Mike Scioscia was planning on having Alek Manoah for the U.S. rotation for Olympic qualifying next week. Instead, the Toronto Blue Jays called up 23-year-old right-hander, who pitched six scoreless innings against the New York Yankees this week in his major league debut.
“It’s been fluid. From the roster we have anticipated early, you’re probably talking about a 60, 70% turnover,” the U.S. manager said Friday, three days before the Americans start their second chance to qualify for the Olympics.
Generally, the better the prospect the less chance he will be available.
Only players not on 26-man major league rosters and injured lists are eligible for selection, and major league general managers often make sure any prospect they think could conceivably help their big league team finds a reason not to be available for qualifying.
The U.S. was three outs from qualifying for the Olympics at the Premier12 tournament in Tokyo in November 2019 before wasting a ninth-inning lead in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to Mexico. Matt Clark hit a tying home run off Brandon Dickson leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, and Efren Navarro had a broken-bat single against Caleb Thielbar to drive in the winning run.
While that 28-man roster had a total career 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, Scioscia has a more illustrious group totaling about 124 WAR -- but many players whose big league careers are behind them. Some may be viewing the training camp and games next week as a showcase audition for a return to The Show.
Todd Frazier was 3 for 35 at the plate this year before Pittsburgh released him May 13.
“Your priority has to be contained to the process to getting to the gold,” Scioscia said. “I think that there is an opportunity for players to get back on the drawing board as far as where their careers might be, but that’s t the primary reason they’re here.”
Dickson, the only holdover from the 2019 roster, threw his last big league pitch in 2012, Anthony Gose in 2016, Marc Rzepczynski in 2018, and Edwin Jackson and Jamie Sherfy in 2019.
Pitchers in their upper 30s include Jackson (37 years old), David Robertson (36), Homer Bailey and Rzepczynski (35). The pitching prospects, none viewed on the verge of the majors, include 24-year-old Joe Ryan, 20-year-old Simeon Woods Richardson, 21-year-old Matthew Liberatore and 23-year-old Drew Parrish.
Left-hander Clayton Andrews, a member of the November 2019 team, is being dropped because of a bad elbow.
Position players include catcher Matt Wieters (35), and outfielders Jon Jay and Matt Kemp (both 36).
“Everybody in this room knows that we have some guys that are used to playing every day in the major leagues and understand that they might be in more of a role position,” Scioscia said. “We’ve got some pitchers that have pitched in back end of bullpens and might not be pitching in the back end of bullpens.”
The U.S. opens the Americas qualifying tournament against Nicaragua on Monday at Port St. Lucie, Florida, plays the Dominican Republic the next day at West Palm Beach and closes first-round play in Group A against Puerto Rico on June 2 at Port St. Lucie.
Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela are in Group B.
The top two teams in each group advance to the super round on June 4 and June 5, and first-round results carry over. The top team from the super round joins Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea at the Olympic baseball tournament, to be played in Japan from July 28 to Aug. 7 in Fukushima and Yokohama.
Second- and third-place teams advance to a final qualifier in June in Mexico, which will include Australia, Netherlands and Taiwan.
Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the U.S. in 2000 and South Korea in 2008.
Baseball is likely to be dropped for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and then restored again for 2028 in Los Angeles.
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