The fifth rendition of the World Baseball Classic will commence this spring. Kevin Gausman and Kyle Freeland will represent the United States in 2023, while also serving as ambassadors for the state of Colorado.
How deep is the talent pool in their home state?
What if Colorado actually fielded a team?
2023 World Baseball Classic: “Team Colorado”
- Active players only
- Must have attended high school in Colorado
Here we go.
As a means to create a team that features ‘true’ Colorado representation, only players that played high school baseball in the Centennial State have been deemed eligible for this roster. This rule would not be the case for the actual World Baseball Classic, as citizenship requirements would permit a player like the Colorado-born but Kansas-raised Will Brennan to take the field with Colorado.
(The above roster features players that would likely accept a Colorado invite over a roster spot with another state, that is.)
On this squad, 17 of the 26 players have MLB experience. The entire 14-player pitching staff is included on that list of 17.
Elevation is not a pitcher’s friend — unless it can be used for validation.
A great body of work by a Colorado pitcher will suggest the following: “If they can do it there, just imagine what they can do at sea level!”
Those same words are not favorable for hitters. Proving yourself at the plate is even more difficult when more is already expected (while playing in Colorado).
This should not dismiss Colorado hitters, of course — nor is it meant to dispel future effort — but it perhaps explains why this squad is so pitcher-heavy. It’s easier to stand out as a prospect when elevation is seen as adversity rather than assistance.
Roster Breakdown: Pitchers
Gausman and Freeland stand as two headliners on this squad. Both were first-round draft selections; joining them in a starting rotation would be fellow first-rounders David Peterson, one of the most scouted left-handers in Colorado history, and Marco Gonzales, a four-time state champion at Rocky Mountain High School (2007-10).
The first round of the actual World Baseball Classic calls for a four-man rotation. Ty Blach made one start and 23 relief appearances in 2022, but as a former Opening Day starter, he’s one of the more proven options if an extra is needed.
The remainder of the pitching staff has traditionally worked in relief, most noted by four-time All-Star Mark Melancon. All but two pitchers are from greater Denver, while two hail from the Fort Collins area.
Roster Breakdown: Position Players
Bobby Dalbec and David Bote are justifiable staples atop a starting lineup, while current free agent Greg Bird also stands as one of the more seasoned hitters on the squad. (Bird would also reunite with high school teammate Gausman.)
Without a surplus of big league-experienced hitters, we then enter the minor league phase of the roster. Here are the prospects to follow:
Most of the high schools covered on this roster are “5A” schools, the largest designation by the Colorado High School Activities Association. Outfielders Devlin Granberg and Grant Witherspoon provide two exceptions, playing at the “4A” or “3A” level and progressing in successful careers beyond.
Catcher Casey Opitz, no stranger to the College World Series and large SEC crowds, presents a commendable body of work at just 24 years old. Another 24-year-old catcher, Maverick Handley, features a deep collegiate resume of his own as a product of the Pac-12.
Quin Cotton, a former Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Grand Canyon, joins the outfield mix alongside Tanner O’Tremba, a frequent visitor at the College World Series between his time at both Texas Tech and Arizona. Joining them is Justin Boyd, the highest draftee among position players and one of the youngest players on the team.
A 10th-round-or-beyond infielder will need to cover at least one starting spot. Chris Givin and Jack Winkler are notable options under those parameters, each able to work along a standard mix of Dalbec, Bote and Bird.
Everybody... left the state?
Of the 26 players on this roster, two of them turned pro out of high school.
Of the 24 remaining, all of them attended college outside of Colorado.
The state has only two NCAA Division I programs: Northern Colorado and Air Force. If that number rivaled a state like Indiana (10 Division I’s), one could imagine there would be a bigger talent pool where in-state tuition could fuel Colorado dreams of college athletics.
The Division II presence is significant, but the collective scene is far from what it could be. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University are both without NCAA-affiliated teams, while CU is the only school in the Pac-12 without a baseball team. (If Deion Sanders could play football and baseball, can he coach both too?)
This squad would need a manager, of course. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, alum of both Wasson High School (Colorado Springs) and CSU Pueblo, stands as a pretty solid candidate.
Cherry Creek High School graduate Brad Lidge, a two-time All-Star, won the 2008 World Series with the Phillies while finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting. Should there be a need for a manager or pitching coach, Lidge would present one of the deeper resumes.
This comes with huge respect to the late Roy Halladay, of course. A graduate of Arvada West High School, Halladay was a two-time Cy Young winner and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For more direct coaching experience, it may be tough to overlook Walt Weiss, current bench coach of the Atlanta Braves, former manager of the Rockies and former head coach at Regis Jesuit. (Weiss was born in New York, however.) Other candidates could include Mark Johnson, the current head coach at Cherry Creek and the all-time wins leader among Colorado high school coaches.
Let’s face it: if this team actually did suit up for the World Baseball Classic, they probably wouldn’t compete with the likes of Team USA, Puerto Rico or Venezuela.
In a fantasy world where all 50 states entered competition, however, the state of Colorado has a pitching staff that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Team USA will begin the quest for back-to-back WBC titles on March 11 – while Gausman and Freeland will bring a small piece of this roster to life.