2017 World Baseball Classic Chinese Taipei Preview

By Josh Inglis and Brandon DuBreuil

The 2017 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) World Baseball Classic squad will begin pool play in South Korea on Tuesday, March 7 (local time, which will be March 6th in the USA) against Team Israel. It will have a day off on Wednesday, then face the Netherlands on Thursday, March 9, followed by its final Pool A matchup on Friday, March 10. All games will be played at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. The top two teams of the pool will move on to Round 2 at the Tokyo Dome.

The Taiwanese flag. (The Oliver Photo)

Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) enters the WBC ranked 4th in the world and expectations are always high in this baseball-loving country. But the fact of the matter is that this year's version of the national team isn't as talented as it could be, and getting out of a very competitive Pool A is going to be a tall task.

Due to political reasons, Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is boycotting the national baseball federation and this year's WBC, leaving the decision to each team as to whether to send its players. Three of the four teams allowed their players to go, while the Lamigo Monkeys barred its athletes from representing the nation, meaning phenom outfielder Wang Po-Jung will not be in the lineup. In addition, many of the country's top pitchers, including Chen Wei-Yin (Miami Marlins) and Wang Chien-Ming (free agent) are not participating.

Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) has nonetheless managed to put together a veteran-laden squad that should be competitive in each of its three round-robin games. The lineup from top to bottom is potent, and if the bats get hot this team could be good enough to make a run in the 2017 WBC.


The Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) team split a two-game series versus the Cuban national team in WBC warm-ups on Feb. 20 and 21. Taiwan dropped the first game 6-2 but redeemed itself with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory in the second game. The exhibition games give us an insight into what manager Kuo Tai-Yuan might go with in terms of a starting lineup when the tournament kicks off.


  1. Hu Chin-Lung (DH) R
  2. Chang Chih-Hao (LF) L
  3. Chiang Chih-Hsien (3B) L
  4. Lin Chih-Sheng (2B) R
  5. Lin Yi-Chuan (1B) R
  6. Kao Kuo-Hui (RF) R
  7. Wang Sheng-Wei R / Chen Yung-Chi (SS) R
  8. Cheng Da-Hong (C) L
  9. Lin Che-Hsuan (CF) R


Kuo is an old-school manager who might prefer a more balanced lineup in terms of righties and lefties, but the order above is the most potent the national squad can pencil in.  


While Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is missing some key bats because of the Monkeys’ boycott, the lineup is still laced with veteran hitters. MLB fans will recognize former Dodgers and Mets infielder Hu Chin-Lung (Fubon Guardians) and perhaps Lin Che-Hsuan (Fubon Guardians), who had a cup of coffee with the Red Sox. Chiang (Chinatrust Brothers) and Kao (Fubon Guardians) both played in the high minors.

Chiang Chih-Hsien after an exhibition home run. (The Oliver Photo)


The one thing this team should be able to do is hit for power, especially in the heart of the order. Chiang, Lin, Lin and Kao, the three-through-six hitters, combined for 115 home runs in the CPBL last season. This part of the order is by far the greatest strength of the squad and if they aren't hitting, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is in big trouble.


With most of the batters being middle-of-the-order hitters on their respective CPBL squads, the team lacks a traditional speed aspect. However, with the team’s ability to hit for contact throughout the order, the Taiwanese national team might play a more aggressive hit-and-run style to compensate. This team will not be playing “small ball”, or at least it shouldn’t be.


Defensively, what the infield lacks in speed and range it makes up for in chemistry. The double-play tandem of Wang and Lin play together for the Chinatrust Brothers, as does third baseman Chiang.


The outfield is led by uber-athlete Lin Che-Hsuan in centerfield while Chang Chih-Hao (Chinatrust Brothers), who is also an everyday centerfielder, moves over to the left side. Right field will be something to keep an eye on, as Kao Kuo-Hui is known more for his bat than his glove and DH’d in a quarter of his games in 2016.


The WBC pitching rules will play a huge factor in the team’s usage of its staff. With pitchers limited to 65 pitches per game in Round 1, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is going to need some efficient pitching due to its lack of depth at the position.


Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) has two solid starters in Chen Kuan-Yu (Chiba Lotte Marines) and Kuo Chun-Lin (Seibu Lions), both of whom pitch in Japan's NPB. Chen started the first game of the two-game set versus Cuba and threw three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit. Taiwan will have one-and-a-half days off between Games 1 and 3, so it will be interesting to see if the management decides to let Game 1’s starter toe the rubber in Game 3, assuming he doesn't exceed 50 pitches. But realistically, the team will likely use Chen and Kuo in its first two games and perhaps start Pan Wei-Lun (Uni Lions) in Game 3. Pan started the second exhibition game versus Cuba and threw two innings, giving up two unearned runs on two hits, punching out two. The right-hander is known for his pinpoint control, and he only walked three batters over 52.1 innings in 2016 for the CPBL’s Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions.


Kuo Chin-Lin. (The Oliver Photo)


But after the starters, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) could be in trouble as there are big question marks in the bullpen. With the pitching limits in place, the team will really need a few guys to fill middle-innings roles, and the first man Manager Kuo turns to could be former Detroit Tigers loogy Ni Fu-Te (Fubon Guardians). Other candidates to eat up innings include former Minnesota Twins farmhand Lo Kuo-Hua, who gave up a hit and a walk in his 0.2 innings versus Cuba, and minor leaguer Chiang Shao-Ching (Cleveland Indians), who wasn't used in the two-game set but will likely be relied upon in Korea.


Working the ninth will be Chen Hung-Wen (Chinatrust Brothers). He closes out games for the Brothers and actually went 9-2 in 2016not good for a closerwhile saving 15 games and blowing eight more in 61 innings of action. Inconsistent is a good word to describe him.


Chen Hung-Wen. (The Oliver Photo)


Here’s a quick look at what Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is up against in the round robin of Round 1.


Israel
Former Colorado Rockies 2009 All-Star pitcher Jason Marquis will start Game 1 for the Israeli national team, likely leaving RHP Corey Baker to draw the start against Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).


Baker tossed five shutout innings against Brazil in the WBC qualifiers back in September, allowing one hit, three walks and striking out six in a 1-0 Israel win. Baker, who reached Triple-A in 2016 with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, has a fastball that sits around 90 mph, a good changeup that he can throw in any count, and a plus sinker that can miss bats. He also has a slider which he can throw to righties.


Even if the Taiwanese batters can chase Baker, they will still have to deal with some serious relievers in 2013 World Series champion LHP Craig Breslow (Miami Marlins) and former Houston Astros RHP Josh Zeid.


If Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) can solve the Israeli pitching, they have a probable shot at starting the tournament at 1-0. Expect Chen Kuan-Yu to draw the start on the mound.


Netherlands


The 2013 WBC semifinalist is loaded with talent throughout its roster. With MLB players like 3B Xander Bogaerts (Boston Red Sox), SS Andrelton Simmons (L.A. Angels), 2B Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore Orioles), LF Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers), UTIL Didi Gregorius (New York Yankees) and NPB single-season home run record holder Wladimir Balentien (Tokyo Yakult Swallows), this team might be considered the favorite to win Pool A.


As MLB’s Jon Paul Morosi wrote earlier last week, this Dutch infield is a serious strength and it may be one of the best in the entire tournament. It has two Gold Glove Awards at shortstop, a 2016 MLB All-Star with two Silver Slugger awards at third, and a second baseman who hit 25 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles last season. Add in an internationally experienced Curt Smith (Lincoln Saltdogs) at first and you have a squad that can put up crooked numbers at the plate and keep runs off the board with their gloves.


Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and the Netherlands are very familiar with each other in senior-level competition. They met in the last WBC group stage, where Chinese Taipei won 8-3, and again in the 2015 Premier12 in Taiwan. This time, the Netherlands was victorious by a score of 7-4 in front of 16,000 Taiwanese fans. Diegomar Markwell (Curacao Neptunas) started for the Netherlands, but Shairon Martis (Lincoln Saltdogs) got the win. Both of those pitchers will be in Korea next week.


Another storyline here is with former MLB pitcher and 2011 NL All-Star Jair Jurrjens (free agent). The former Atlanta Brave and native of Curacao pitched in the CPBL in 2016 for the Uni Lions. The right-hander went 6-7 with a 5.38 ERA over 17 starts before a lower-body injury put him on the shelf and he was eventually released in late July.


Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) will have to play flawless baseball to get a win against the much favored Dutch squad, but this should be an exciting match. Look for Kuo Chun-Lin to toe the rubber.


South Korea


South Korea, much like Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), is missing much of its top-end talent in MLBers Jung-Ho Kang (Pittsburgh Pirates), Hyun-Soo Kim (Baltimore Orioles), Byung-Ho Park (Minnesota Twins), Hyun-Jin Ryu (L.A. Dodgers) and Shin-Soo Choo (Texas Rangers). But the “Blue Goblins” will have help from St. Louis Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh and former Seattle Mariners 1B/DH Dae-Ho Lee (Lotte Giants), not to mention a plethora of stars from the local KBO who have helped this team reach the World No. 3 ranking. Make no mistake, this is an international powerhouse with recent wins at the 2014 Asian Games and the 2015 Premier12. Along with the Dutch, South Korea is a co-favorite to advance to Tokyo.


The fact that these two teams play in the final round-robin game makes it interesting, as it is entirely possible that one, or both, of the teams have already either qualified for Round 2 or been eliminated altogether. This makes predicting starting pitchers and lineups next to impossible, however, we think Pan Wei-Lun will get the start for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).

Pan Wei-Lun. (The Oliver Photo)

Pool A kicks off the WBC on March 6 and it has the potential to be the most intriguing of all the groups. World No. 3 South Korea and No. 4 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) would usually be the favorites to move on, but both teams come into the tournament undermanned. The Netherlands, with the best infield in the entire tournament, has just as good of a chance to advance as anyone. And don't count out Israel either, as it looks to be the Cinderella team of the tournament.

Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) enters the tournament with a veteran squad and some big bats. It'll have to ride its offense if it hopes to win two or more games and get to Tokyo. Its pitching staff is a bit of a question mark, especially in the bullpen. So is the infield defense. The offense will need to put up runs if it wants to move on. While a third-place finish is the most likely scenario for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Pool A is wide open. If the bats get rolling, this team could hit itself to Tokyo.

Comments

  1. Any insight on DPP'ers Wang Cheng-Hao, Wu Chun-Chieh, and Yang Chien-Fu? I can't find any 2016 stats for these guys.

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  2. Yang Chien-Fu(Former EDA pitcher NO.46) was not in CPBL last year. He joined Ehime Mandarin Pirates(Shikoku Island League, an independent league in Japan). This year he was signed by Uni-Lions.

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  3. Thanks! I see that he was 2-2 with 6 saves and a 2.53 ERA in the Shikoku Island League. Any idea on Wang Cheng-Hao or Wu Chun-Chieh?

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  4. I think Wang Cheng-Hao was in the CTBA/Popcorn League playing for the Coral...not sure though.

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  6. In its 2017 Classic opener, Chinese Taipei will send right-hander Chun-Lin Kuo to the mound. I hope I will enjoy the baseball game.

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