WBC – Australia – A Preview
By Stuart Wallace.
IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 10th
2013 Players of Note
Peter Moylan R
Ryan Rowland-Smith L
Allan de San Miguel, C
Mitch Dening, OF
Chris Snelling, OF
2009 Record 1 – 2, Qualifier Round
17 – 7, Mexico
4 – 5, Cuba
1 – 16, Mexico
2006 Record 0 – 3, Preliminary Round
0 – 10, Italy
0 – 2, Venezuela
4 – 6, Dominican Rep.
While it doesn’t enjoy the popularity that Australian rules football or cricket enjoy amongst the populace, baseball in Australia nonetheless has a long and storied history at both the national and international levels of competition. Commonly believed to have been brought to the continent during the 1850’s Victoria gold rush by American miners, the first reports of organized baseball games and scores came from Ballarat, Victoria in 1857. It wasn’t until 1878 that competitive games were played by teams comprised solely of Australians, when the Surry Baseball Club faced the New South Wales Cricket Association at the Sydney Cricket Ground. 1897 saw the first international excursion by an Australian baseball squad, when a team comprised of players from the states of South Australia and Victoria toured the United States, playing 22 games, compiling a 8-14 record in the process. Since these early beginnings, Australia has slowly grown into a leading baseball nation, not only in the form of their national team, but also in the form of the 6 team Australian Baseball League, a jointly funded endeavor between Major League Baseball, the Australian Baseball Federation, and the Australian Federal Government.
With respect to their international presence, Australia has enjoyed a modicum of success, culminating with a silver medal showing in the 2004 Athens Olympics; they currently find themselves 10th in the International Baseball Federation rankings. However, their showings in previous World Baseball Classics have left much to be desired, as both have seen them knocked out in the first round, their only WBC victory coming in 2009, against Mexico. Overall, Australia has a 1-5 record in WBC competition.
While the 2013 WBC squad won’t have the star power of Grant Balfour or Travis Blackley due to their contractual obligations with the Oakland Athletics, their roster does boast an impressive amount of talent. Of the 28 players on the provisional roster, 15 are currently under contract with a MLB team; of the remaining 13 players, all have had previous playing experience in the minor leagues. Overall, the talent the Australian roster boasts pitching heavy, and is where most of the familiar faces to Americans, such as Peter Moylan and Ryan Rowland-Smith, will be found. Offense will be supplied by the likes of former MLBers Luke Hughes and Chris Snelling, current minor leaguer Mike Walker, and ABL star Mitch Dening, whose .347 batting average and .936 OPS rank second and sixth in the ABL, respectively.
With the pitching depth and talent comes most of the team age, with the average age of the pitching staff being 28; the average age of position players is 25.4. While this WBC will more than likely be the last hurrah for the likes of players like Moylan, Rowland-Smith, and Chris Oxspring, the focus for the 2013 squad will be offense – the more the better. Outside of a 17 run outburst against Mexico in their only WBC victory, Australia scored a total of 5 runs in their 2009 WBC showing, proving that their success will be closely tied to how many runs they will be able to score, thereby lessening the burden on the pitching staff to keep the team in games. With the roster being so young offensively, with a minimal of international experience under their belts, this might be a tough order to fill for the young bats of Oz.
For 2013, Australia is posed with a tough path to victory, one that will be heavily reliant upon a young offence to play beyond their years, and a veteran pitching staff to turn back the clock. For the future, 2013 shapes up to be a watershed year in some respects. While the end results might not show much in terms of wins and losses, it will be the education of the youngsters, and the experience they gain that will help write the next chapters of Australian baseball. Also crucial to the future success of Australian baseball will be the continued evolution of the MLB Australian Academy Program. Started in 2001, the MLBAAP is sponsored by the MLB, and the Australian Baseball Federation, and is set up to develop the quality baseball players of the Oceania region, and has recently begun to consistently shown themselves to be top notch international foes, with a significant amount of MLB caliber talent. Of the 73 Australians that were signed to MLB or other professional league teams in 2011, 57 were MLBAAP graduates. With the continued development of the MLBAAP, and continued success of Australian baseball on an international stage, these numbers will only continue to grow, as baseball evolves into a truly global sport.
For 2013, Australia is in place to maintain their stronghold at the bottom of the top 10 IABF rankings, regardless of their showings in the WBC. However, with the evolution of their young hitters during WBC play, and the further development and nurturing of Oceania baseball talent, this could very well be the last year of double digit IABF rankings for this sleeping baseball giant.