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Dodgers well represented in star-studded World Baseball Classic

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — World Baseball Classic rosters won’t be officially announced until Thursday evening, but based on the players already committed this will be the most star-studded WBC yet.

All top five finishers in National League MVP voting in 2022 are committed to play in the World Baseball Classic this year, and four of the top five in American League MVP voting will be there, too. In all, at least nine former MVPs have committed to the event, though Bryce Harper won’t play due to injury. Those former MVPs include Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Clayton Kershaw.

“To put all of those names in one tournament, it’s going to be a spectacle for the world,” said Julio Urías, who will pitch for Mexico.

Urías was on the preliminary roster for the 2017 WBC, part of the designated pitcher pool if Mexico advanced past pool play. But the Dodgers did not let Urías, then just 20 years old, compete in the tournament.

This year, the Dodgers front office gave the go-ahead for Urías, and a host of others.

“I don’t feel it’s my position to encourage or discourage any of these guys to play for their country,” manager Dave Roberts said Saturday. “That’s their personal decision.”

Dodgers pitchers and catchers with World Baseball Classic commitments have a first workout next Monday, February 13, three days before the other pitchers and catchers. WBC-bound position players report to Camelback Ranch by February 16, four days before the Dodgers’ first full-squad workout.

This is the first World Baseball Classic in six years, thanks in part to the 2021 tournament getting canceled due to COVID-19. Perhaps the anticipation of the event after waiting so long has fueled so many stars joining. Or maybe, after the first four WBCs proved compelling, esteem for the tournament has grown.

“There’s a lot more good players, the kind of guys who used to shy away from that,” said Freeman, first baseman for Canada. “We don’t get to play in the Olympics because it’s during our season, so it’s kind of like our little Olympics.”

In the 2017 event, four Dodgers on the 40-man roster played in the World Baseball Classic — Adrián González, Kenley Jansen, Enrique Hernández, and Rob Segedin.

This year, it looks like nine Dodgers could participate.

Betts is joining for the first time. Same for Kershaw, who called it a “huge honor” to be included.

“We’re all watching USA Soccer right now at the World Cup, and how special it is to wear that jersey, and how many people can get behind that,” Kershaw said in December.

Freeman, whose mother was born in Toronto and father born in Windsor, also played for Canada in 2017. “I’ll continue to play it as long as I can put my spikes on,” he said Saturday.

Will Smith will catch for Team USA, and joining him for a first World Baseball Classic is his Dodgers catching teammate Austin Barnes, who will play for Mexico.

Barnes’ grandparents on his mother’s side were born in Mexico. “It would be fun to represent them,” he said.

Barnes said he first broached the subject of joining Mexico with Urías, and then Barnes’ uncle Mike Gallego, the longtime A’s infielder, also talked last year with fellow Angels coach Benji Gil (he’s their major league field coordinator this season), who also manages Team Mexico to get the ball rolling.

It’s likely Trayce Thompson will play for Great Britain and that Brusdar Graterol will pitch for Venezuela. Whether Miguel Rojas joins Graterol in the WBC is dependent on his health, as he works his way back from January surgery to remove a piece of bone from his hand.

“I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there,” Rojas said Saturday of playing for Venezuela. “But if I’m not feeling 100 percent, I’m not going to go. It’s going to be me deciding with the organization what’s the best thing to do.”

Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel will also coach third for Team USA in the WBC.

Pool play in the World Baseball Classic runs from March 11-15. The United States, Canada, Mexico, and Great Britain are all in Pool C and will play their games in Phoenix, a short drive for the Dodgers from spring training. Venezuela plays in Pool D with games in Miami, a longer trek for Graterol and possibly Rojas as well.

All subsequent rounds will be in Miami, from March 17-21.

A break in the monotony is welcome for some.

“Spring training, over six weeks, can get a little old, and it gets really grind-y three, four weeks in. It’s actually fun to go in there and compete at a high level,” Freeman said. “Most of us are just trying to get our work in [in spring training], don’t get hurt, don’t do this and that. But all that goes out of your mind and you just compete. That’s what’s fun.”

There will also be WBC workouts in the week leading up to game play, which means extended time away from spring training, up to two weeks for teams that make the semifinals.

“Once I show up, I’m going to see who’s in the room,” Roberts quipped of the depleted Dodgers spring training roster. “My spin is it’s going to give us a chance to look at some other guys.”