MLB.com Columnist

Jon Paul Morosi

Pool C scouting report: Can Colombia surprise?

Manager Urueta confident his club can compete with favorites DR, Team USA

Pool C scouting report: Can Colombia surprise?

Luis Urueta is the 36-year-old manager of the Colombian national baseball team. He learned the game in his native Barranquilla at the British International School, where his parents, Alejandro and Carmela, both taught. Urueta signed with the D-backs at age 17 and peaked at Class A Advanced with the Cardinals in 2003, before playing four seasons in Italy.

Urueta speaks Spanish, English and Italian. He just spent the winter in the Dominican Republic, on the coaching staff of the legendary Tigres del Licey. Urueta lives with his family in Arizona, where the D-backs recently promoted him to Minor League field coordinator.

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And on March 10 at Marlins Park, when Urueta's name is announced before his -- and his country's -- first-ever game in the World Baseball Classic, he will shake the hand of Jim Leyland, future Hall of Fame manager of Team USA.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Leyland's World Series title with the Marlins, won in Game 7 on an 11th-inning single by Edgar Renteria -- who has the most hits of any Colombian in Major League history, and who will serve as his homeland's bench coach in the World Baseball Classic.

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"That's one of the biggest questions for me," Urueta told MLB.com in a Thursday telephone interview. "I grew up watching Edgar play. He was our hero. It was the year before I graduated high school when he won the World Series. And Jim Leyland's face that night, him being carried off the field -- that's something I will never forget. Now to be able to shake his hand, and have Edgar next to me in that game, it's going to be a really good feeling.

"We're going to be in the same city, with some of the same fans [who saw the '97 World Series]. And the Colombian fans in Miami are going to be rooting for [Renteria], against the man who gave him the opportunity to be a superstar. It's really exciting."

Morosi on Team USA's pitching

Pool C can be described as the most predictable first-round group in this World Baseball Classic, with the Dominican Republic and the United States widely expected to advance. After all, Urueta learned Thursday that Reds infielder Dilson Herrera, expected to be a catalyst for Colombia's lineup, won't play in the Classic. But to dismiss the Canadians and Colombians is to ignore a decade of World Baseball Classic history: The Americans are 10-10 all time, including one loss to Canada; the Dominicans were eliminated in pool play two Classics ago, following two defeats to the Dutch.

And Urueta has a difficult assignment for Team USA in Game 1: White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana, coveted in trade talks by so many MLB teams this offseason, will start for Colombia.

So is Colombia ready to stun the baseball world?

"What I'm sure of is that they're going to have a tough first five innings," Urueta said. "I'm sure Jose's going to be ready for this challenge. We have good, quality starting pitchers. We have a chance. I've got to be smart about how I use my bullpen later in the game. If we play them the right way, if we're creative, maybe we'll have a chance to win.

"Quintana is the right guy to face the American lineup. From what we've scouted about them, what we know about them, most of them are National League guys. They haven't seen Jose often. Whenever you face a frontline starter like Quintana for the first time, the advantage goes to the pitcher."

Fortunately for Team USA, Leyland could start as many as seven or eight right-handed batters against Quintana -- with lefty Daniel Murphy, who posted a .924 OPS against southpaws in 2016, among the options at designated hitter. (The lefty-swinging Brandon Crawford will be Team USA's primary shortstop, due in part to his defensive steadiness.)

Braves right-hander Julio Teheran, a two-time All-Star, will start against Canada in Colombia's second game, Urueta said. William Cuevas, a non-roster invitee to the Tigers' spring camp, is slated to start against the Dominican Republic unless he's needed earlier in long relief.

"I know Canada has a lot of lefties in the lineup, but Julio has shown that he can control lefties, as well," Urueta explained. "Freddie Freeman is one guy who stands out, and he's never faced Julio because they're teammates [in Atlanta]. We can try to work around Freeman and get to the other guys, if we feel like we have to.

"We feel pretty good about this. We're confident."

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But with a 65-pitch limit in pool play, the Americans' clear advantage in bullpen depth should prove decisive. The Dominicans ought to feel the same way against Colombia -- or anyone else, for that matter -- after brilliant late-inning work by Kelvin Herrera, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney preserved an 8-0 record in the last Classic. Rodney is back again, joined by Dellin Betances, Alex Colome, Jeurys Familia and Hector Neris.

The Dominican Republic may be without ace Johnny Cueto, who has yet to report to Spring Training because of a need to remain home with his ailing father. It's worth noting, though, that the Dominicans won the 2013 Classic without Cueto; that year's rotation included Edinson Volquez, Samuel Deduno and Wandy Rodriguez.

Ryan Dempster, who last pitched in the Majors in 2013, is slated to start for Team Canada, along with Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta. For the third (and possibly fourth) game in pool play, Canadian manager Ernie Whitt will choose among Andrew Albers, Chris Leroux, Shane Dawson and Scott Richmond.

PLAYER TO WATCH
Team USA's Nolan Arenado is about to get his first sustained exposure on a national stage, and American fans are sure to realize what some baseball observers have come to believe over the past year: Arenado, the Rockies' dynamic third baseman, is arguably the best all-around player on the planet not named Mike Trout.

THE KEY GAME
United States vs. Dominican Republic, March 11, 6:30 p.m. ET.

The two international baseball powers have met in the World Baseball Classic just once before -- in 2013, also at Marlins Park -- and they produced one of the tournament's all-time greatest games: a 1-1 tie through eight innings, before the Dominicans rallied against U.S. closer Craig Kimbrel to win, 3-1. Puerto Rico eliminated the Americans one day later, while the Dominicans went on to complete their perfect run through the tournament.

The World Baseball Classic runs from March 6-22. In the U.S., games will air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN will provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. will have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. Internationally, the tournament will be distributed across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

PREDICTION
The Dominican Republic and the United States advance.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.