Among the elite on the Latin teams in the tournament are Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers third baseman and reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown winner, and Giants third baseman and 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, playing for Venezuela; Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes playing for the Dominican Republic; Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez on the Mexico roster; and outfielder Carlos Beltran and catcher Yadier Molina -- both of the Cardinals -- playing for Puerto Rico.
MLB Network will broadcast all 39 games in a tournament that opens in Asia on March 2 and closes with the semifinals and finals March 17-19 in San Francisco's AT&T Park.
Votto joins a Canadian roster that includes 12 players currently on Major League teams. The Canadians are in Arizona with Team USA, Mexico and Italy. That bracket opens play on March 7.
Team Canada will train for the Classic on the Reds side of the complex in Goodyear, Ariz., beginning March 4, but Votto will stay with the Reds at least until Canada's first official tournament game against Italy at Salt River Fields four days later. Like the other three teams in their bracket, the Canadians play exhibition games on March 5-6 against Major League teams in the Cactus League.
"They'll put me on the roster and we'll decide in the future based on what myself and the organization decides," Votto said Thursday. "The games will be able to tell me whether or not I'll be ready to go. All of this practicing is just practicing."
But Votto had four words to describe his current condition: "I feel very good."
There are strict rules, though, guiding replacement on the final 28-man rosters that are not comparable to postseason play in the Major Leagues. Only an injured catcher can be replaced in the same round. Injured position players and pitchers can only be replaced if a team ascends to the next round. Thus, aside from a catcher, any team must play short a player seriously injured within the same round.
So the Canadians have to be pretty certain that Votto will be able to play by the time the tournament begins.
"Joey is a big boy. Joey knows what's best for him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He also knows what's best for us. He's been in contact and communication with [general manager] Walt [Jocketty] and myself. Joey is also a kind of a private dude -- he's not going to tell you. You have to respect that. He'll let you know."
Japan won the first two Classics in 2006 and 2009 with right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka named tournament MVP on both occasions. The Japanese will enter this year's tournament without a Major League player on their roster. Korea, the loser to Japan in the '09 finals, also is without a big leaguer, although both teams have been practicing for weeks and again will be well prepared and fundamentally sound.
Cuba, the once unparalleled international baseball power, was clobbered in the 2006 finals by Japan and didn't make it out of the second round four years ago. The Cubans are back with their usual group of homegrown talent.
Japan and Cuba are joined by China and upstart Brazil in their first-round bracket from March 2-6 at Fukuoka, Japan. The other Asian bracket on the same dates is in Taichung, Taiwan, and includes the Koreans, Chinese Taipei, Australia and the Netherlands. The two winners from each of those brackets meet in Tokyo Dome from March 8-12.
Far, far away, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and newcomer Spain meet at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from March 7-10, the same dates as the Arizona bracket. The victors from those brackets meet on March 12-16 at Miami's Marlins Park.
The U.S. has never gotten as far as the finals, losing in the second round in '06 and in the semis to Japan at Dodger Stadium in '09. This time under Joe Torre, who is coming out of retirement to manage the team, at least making it the final game at AT&T Park is the goal, if not winning it all.
"Without a doubt, you get tired watching other countries playing on the last day of this thing," said Larry Bowa, the bench coach under Torre this year for the U.S. "When I was playing, if somebody asked me, I would have jumped at playing in this thing. I'm not just going there to hit fungoes. I want to win."
Around the diamond, the U.S. has a starting eight of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Mets third baseman David Wright, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, Rangers left-hander Derek Holland and Nationals left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler are anchoring the starting rotation with Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the same role heading up a deep 10-man bullpen.
Including Votto, the Canadian roster includes a lot of big league talent. Set for that squad is first baseman Justin Morneau of the Twins, newly signed catcher Russell Martin of the Pirates, closer John Axford of the Brewers, reliever Jesse Crain of the White Sox, outfielder Michael Saunders of the Mariners and third baseman Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays.
Ernie Whitt, an original member of the expansion Blue Jays in 1977, will manage the Canadians again and Morneau is slated to be with him for the third time. Witt has been Canada's manager perennially in the World Baseball Classic and Olympics.
"The popularity of baseball is growing in Canada, and I'm looking forward to playing in the World Baseball Classic again," Morneau said. "There's something special about representing everyone back home and proving that Canadian baseball is among the world's best."
The Dominicans, like the U.S., has a roster complete with current Major Leaguers and one free agent -- closer Jose Valverde, the former Tiger who is still unsigned and a late add to the team. Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, Padres starter Edinson Volquez and Rays closer Fernando Rodney are also on the roster.
The distribution of talent is going to make it a tough tournament, Torre said.
"Japan is two-time champs and you know that the Dominican is going to be very strong," he said. "I know Robby Cano is going to be playing second base and that scares me coming right out of the box. It's going to be a very good club. Venezuela is also going to be good and strong, and of course, the Asian countries will be well-represented. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be an exciting time."