TAIPEI, Taiwan – The 18U National Team wraps up World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-18 Baseball World Cup Super Round play on Saturday against Puerto Rico. First pitch is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. local/10:00 p.m. ET (Friday) at Tianmu Baseball Stadium in Taipei, Taiwan.
RHP Jose Bulted (PUR) vs. RHP Levi Sterling (USA)
SUPER ROUND STANDINGS
Chinese Taipei (4-0)
Puerto Rico (1-3)
LAST TIME OUT
Team USA notched its first Super Round victory on Friday afternoon, picking up a 5-1 win over Korea. After being held off the scoreboard through the game’s first four innings, big hits by Derek Curiel and PJ Morlando helped the U.S. put up a four-spot in the fifth. All four United States’ runs came with two outs in the fifth-inning rally, and Bryce Rainer added a sac fly in the sixth for some insurance.
The U.S. pitching continued its dominant stretch at the World Cup in Friday’s win. Ethan Schiefelbein had his second straight impressive start, tossing five innings of one-run ball and not walking a single batter. Schiefelbein turned it over to reliever Trey Gregory-Alford in the sixth, and the big right-hander got the final six outs to secure the win. Gregory-Alford now has three saves to lead all pitchers in the tournament, one ahead of teammate Noah Franco.
HISTORY AGAINST PUERTO RICO
Team USA has won all five matchups it has played against Puerto Rico at the U-18 level, starting with a 7-1 victory at the 2005 COPABE Pan Am “AAA” Championships. Saturday’s meeting will be just the second all-time between the two nations at the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup – the U.S. won the only other contest, 7-0, in 2008.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENT
The No. 3 seed out of Group A, Puerto Rico went 3-2 in pool play and won one of its first two Super Round games. The squad got off to a hot start, beating Czechia, Australia, and Mexico to begin the group stage with a 3-0 record. However, it came up short against Korea and Chinese Taipei–thus entering the Super Round with a 0-2 mark–before beating the Netherlands and dropping Friday’s game to Japan.
Yeriel Pastrana is the leading hitting for Puerto Rico, pacing the team with a .500 (6-for-12) average and three RBIs. Jan Luis Reyes and Adonys Velez have also chipped in three RBIs apiece to tie for the team lead. The team has posted a 4.92 ERA on the mound thus far with 45 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched, paced by Ibrahim Gonzalez’s 15 K’s in 9.1 innings.
INSIDE THE ROSTER
Nine players on the 2023 roster have previously played for Team USA. A trio of players from last year’s WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup Americas Qualifier squad return to the 18U National Team, as Matthew Champion, Noah Franco, and PJ Morlando all helped the U.S. win gold last November. In addition, three players from the 2021 15U National Team–Konnor Griffin, Ethan Schiefelbein, and Nolan Traeger–will reunite on this year’s roster, while two-time alum Jack McKernan and Coy James represent the 2022 15U squad. Bryce Rainer returns to Team USA and makes his second trip to Taiwan after playing for the 2017 12U team.
The 2023 Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League featured 17 members of this year’s team. The PDP League, which serves as the primary identification event for the 18U National Team, is an invitation-based development and assessment opportunity for high school players eligible for the following year’s MLB Draft. Additionally, 14 members of the squad have previously participated in USA Baseball’s development programs. Three athletes who participated in the 2023 16U/17U National Team Development Program (NTDP)–James, McKernan, and Joey Oakie–earned spots on the final 20-man squad. Eleven members of the 2022 16U/17U NTDP and four players from the 2021 16U/17U NTDP roster were also named to the team. In addition, James and McKernan both participated in the 2021 13U/14U Athlete Development Program (ADP).
Team USA is aiming to defend its gold medal at the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup after winning the title last summer in Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida. The U.S. defeated Chinese Taipei in the world championship game in 2022, marking its ninth World Cup gold medal. The United States won four consecutive titles from 2012-2017, joining Cuba as the only two nations to win four straight World Cup gold medals.
ALUM AT THE HELM
Team USA manager Michael Cuddyer is only the second alumnus to play for and manage the 18U National Team, joining Jason Hisey, who played for the U.S. in 1987 and managed the squad in 2006. Cuddyer is a two-time 18U National Team alum, as he played for the program in both 1996 and 1997. In 1996, Cuddyer batted .367 with five RBIs on a roster that featured seven future big leaguers, including Rick Ankiel **and Josh Bard**. Cuddyer then posted a .397 average with an .853 slugging percentage while leading the U.S. in home runs (7) and RBIs (26) at the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1997.