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02/24/09 8:15 PM EST

Dangerous Pool D has DR, Puerto Rico

New double-elimination format should benefit these top contenders

Compare the World Baseball Classic's four groups, and it becomes evident that Group D could be the most competitive.

Even with relative lightweights Panama and The Netherlands, this quartet is loaded with A-list Major League talent, most of it concentrated on the rosters for the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Both the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans were deeply disappointed by their 2006 Classic showings, not so much by how they did but what it got them.

Puerto Rico couldn't advance past Round 2 despite an overall 4-2 record, losing by a run to eventual finalist Cuba. The Dominican Republic, in a different pool in 2006, had even more remorse, knocked out in the semifinals despite a 5-2 record. (The finalists, Cuba and eventual champ Japan, both finished with 5-3 records.)

Thus the new double-elimination format should benefit both contenders. Although they were in different pools three years ago, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico did meet in a Round 2 game, with the latter scoring a decisive 7-1 victory.

The rematch should be memorable.

'06 result: Advanced to semifinals, lost to Cuba, 3-1
MLB players: 27, the full roster, including as-yet-unsigned free agents Juan Cruz and Alberto Castillo
Key players: Alex Rodriguez, who is changing his Classic allegiance from Team USA; Hanley Ramirez, probably the most athletic multiple threat on the field; Edinson Volquez, who can shut down lineups, especially when pitchers are ahead of the hitters

The D.R.'s roster has undergone quite a turnover from the '06 edition, which posted a second-best Classic record but fell victim to the round-robin format. Even though Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, Alfonso Soriano and Vladimir Guerrero are gone, the roster remains packed and is a definite threat for the title.

'06 result: 1-2, third place in Pool C
MLB players: 12, including unsigned free-agent righty Sidney Ponson

2009 Rosters

Key players: Rick VandenHurk, who has already made his presence felt with the Marlins; Randall Simon, as long as he stays away from those Dutch bratwursts; Ponson, finally pitching for the country that knighted him

Shairon Martis, who pitched the '06 Classic's lone no-hitter, against Panama, and Andruw Jones are both gone. Sir Sidney is about the only baseball royalty on this team, which again will have a difficult time getting out of pool play.

'06 result: 0-3, did not advance beyond Round 1
MLB players: 17
Key players: Carlos Lee, getting a jump-start on his comeback from a compound finger fracture; Manuel Corpas, the Rockies' workhorse reliever; Ramiro Mendoza, the former Yankees setup specialist who can still bring it

Lee, who missed the last two months of the season with his injury, will have to carry the offensive load for Panama. Again, Mariano Rivera has chosen to bypass the Classic. Most of the MLB players on the roster are Minor League prospects.

'06 result: 4-2, lost the Round 2 decider to Cuba, 4-3
MLB players: 23, including unsigned free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez
Key players: Rodriguez and Bernie Williams, a tandem of All-Stars hoping to revive their careers; Carlos Delgado, who was handcuffed by injury in the 2006 Classic before delivering a dramatic pinch single; Alexis Rios, potentially Puerto Rico's next national baseball hero

Baseball may have fallen on hard times in Puerto Rico, but this is a packed roster than could reignite a love affair with the game. We didn't even mention Carlos Beltran, Geovany Soto, and lefty relievers Javy Lopez and J.C. Romero. If the Dominicans are looking for a challenge, they've got it.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.