Matt Kemp #42 of the Colorado Rockies hits a homerun against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on August 28, 2020 in Denver, Colo.
While baseball is back on the Olympic program this summer in Tokyo for the first time since 2008, USA Baseball doesn’t have a spot locked up yet.
That process begins this week as 28 players hoping to represent the United States will gather for a training camp. Following camp, a 26-player roster will be named May 30 to compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Americas Olympic Baseball Qualifier in Florida. Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles Angels from 2000-18, will be the U.S. skipper.
Who is on the roster?
Since the Major League Baseball season is in full swing, no current big leaguers were invited to this week’s camp. However, several household names who are either retired or still looking for a chance are among the 28 players.
Headlining that group is former National League MVP runner-up Matt Kemp and a pitcher who has authored two no-hitters, Homer Bailey. Catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Todd Frazier and pitchers Edwin Jackson and David Robertson are other former All-Stars who are in camp. They are all at least 35 years old.
On the other side of the spectrum, several key prospects also received invites. Among them are four who are in Baseball America’s top-100 list: St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Matthew Liberatore (No. 38), Boston Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas (No. 39), Toronto Blue Jays right hander Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 58) and Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran (No. 90).
One other noteworthy name is Eddy Alvarez. An infield prospect in the Miami Marlins organization, Alvarez has already appeared in the Olympic Games — as a speedskater. He won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Games in the 5,000-meter relay, then switched to his baseball career as an undrafted free agent. He made his MLB debut in 2020 and is currently at Triple-A.
USA Baseball could only choose from players not on MLB 40-man rosters.
Who does the U.S. face?
The U.S. is ranked No. 2 in the world, according to the WBSC rankings. Japan is No. 1. In the Americas Qualifier, the U.S. is in Group A and opens against 15th-ranked Nicaragua on May 31 at Port St. Lucie, Florida. On June 1, the Americans take on the 10th-ranked Dominican Republic at West Palm Beach, Florida, and then square off against 11th-ranked Puerto Rico on June 2 at Port St. Lucie.
The other four-team group is comprised of No. 7 Cuba, No. 8 Venezuela, No. 13 Canada and No. 14 Colombia. The top two teams from each group advance to the Super Round on June 4-5.
Records from group play will be combined with the Super Round to determine which team wins the qualifier and advances to Tokyo.
What happens next?
Host Japan as well as South Korea, Mexico and Israel have already qualified for the Olympic tournament. Mexico beat the U.S. 3-2 in 10 innings in the bronze-medal game at the 2019 WBSC Premier12 tournament to qualify for Tokyo.
If the U.S. wins the Americas Qualifier, it would be one of the six nations that will compete for gold in the Olympic Games. If the U.S. does not win the qualifier, there is one more chance to head to Tokyo.
The second- and third-place finishers at the Americas Qualifier will advance to the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier next month in Mexico. The six-team tournament also includes Taiwan, Australia, Netherlands and China. The Final Qualifier had been scheduled for Taiwan, but a COVID-19 outbreak there forced the move to Mexico. Dates and sites have not been finalized.
What is the future of Olympic baseball?
Tokyo marks the end of a 13-year absence for baseball in the Olympic program. In the 2008 Beijing Games, the U.S. won a bronze medal, beating Japan 9-4. South Korea beat Cuba 3-2 for the gold medal.
But baseball is not scheduled for inclusion in the 2024 Paris Games. In 2028, when the Games return to U.S. in Los Angeles, baseball could return to the program since the host country can pick certain sports to include, like Japan did for baseball in 2020.
The World Baseball Classic, created to help get the sport reinstated as a full-time Olympic sport, was not held this year due to the pandemic. The U.S. won the last WBC in 2017.