3) Yulieski Gourriel, Cuba.
Think Jeter at age 24 with more power. Gourriel, then 21, was one of the most exciting players from the inaugural WBC, drawing rave reviews from major league players who saw him for the first time. The infielder would be a top 10 pick if placed in the First-Year Player Draft.
4) Pitching decisions.
The double-elimination format makes every game meaningful, and rids us of the silliness of the runs-allowed tiebreaker that helped the U.S. advance last time instead of Canada, even though Canada beat the U.S. Canada manager Ernie Whitt has a curious call to make on how he uses his pitching. Without Jeff Francis, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster and Phillippe Aumont, Whitt is left with Scott Richmond of the Blue Jays (five major-league starts) as his ace. Should Whitt use Richmond against the United States in the opener, or, assuming Canada gets by Italy in its second game, save him for a possible elimination game in his third game against the U.S. or Venezuela?
5) Pedro Luis Lazo, Cuba.
The big right-handed pitcher, known to conduct interviews with a cigar in his mouth, is 35 years old now, nearing the twilight of a prolific international career. He is Cuba's reliable troubleshooter, who can start, close and be available for anything in between. Lazo shut down the Dominican Republic in 2006 with 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief. Much of the core of the Cuban team is aging: Lazo, shortstop Eduardo Paret, 36, and energetic catcher Ariel Pestano, 35, who can't hit much but is the most expressive, talkative player you'll see in the tournament.
Part of the fun watching the Cuban team play baseball is the unorthodox manner in which they are managed. They have been known to warm up two pitchers before a game, leaving the opposing manager to guess who will be starting as he makes out a lineup card.
"One time we got the first three batters of the game on base against their starter," Johnson said, "and they pulled the pitcher. The guy hadn't even given up a run. They believe how you start off is what you're going to do. They don't give their pitchers any rope."
6) Yu Darvish, Japan.
The 22-year-old right-hander, who has a 48-19 career record, is gaining a reputation stateside as the next Daisuke Matsuzaka: possibly the next big thing to come out of Japan to the major leagues through the posting process. The Japanese team has the potential for dominant starting pitching, with Darvish, Matsuzaka, Masahiro Tanaka and Hisashi Iwakuma, who went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in Japan last year. The United States, however, hit Darvish well in the Olympics.
"I think we beat Darvish in the Olympics, didn't we?" Johnson said with a smile, knowing the answer full well. "His style is more like the American style. He's a power pitcher."
Pedro Martinez, Pudge Rodriguez, Moises Alou, Odalis Perez and perhaps even Bernie Williams are hoping to use the WBC to convince major-league teams they still have something to offer.
8) A-Rod vs. Jeter.
The U.S. could see the Dominican Republic in Miami in Round 2. Think the New York tabloids would be interested in this matchup?
9) Jeter or Jimmy Rollins?
On second thought, Johnson has a very tough call to make regarding his shortstops. He has decided that whoever starts will play the whole game; no splitting games. Per their preferences, Jeter started the exhibition game against his Yankees on Tuesday and Rollins started against his Phillies on Thursday. After that? It depends who is playing well. Johnson, remember, is the tough-minded hombre who as Orioles manager moved Cal Ripken from shortstop to third base to play Manny Alexander at short. Johnson will do whatever it takes to win. Every indication from his players has been that they, too, will do likewise. Mets star David Wright, for instance, told Johnson he'd hit ninth with no problem if that's what the manager wanted.
10) Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes?
Dominican Republic manager Felipe Alou has a similar quandary with his shortstops. To play both in the same lineup would mean playing DH David Ortiz at first base or playing one of them out of position. There is a reason why the Dominicans, even without Albert Pujols, are considered by some to be favorites to win the WBC: they are stacked with offense. Also, they might wind up with as deep a bullpen as the Americans, being able to call on Jose Arredondo, Damaso Marte, Juan Cruz and Rafael Perez.