Premier12 and Olympic Champions Japan clear favourites in Group B of the World Baseball Classic

Premier12 and Olympic Champions Japan clear favourites in Group B of the World Baseball Classic
Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani leads a roster loaded with talent. Korea relies on middle infield talent. Australia thinks doing the "little things" right may prove the secret to advance. China and Czechia will try to surprise.

Group B of the World Baseball Classic has a clear favourite, World No. 1 Japan, the defending Premier12 and Olympic champions.

Samurai Japan will debut on Thursday, 9 March, at 19:00 (local time) against World No. 30 China. They will be preceded by the game between No. 3 Korea and No. 10 Australia. Group B also includes No. 15 Czechia.


Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who dominated the inaugural WBSC Premier12 hitters, started hitting home runs in exhibition games.

Ohtani is the player to watch on a stellar roster. He's everybody's pick for MVP honours. Still, he is not the ace on a Japanese pitching staff counting on 2008 Beijing Olympian and 2009 World Baseball Classic winner Yu Darvish, young phenoms, and WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup alumni Roki Sasaki and Hiroya Miyagi. It's hard to find weaknesses in Japan's roster. Despite losing Premier12 2019 MVP Seiya Suzuki to an injury, Samurai Japan will count on massive offensive power in Tokyo 2020 gold medallists Munetaka Murakami and Tetsuto Yamada. Lars Nootbaar of Major League Baseball's (MLB) St. Louis Cardinals, the first player to represent Japan without Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) experience, will provide extra defensive talent in the outfield.

Korea decided to open camp in the United States in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. So far, the trip back to Korea has been the only setback in the training period, with the flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles grounded due to an aeroplane issue.

Premier12 alum and Beijing 2008 gold medal winner Hwang-Hyun Kim leads a pitching staff that is not quite as deep as Japan's. The middle infield looks like Korea's strength with shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, a Premier12 2019 star, and MLB's gold glove second baseman Tommy Edman. Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) league 2022 MVP Jung-Hoo Lee, a Premier12 2019 star and a Tokyo 2020 Olympian, is another player to watch.
During warm-up games, Korea's run production has not impressed.

Australia spent nine days in Fuchu City, Japan, preparing the team for the tournament.
Manager David Nilsson said on Baseball Australia's website that he worked on "the little things". He added: "That's the difference between a win and a loss".

Centre fielder Aaron Whitefield, a Premier12 2019 star, and right-handed pitcher Warwick Saupold are the players with the most MLB experience on the roster.

Kansas City Royals prospect Robbie Glendinning is another player to watch. The best Australian Baseball League (ABL) players, including the Championship Series MVP Jordan McArdle, are on the roster.

China has participated in all editions of the World Baseball Classic, and shortstop Ray Chang has witnessed all of them. Alan Carter plays for the Los Angeles Angels at the minor league level, and reliever Kwon Ju plays for KBO's KT Wiz. Outfielder Yusuke Masago plays for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of NPB.

Absolute beginners Czechia have only one player who doesn't compete in the local Extra Liga. Eric Sogard has appeared in 815 MLB games from 2010 to 2021. WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup star Wojtech Mensik is a player to watch.

The top two finishers will advance to the quarterfinals and play against the first and second-place teams of Group A. Group B second place will face Group A first place on 15 March, while Group A second place will play Group B first place on 16 March.