Puerto Rico faces stiff test in pool play

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Following Wednesday's 8-7 exhibition victory over the Minnesota Twins, Puerto Rico flew to San Juan, where it will open World Baseball Classic play against lightly-regarded Spain, which is making its first appearance in the Classic, at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on Friday at 6:30 p.m. locally/ 5:30 p.m. ET on a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes. 

Puerto Rico will have home-field advantage throughout what's arguably the toughest round-robin pool -- Pool C -- in the tournament. It will play Venezuela on Saturday evening and face the Dominican Republic, which is eager to avenge its opening-round elimination in 2009, on Sunday night.

Only the top two teams will advance to the next round.

Puerto Rico finished fifth overall in both the 2006 and '09 tournaments.

In the 2009 Classic, Puerto Rico went undefeated in the first round and routed Team USA, 11-1, in the opening game in round two. However, Puerto Rico lost to Venezuela, 2-0, and was beaten, 6-5 by the United States in the battle for a spot in the semifinals.

This time around, Team Puerto Rico includes proven Major League talent in the Molina brothers, catchers Yadier and Jose, as well as outfielders Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan and Alex Rios -- plus a lot of young players.

"The veteran players have done a terrific job getting the young guys to relax and open up and feel like they belong here," manager Edwin Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.