World Baseball Classic camps formally open next week -- at least, on this continent. Team USA gathers for the first time March 7 in Fort Myers, Fla.
But national teams with fewer Major Leaguers -- or none at all -- already are playing together. Cuba is in the midst of what manager Carlos Martí told Prensa Latina will be an 11-game exhibition schedule throughout Asia.
Cuba should benefit from the trip's impact in preparedness and team chemistry, although the initial results have not been encouraging. The Cubans were swept by South Korea in a two-game exhibition series at Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome over the weekend. Those results followed an earlier two-game split against Chinese Taipei in Taichung, Taiwan.
These are effectively Spring Training games, with all the usual caveats. The friendlies being played half a world away have about as much predictive value in the World Baseball Classic as does Sunday's 1-1 Cactus League tie between the Cubs and Indians.
Yet, we can make a couple of observations about Team Cuba: Its pitching staff is thinner than expected, following the revelation that Freddy Asiel Alvarez will miss the Classic due to a right elbow injury; Martí told Granma, the Cuban government newspaper, that the rotation will include Lazaro Blanco, Vladimir Garcia and Vladimir Banos, who pitched effectively against Korea on Sunday. And Alfredo Despaigne must produce for the Cubans to advance, as the 30-year-old is perhaps the team's only superstar hitter comfortably in his prime years.
The other players capable of carrying Cuba's lineup are in the Majors and therefore ineligible (Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Yulieski Gurriel) or are among the current national team's younger players (Victor Mesa Jr., 20; Yoelkis Cespedes, 19).
The South Korea-Cuba series also illuminated the fact that Korean outfielder Ah-Seop Son is poised to emerge in this year's Classic a little more than one year after MLB teams declined an opportunity to bid on him through the posting process. Son, 29, homered in Saturday's game against Cuba and went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and scored two runs on Sunday, according to Yonhap News.
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.
• One additional concern for the Cubans: In Pool B, they'll need to compete against an Australian team that has shown noticeable improvement since the last Classic, according to multiple international baseball observers.
• With Sunday's news that Sonny Gray is unable to pitch for Team USA due to a lack of contractual insurance, the Americans' pitching options have narrowed for the later rounds. Initially, it was likely that the U.S. would replace Danny Duffy and Tanner Roark with two among Gray, Michael Fulmer, J.A. Happ and Drew Smyly after play concluded in Pool C. Now, that is less certain; once a pitcher is replaced on the active 28-man roster, Classic rules prohibit him from pitching for the remainder of the tournament.
• Catcher Francisco Cervelli (right foot injury) has yet to appear in a Spring Training game with the Pirates, but on Sunday he said that he remains confident he'll be ready to play for Team Italy by next week.
Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.