WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Italy

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Italy

The Italian team was among the biggest surprises in the last iteration of the World Baseball Classic in 2013, with a dramatic ninth-inning comeback and a major upset victory in its opening matchup against Mexico.

Italy will again open this year's tournament as underdogs against Mexico, hoping to recreate the magic on March 9 at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico. Italy, one of four countries in Group D, will also compete against Venezuela and Puerto Rico in round-robin play. Here's a look at how Team Italy's roster should stack up:

The confirmed roster so far:

Francisco Cervelli
Drew Butera
Michael Conforto
Brandon Nimmo
Chris Colabello

Although very little of this year's roster has been confirmed, a number of Major Leaguers are expected to be in the mix on manager Marco Mazzieri's squad. Colabello was among Italy's top performers in the last Classic, leading the team in home runs (two), RBIs (seven) and total bases (12). He returns alongside 2013 teammate Butera and Cervelli, who represented Italy in 2009. Nimmo and Conforto will be making their first appearance on the roster.

Conforto's three-run jack

How they fared in the past
Italy enjoyed its best finish in 2013, advancing to the second round by defeating Mexico and Canada. It ranked 10th with just one win each in 2006 and '09.

Grilli gets final out

What they should do well
Catcher should be a strength for the Italian squad, with two Major League-caliber backstops in Butera and Cervelli. Both are making their second appearance on the team, and each boasts several years of experience in the big leagues.

Butera on playing for Italy

Where they could struggle
There will be a major void in the Italian roster left by Anthony Rizzo, who isn't expected to return to the Classic this year after representing Italy in 2013. Last fall's lengthy playoff run with the World Series-champion Cubs may have Rizzo opting for rest as he prepares to help Chicago defend its title in '17. Without Rizzo, Italy will have to look for power elsewhere in its lineup.

How far they could go
A repeat of 2013's upset victory over Mexico isn't out of the cards; Mazzieri is hopeful his team can capitalize on the experience from the last Classic. That second-round appearance was a step in the right direction for the Italian team, and it will look to improve upon that finish in 2017.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.