Braun likely to see Classic playing time

Braun likely to see Classic time

MILWAUKEE -- Judging by Team USA's preliminary roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, one of 16 such lists unveiled Monday on the new MLB Network, it appears that Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun is poised to see some significant playing time in the tournament.

Braun is one of eight outfielders with a chance to play for the U.S. entry, but he and the Chicago White Sox's Carlos Quentin are the only candidates who spent 2008 primarily in left field. Braun did not commit an error in the outfield last season after making the switch from third base.

Eight other Brewers were named to preliminary WBC rosters Monday, including offseason pickup Jorge Julio, a reliever who could play a key role in Milwaukee's rebuilt bullpen, but first might play for his native Venezuela.

The other WBC hopefuls with Crew ties will have to battle for a spot on Milwaukee's Opening Day roster. Catcher Vinny Rottino and pitcher Mark DiFelice, though both born in the U.S., were included on Italy's preliminary WBC roster. Left-handed reliever R.J. Swindle and prospects Brett Lawrie and Alex Periard were tabbed by Team Canada. Left-hander David Welch will play for Australia.

Prized right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who told MLB.com last year that he was very interested in playing for Mexico in the Classic despite missing most of 2008 with a serious knee injury, is on his country's preliminary roster.

MLB Network will televise 16 World Baseball Classic games, along with a nightly studio show dedicated to the tournament. ESPN will televise 23 games of the Classic in the U.S., including the semifinal and final games, across ESPN and ESPN2 and on its Spanish-language platform, ESPN Deportes.

The final rosters of 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- must be set by Feb. 24. Tickets can be purchased online through mlb.com.

The first round opens March 5 in Tokyo, with defending 2006 champion Japan facing China. Mexico City, Toronto and San Juan, Puerto Rico, host the other three first-round brackets, as follows:

Tokyo (March 5-9): Japan, China, Chinese Taipei and Korea

Toronto (March 7-11): USA, Canada, Venezuela and Italy

San Juan, Puerto Rico (March 7-11): Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama

Mexico City (March 8-12): Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, Australia

It's a double-elimination format this time in the first two rounds. The winners from Toronto will meet the winners from Puerto Rico in the second round at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, while the winners from Tokyo will face the winners from Mexico City in San Diego's PETCO Park.

The semifinals and finals are on March 21 and 23 at Dodger Stadium.

Braun initially thought officials would choose Rockies-turned-A's outfielder Matt Holliday to be the primary left fielder for Team USA, and was thrilled when he learned in December that he would get to play in the second installment of the Classic, which debuted in 2006 when Braun was entering his first full professional season.

The other seven outfielders on Team USA's preliminary roster are the Tigers' Curtis Granderson, the Rockies' Brad Hawpe, the Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick, the White Sox's Quentin, the Indians' Grady Sizemore, the Blue Jays' Vernon Wells and the Phillies' Shane Victorino. Wells, Granderson, Sizemore and Victorino were primarily center fielders in 2008, and Hawpe and Ludwick spent most of their time in right field.

That leaves Braun and Quentin as strong candidates to man left field for manager Davey Johnson. Both players bat right-handed.

Braun, the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year, finished third in '08 NL MVP balloting after he batted .285 with 37 home runs, 106 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and an .888 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). Of the players on the U.S. roster, only Ludwick (37 homers, 113 RBIs) was a better run-producer last season.

Quentin also had an outstanding year for Chicago, hitting .288 in a breakthrough season with 36 homers, 100 RBIs and a .965 OPS.

Another outfield option for the U.S. team is Indians utilityman Mark DeRosa, who was listed on the preliminary roster as an infielder/outfielder.

Braun and the rest of Team USA will play first-round games in Toronto, where Braun could run into a number of his teammates. That pool also includes Canada (Lawrie, Periard and Swindle), Venezuela (Julio) and Italy (DiFelice and Rottino).

Lawrie, Milwaukee's first-round Draft pick last June, who turned 19 on Sunday, is the fourth-youngest player on any Classic preliminary roster and the youngest prospective member of Team Canada. He's used to that distinction; Lawrie was the youngest Canadian to represent his country in the Beijing Olympics last summer.

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