Australians ready to prove their talent
Former Major Leaguer Nilsson joins prospects for tournament
"It's going to be great," said Jon Deeble, the Red Sox scout who will manage his native Australia in the event. "It's the biggest tournament we've ever been in. The success we had in Athens, it's sort of the onset to bigger and better things. Competing in this is going to be great. We're under no illusions. It's going to be tough."
While squads from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela will boast Major League superstars, Australia will offer a less heralded bunch, but one that looks forward to the opportunity.
Australia will feature an oldie but goodie in Dave Nilsson, the former Major League catcher who was a huge catalyst in the silver medal gained in 2004.
"He was fantastic at the Athens Olympics, and that was probably the major reason we got a silver medal, just his knowledge back behind the plate," said Deeble. "He set those Japanese hitters up and he did his homework on them. We left it to him and he pretty much controlled that whole game, and I still think to this day, if we played them again and again, we could still beat them, and he set those hitters up. He's getting himself in shape and ready to play. He's going to be a major asset for us."
The 36-year-old Nilsson, who last played in the Major Leagues in 1999, hit 105 home runs over an eight-year career with the Brewers. He is currently working hard to get in shape for the WBC.
Right-hander Damian Moss, who pitched for the Braves, Giants, Orioles and Devil Rays from 2001-04, is also part of the team.
The infield should present Deeble with plenty of viable options. Second baseman Trent Durrington, who played in the Major Leagues for the Brewers and is now in the Red Sox farm system, is on board. So is second baseman Brad Harman, regarded as one of the better prospects in the Phillies' system. First baseman Justin Huber, a prospect who broke in with the Royals last season, figures to be a vital performer in the lineup. Twins third baseman Glenn Williams gives Australia a solid player at the hot corner.
And Deeble is enthused about some of the arms on his team.
"We've actually got a kid back here that played in the Minor Leagues quite a few years ago and was released, Peter Moylan," said Deeble, who is the coordinator of Pacific Rim scouting for the Red Sox. "This kid throws 95 [mph] from the side. We've got some arms. [We'll have Marlins prospect] Paul Mildren, who was 10-1 in the Florida State League last year and struck out six straight in a game at the world championships. We've got a lot of good arms. We have a lot of kids coming through."
Deeble won't try to hide from his country's underdog status.
"We looked at the Dominican Team. I think, collectively, their starting nine will have 300 home runs in the big leagues in a season, and I guess they're payroll will probably be a couple hundred million dollars," Deeble said. "Look, it's going to be great for our guys to go out there and compete against that caliber of player."
And he's confident that the Australians will be a unified team that will play the game right.
"Our goal in this is to play great defense, throw strikes and keep the ball down in the zone and compete as good as we can," Deeble said. "We're going to give a good effort, there's no doubt about that."
Deeble will also have plenty of help on his staff, including an established bench coach in Craig Shipley, who currently serves as a special assistant to the general manager for the Red Sox. Shipley, the first Australian to play in the Major Leagues, enjoyed an 11-year career.
"He's been great for Australian baseball," Deeble said of Shipley. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves, and I say that to young kids that sign, he's the reason they've had an opportunity. He's the reason there are 30 scouts out here in Australia. He started this whole thing by getting to the big leagues and staying there for the amount of time that he did. That gave Graeme Lloyd the chance, it gave Nilsson the chance. He put Australia on the map."
During the World Baseball Classic, Deeble hopes that Australia will take an even more prominent spot on that baseball map.
"We want the world to know that we have some good baseball players and we play the game right and we understand the game, so that's important," Deeble said.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.