USA announce Olympic Roster

July 16th, 2008

After 2008 MLB All Star Games, USA Baseball announce the 23 of the 24 members of its 2008 Olympic Baseball Team.

The team features 12 pitchers and 11 position players. The 24th member of the Olympic Team will be named in the coming days, ahead of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad’s (BOCOG) July 22 cut-off date.

“We are proud of the ballclub we have assembled,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler. “The team is strong from top to bottom, and we are confident it will succeed in Beijing. We applaud our coaching staff and selection committee for their tireless work in putting together an excellent team.”

The initial 23-member roster includes Cleveland Indians OF Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.). LaPorta was recently dealt by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Cleveland Indians as the key piece of a trade that brought 2007 A.L. Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee. Baseball America currently ranks LaPorta as the top prospect in Cleveland’s farm system, and the outfield slugger was also a member of the 2005 USA Baseball National Team (Collegiate).

One special name show up at the list too, and San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, who pitched for USA Baseball’s college national team this summer, went 3-0, 1.33 for that club, striking out 40 and walking four in 27 innings, is the ONLY collegiate player at the final roster.

As a sophomore at San Diego State, Strasburg established himself as the top prospect for the 2009 draft, going 8-3, 1.57 and posting a 133-16 strikeout-walk ledger in 97 innings. He allowed only one home run as he commanded a mid-to-high 90s fastball that regularly hit 99 mph and a power slider.

Strasburg made national headlines this year following a 23-strikeout performance against Utah on April 11, 2008, that was part of a breakthrough sophomore campaign. The 19-year-old righty, who turns 20 on Sunday, is currently anchoring the pitching staff on the 2008 USA Baseball National Team. The team of collegiate all-stars is fresh off a first-place finish at Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands, which included two victories over the Cuban National Team.

“Our reports from (Team USA college national general manager) Eric Campbell were very good. He was on our radar before this summer. He throws high 90s and he throws strikes. He pounds the strike zone awfully good and he was lights out in the tournament. He’s one of my starters,” Team USA manager Davey Johnson said.

Not only prospect and collegiate player, the Olympic Team is laden with veteran talent — 14 players are currently playing at the Triple-A. Seven players are in Double-A, one in Class A and one at the collegiate level.

Bob Watson, USA Baseball General Manager of Professional Teams said that they were looking for a roster of experienced players.

“We knew going in that we wanted a veteran club, a team of guys who have been battle-tested, so to speak,” Watson said. “But we wanted younger prospects as well, guys with the fire to go out and showcase their talents on the international stage.”

The lineup also features several Triple-A veterans with some big league experience, such as corner infielder Terry Tiffee (Dodgers), who’s hitting .393 to lead the Pacific Coast League; third baseman Mike Hessman (Tigers), whose 30 homers rank second in the minors; outfielder John Gall (Marlins), a veteran of the college national team from his college days at Stanford; and righhanders Mike Koplove (Dodgers) and Blaine Neal (Tigers).

Power arms is easy to see at this roster.

Power arms have proven vital for Team USA in past international tournaments, including recent gold-medal victories in the 2007 World Cup and 2006 Olympic qualifier. Strasburg has the biggest arm on the roster but not the only one, as a quartet of young starters likely will join him in the rotation: Athletics farmhands Brett Anderson, a lefthander, and Trevor Cahill, a righthander, along with Orioles righthander Jake Arrieta and White Sox lefthander Clayton Richard. All four pitched well in Sunday’s Futures Game, as did reliever Casey Weathers (Rockies), who competes with Strasburg for the title of the team’s hardest thrower. He topped out at 98 mph in the Futures Game.

For the bullpen, Johnson has difference view and idea.

Johnson said that he plans to divide his bullpen into two sections. While the closer, which could be Weathers or Indians righthander Jeff Stevens, will pitch whenever needed, the rest of the bullpen will likely be divided into pitchers who are used every other day. Righthander Brandon Knight, a pitcher with experience pitching in Japan, will likely serve as a long reliever while also giving the bullpen some experience.

“That’s how I’ve always done it,” Johnson said. “Relievers are setup to pitch every other day. You want to give them a day’s rest. If you have a great (group) a and (group) b you always send a guy up there that is pretty fresh.”

Manager and coach is also one of the best.

The 2008 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team will be led by Manager Davey Johnson (Winter Park, Fla.). Johnson returns to USA Baseball on the heels of a gold medal-winning performance last November at the 2007 IBAF Baseball World Cup in Taiwan. That team included All-Star Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as two players named to the Olympic roster: St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Colby Rasmus (Columbus, Ga.) and Cleveland Indians right-handed pitcher Jeff Stevens (Berkeley, Calif.).

Johnson will be joined by the same coaches he has worked with at USA Baseball since the 2005 IBAF Baseball World Cup. Marcel Lachemann (Penryn, Calif.) is the team’s pitching coach, and Reggie Smith (Woodland Hills, Calif.) will act as the hitting coach. Third-base coach Rick Eckstein (Sanford, Fla.) and auxiliary coaches Dick Cooke (Davidson, N.C.) and Rolando de Armas (Palm Harbor, Fla.) round out the staff.

“We have an unbelievable coaching staff,” said Johnson, who in addition to his international accomplishments, also achieved wide-spread success as player and coach in the big leagues, including leading the 1986 New York Mets to a World Series title.

“We have worked together for over three years now and across several international tournaments. With the staff’s help, I think we achieved the well-balanced lineup that is critical for Olympic success.”

USA Baseball alumni is easy to see at the roster.

In addition to LaPorta, Strasburg, Rasmus, and Stevens, the Olympic Team also features five other USA Baseball alumni: Oakland Athletics left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson (Midland, Tex.; 2005 18U, 2004 16U), Baltimore Orioles right-handed pitcher Jake Arietta (Farmington, Mo.; 2006 National), Florida Marlins outfielder John Gall (Stanford, Calif.; 1998-99 National), Texas Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden (Dallas, Tex.; 2004 National), and Colorado Rockies right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers (Elk Grove, Calif.; 2006 National).

LaPorta, Anderson, Arietta, Teagarden and Weathers were also members of the 2008 XM Future Stars USA Team during Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend. The game, which saw the U.S. fall to the World Team 3-0, acted as an Olympic Trials event for Johnson and his staff. Trevor Cahill (Oceanside, Calif.), Jason Donald (Fresno, Calif.), Dexter Fowler (Atlanta, Ga.) and Clayton Richard (Lafayette, Ind.) were also members of the Futures Team who are on the Olympic roster.

For a team who lead by Tommy Lasorda and featuring Ben Sheets and Roy Oswalt to won the gold medal over Cuba in Sydney 2000, they rather not to think about other Olympics, include finished fourth (Barcelona, 1992), third (bronze, Atlanta, 1996) and did not qualify for the Athens Games in 2004.

And one question remain.

With only 23 players named, Team USA still has one spot left open. General manager Bob Watson said that they hope to fill the final roster spot shortly. The roster doesn’t have to be officially finalized until July 22. And with trades and callups still on the horizon, it is possible that some of the players named today will not be headed to Beijing.

“The trading deadline is July 31,” Watson said. “Just like Matt was traded from Milwaukee to Cleveland, we have some players who might be included in one or more deals. We just hope the club who is getting the player will have the mentality to let us have him, like Cleveland has with Matt.”

Below is the roster list

Name Pos B/T Ht. Wt. Hometown
Anderson, Brett P L/L 6-4 215 Midland, TX
Arrieta, Jake P R/R 6-4 225 Farmington, MO
Barden, Brian IF R/R 5-11 185 Templeton, CA
Brown, Matthew IF R/R 6-0 200 Bellevue, WA
Cahill, Trevor P R/R 6-3 195 Oceanside, CA
Donald, Jason IF R/R 6-1 190 Fresno, CA
Espineli, Geno P L/L 6-4 195 Houston, TX
Fowler, Dexter OF S/R 6-4 175 Atlanta, GA
Gall, John OF R/R 6-0 195 Stanford, CA
Hessman, Mike IF R/R 6-5 215 Fountain Valley, CA
Jepsen, Kevin P R/R 6-3 215 Anaheim, CA
Knight, Brandon P L/R 6-0 195 Oxnard, CA
Koplove, Mike P R/R 6-0 160 Philadelphia, PA
LaPorta, Matt OF R/R 6-2 210 Port Charlotte, FL
Marson, Lou C R/R 6-1 200 Scottsdale, AZ
Neal, Blaine P L/R 6-5 240 Marlton, NJ
Rasmus, Colby OF L/L 6-2 195 Columbus, GA
Richard, Clayton P L/L 6-5 240 Lafayette, IN
Stevens, Jeff P R/R 6-2 205 Berkeley, CA
Strasburg, Stephen P R/R 6-5 215 San Diego, CA
Teagarden, Taylor C R/R 6-1 200 Dallas, TX
Tiffee, Terry IF S/R 6-3 215 North Little Rock, AR
Weathers, Casey P R/R 6-1 200 Elk Grove, CA

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