Chinese Taipei, New Zealand meet in qualifier
Asian leader takes on World Baseball Classic first-timer looking to impress
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Asian baseball leader Chinese Taipei is fielding its team with stars from the local professional league to compete against first-timer New Zealand, boosted by Minor Leaguers, in the World Baseball Classic qualifying round.
The two teams will play against each other on Thursday at 5:30 a.m. ET (6:30 p.m. local time) in Xinzhuang Stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan, and you can watch a free live stream of the game at worldbaseballclassic.com.
Although Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and former Yankees and Nationals starter Chien-Ming Wang are missing from the qualifier, manager Chang-Heng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei still built a solid roster with talent from local and Japanese professional leagues. Chinese Taipei is currently ranked No. 8 in the world.
Hsieh may choose between 21-year-old Yao-Lin Wang and 24-year-old Kai-Wen Cheng to take the mound for the first game. Wang is a right-handed hurler in the Cubs' organization, and Cheng was a right-hander with the Japanese professional Hanshin Tigers before becoming a free agent in September.
Chinese Taipei will also be backed by strong defense and heavy hitting from 34-year-old captain Cheng-Min Peng and 30-year-old Chih-Sheng Lin. Peng is a first baseman and designated hitter for the Taiwanese professional team Brother Elephants. He completed this season hitting .320 with 14 homers and 88 RBIs. Lin is a shortstop from Lamigo Monkeys, the local professional champion team this year, and he was the league's home run leader with 24.
"We are not very familiar with New Zealand," Hsieh said. "We do know that they have good pitchers. If our batters perform well, then we may have a good game."
"I am confident that our team will win the qualifying round," said Peng. "Everyone on the team will be very careful and cautious in every game to make sure that we will secure the final victory."
Former Minor Leaguer Lincoln Holdzkom, 30, may start for previously unranked New Zealand against Chinese Taipei. Holdzkom spent 2001-09 with various farm teams, and he reached as high as the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston's Triple-A affiliate.
For the Kiwis, this tournament is almost a family affair -- the team includes five sets of brothers. Holdzkom also has a younger brother, 25-year-old right-hander John, on the team. John played six games for the Reds' high Class A affiliate in 2012.
Brothers Moko and Boss Moanaroa are among the most accomplished young Kiwi players with their association with the Red Sox's organization. While 22-year-old Moko was released in 2011, 21-year-old Boss played for Class A Greenville this past season, batting .262 with 49 RBIs. There are also manager Andy Skeels and his brother and catcher, David.
Boss Moanaroa said while he considers Chinese Taipei to be a tough opponent, New Zealand's going to "open a lot of eyes" with its solid roster.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.