MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Puerto Rico plans to avoid coming up short

Lindor, Correa, Baez join talented team in 2017 WBC

Puerto Rico plans to avoid coming up short

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Puerto Rico finished second in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. It will bring a better team to the 2017 Classic.

How can this be? Two completely proven veterans, catcher Yadier Molina and outfielder Carlos Beltran, will return for Puerto Rico. They will be joined by three magnificent young talents, shortstops Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, and infielder Javier Baez.

• WBC schedule/tickets

There is a serious surplus of talent at short. Who will play there, Lindor or Correa? The real answer is both, over time.

"We have to win some ballgames, but also we have to get them ready for the season," Puerto Rico's manager, Edwin Rodriguez said Monday at a media session during the Winter Meetings. "Lindor won the Gold Glove so he should be starting at shortstop, but either one can be playing at shortstop, and they both know that. They're very good friends, and they know the situation."

Puerto Rico's successful run to the Classic's championship game, which was won by the Dominican Republic, was in part a tribute to Molina's handling of a young pitching staff. That sort of thing will be required again, but the Cardinals catcher's ability to gain the complete confidence of a pitching staff is by now completely established.

"It was special," Rodriguez said of Molina's work with the pitchers in 2013. "Back then we had a very, very young pitching staff. So we relied on Yadi Molina, the same way we're going to be relying on him this year.

"He's the one," Rodriguez said with a smile. "He's our pitching coach, he's our catcher, he's our manager, he's everything. He's the one running the club. Everybody knows that. He's the captain."

"Anywhere you play with Yadi Molina, that's going to happen. Even with St. Louis, he's the one, along with the pitching coach, of course. He is so good and so valuable that will happen anywhere that he plays."

Beltran and Molina will be playing in their fourth Classic. "They're very committed," Rodriguez said. "Their leadership and their commitment was very important back then, and it's going to be very important in 2017."

Puerto Rico is in Pool D of the Classic field, along with Mexico, Venezuela and Italy. Puerto Rico's first game, in Jalisco, Mexico, will be against Venezuela on March 10. The WBC championship game will be held in Dodger Stadium on March 22.

Rodriguez, who managed the Marlins in 2010-11, currently manages in the Cleveland Indians' Minor League system.

The World Baseball Classic was intended in part to focus attention on baseball talent and the growth of the sport outside the North American mainland. The success of the Puerto Rican team in 2013 was the embodiment of those goals. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, but here was the Puerto Rican team advancing to the final game of the Classic. What did that success mean to baseball in Puerto Rico?

"It means that people realize how many young, talented people we have on the island," Rodriguez said. "You can say that, but for the people in Puerto Rico, seeing that, internationally, they really started believing that.

"For two weeks, the whole island went crazy. More and more young people are playing baseball. What was supposed to happen with the WBC, I think it is happening all over the world. That's what it is all about."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.