 season, several, including many Boston Red Sox affiliates, will compete in the fifth World Baseball Classic tournament.

This month, 20 teams will battle for the WBC crown while also serving as featured representatives of both their respective MLB teams and native homelands. And while present Red Sox stars such as Rafael Devers (Dominican Republic) will take the field and compete, so will former Boston fan favorites like Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts (USA).

This presents a tremendous viewing opportunity to catch preseason action, with higher stakes involved than a typical spring training game. As opposed to a much smaller sample size in meaningless preseason innings, the WBC provides more of an October-like feel. This also poses a few Red Sox-related questions that’ll quickly be answered once players take the field on March 7.

With that being said, here are three:

1.) How much Masataka Yoshida should we expect to see?
There’s nothing to anticipate more than Yoshida’s in-game action.

Unless you’re an avid fan of Nippon Professional Baseball, your frame of reference to watching Yoshida is likely very limited. And as mentioned before, the WBC is a much more intense environment than spring training. The rosters feature the best players willing to partake in the event rather than a lineup mix of big league and minor league talents. This could provide Yoshida, who is set to play alongside Shohei Ohtani with Team Japan, plenty of situational reps against MLB-caliber opponents that he’ll face during his rookie campaign with the Red Sox in 2023.

On the other hand, there’s also a cautionary element involved. The Red Sox reportedly a hefty amount to sign Yoshida from Japan this past offseason. Last season the Red Sox finished at the bottom of the American League East, adding some weight to Yoshida’s shoulders before even stepping foot at Fenway Park. Skipper Alex Cora is aware of this and relayed a message to Yoshida before taking off for WBC festivities.

“We’ve just got to make sure he doesn’t play nine (innings) right away from the get-go,” Cora told reporters, according to Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe.

During spring training, Yoshida played two games for the Red Sox, going 1-for-5 with a run and three strikeouts.

Japan, in search of a third WBC title, will begin their hunt against China on Thursday at 5 a.m. ET.

2.) Does Alex Verdugo’s offseason work translate into Team Mexico surpassing the second round for the first time ever? 
Verdugo is well aware that improvement is needed in order to take that next step into becoming the big league-caliber outfielder he envisions himself.

Verdugo hit .280 with 11 homers and 74 RBIs last season while also recording a .981 fielding percentage in 152 games during his third year with the Red Sox. And while those numbers don’t portray subpar contributions, it does offer a window for Verdugo to further progress and work toward establishing himself as an everyday outfielder.

Cora, who’s held Verdugo to a higher standard entering 2023, noted some positives he’s noticed over the course of spring training.

“We’re very pleased where he’s at,” Cora told reporters. “Great attitude. He has always had a great attitude but I think, physically, it’s a lot different than last year and I do believe he feels a lot better than the last few years.”

Verdugo also represented Mexico during the last WBC in 2017. And from the sounds of it, the veteran outfielder has had sporting his native green and red colors on his mind for some time now. Verdugo made his commitment to participating in the WBC official back in September before the 2022 season had even ended.

“I stay true to my roots and true to where I’m from,” Verdugo told’s Martín Gallegos in 2021. “It’s special for me, man. I love the colors. Putting them on just makes me feel a type of way.”

Making his second run at WBC glory, Verdugo could apply those offseason adjustments toward pushing Mexico to greater heights. In four previous tries, Mexico hasn’t surpassed the second round and enters the tournament underdogs in Pool C behind the USA.

3.) Can ex-Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez fill Yadier Molina’s shoes for Team Puerto Rico?
While Vázquez’s days guarding the plate in a Red Sox uniform are over, the two-time World Series champ will rejoin fellow Puerto Rico native Kiké Hernández as teammates.

This will serve as Vázquez’s debut in the WBC and the veteran backstop will inherit a great deal of responsibility for a Puerto Rico squad following back-to-back championship appearances. Vázquez will play successor to now-retired MLB great Yadier Molina, who will manage the team this year.

Similar to his brief stint with the Houston Astros, Vázquez isn’t a given to be Puerto Rico’s everyday catcher. He’ll once again play alongside Martín Maldonado, who split catching duties with Vázquez during Houston’s final stretch to its World Series victory in 2022.

Nevertheless, when Vázquez does get the nod, there will be a pressure element in place. Molina set the gold standard for catching in Puerto Rico and during Vázquez’s time with the Red Sox, he noted that he’d spend his offseason working out with Molina and his brother Jose.

“We see them like idols,” Vázquez said, according to ESPN in 2017. “Growing up, you want to be like them. Those guys were very good, man. They give a good reputation to being a catcher, so the kids want to be there too.”

Splitting time with the Red Sox and Astros last season, Vázquez recorded a .991 fielding percentage with 11 defensive runs saved in 108 games.

Thumbnail photo via Yukihito Taguchi/USA TODAY Sports Images
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