03/05/09 4:37 PM ET
Plenty of big names highlight Pool D
Dominicans, Puerto Ricans favored at Hiram Bithorn Stadium
By Will Gonzalez / Special to MLB.com
The stadium, built in 1962 and the host of numerous winter baseball games, and the home of the Montreal Expos for 22 games in each of the 2003 and '04 seasons, hosted first- and second-round action during the inaugural Classic in '06.
Host Puerto Rico will square off against Panama on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET to complete the first day of action at the venue with the most Caribbean flavor in this version of the Classic.
Following is a look at the four teams in Pool D:
With or without Alex Rodriguez, the Dominican team is loaded with talent.
The players on the Dominican squad lead Pool D in terms of combined All-Star appearances (31), Cy Young Award winners (3) and Silver Slugger trophies (11).
A young rotation of Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto,and Ubaldo Jimenez head a pitching staff that features likely future Angels closer Jose Arredondo and veteran Pedro Martinez.
Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada give the Dominicans slick fielding and solid hitting. David Ortiz, Moises Alou and Jose Guillen give it a lot of power.
Felipe Alou has taken his first managing job in the Classic with vigor and is determined to make up for the Dominican's loss to Cuba in the semifinals of the 2006 Classic.
Home-field advantage, plus good players, should help Puerto Rico to advance to the next round.
Puerto Rico has the strongest catching core in the tournament with Geovanny Soto, Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez. That guidance from behind the plate could make a solid starting rotation of Jonathan Sanchez, Ian Snell and Javier Vazquez even better. The bullpen, led by J.C. Romero, Pedro Feliciano and Saul Rivera, is strong, although lacking a true Major League closer.
Puerto Rico will have power from the bats of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rios, and situational hitting thanks to Mike Aviles, Molina and Soto.
Beltran, Rios and Hiram Bocachica give Puerto Rico great outfield coverage.
Delgado, Bernie Williams and Alex Cora provide veteran leadership.
Carlos Lee, Carlos Ruiz and Manny Corpas headline a Panamanian team that, although not brimming with experienced Major League talent, could offer a surprise.
In the 2006 Classic, Cuba needed 11 innings to beat the Panamanians in the first round.
Ruiz caught all 11 innings against Cuba, giving early signs of the catcher he would later become for the 2008 World Series champion Phillies.
Lee is looking to make up for his .182 average with no RBIs in the first Classic.
Corpas is in shape to take over as the Rockies' closer and will give Team Panama great protection if they take a lead late into a game.
Pitchers Bruce Chen and Ramiro Mendoza and first baseman Julio Zuleta also have Major League experience.
Only 11 players on the Dutch roster are affiliated with a Major League team.
Pitcher Sydney Ponson and first baseman Randal Simon are the two Dutch players with the most experience in the Majors, but they are not currently affiliated with a big league organization. Both are looking to make an impression in the Classic and raise interest in their services.
Right-hander Rick VandenHurk, 23, has the stuff to threaten to crack the Marlins' rotation sometime this season. He should greatly benefit from working with his childhood idol, Bert Blyleven, the pitching coach for the Netherlands.
Netherlands manager Rod Delmonico, the winningest coach in University of Tennessee baseball history, will attempt to guide his team to an upset win in the Classic.
Will Gonzalez is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.