Tokyo elected to allow the 2021 Olympic games to include baseball and we’re power ranking the six teams, including Team USA, competing for the gold medal.
Baseball is far from a staple at the Olympics. The 2021 Olympic games will be the first time the sport has been played at the event since 2008 in Beijing. In fact, the IOC has removed it from the rota of events in the summer games but, with Tokyo as the host city, Japan had the option to vote to include the sport and did so.
We’ll now have six teams competing in baseball for the 2021 Olympic games but don’t expect to see too many familiar faces. Players currently on MLB 40-man rosters are ruled ineligible for the Olympics (something that does somewhat put Team USA at a bit of a disadvantage). Still there will be plenty of professionals from Japan and Korea along with former MLB veterans and minor leaguers that will be taking the field for the games.
The six teams that qualified for the Olympics — Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, United States — will be split into three-team pools and play the other two teams in their pool once before advancing to a knockout stage, a 10-game double-elimination tournament.
So who are the favorites to win the gold medal? Which teams are the underdogs? We’re ranking all six 2021 Olympic baseball teams to try and parse that much out before play begins on Tuesday, July 27.
Amid a group of stalwarts in the world of baseball, Israel has been a nation on the rise in the sport in recent years. They have shot up into the top 25 of the world rankings in recent years, including making a run in the World Baseball Classic back in 2017. However, this will be the country’s first appearance ever in the Olympics.
The major factor differentiating the 2017 WBC squad from the group heading to Tokyo is that the Olympics have stricter eligibility requirements, essentially requiring all players to be naturally born Israeli citizens or to have made aliyah (Jewish return to Israel to become a citizen). For the WBC, The Law of Return allowed virtually any Jewish baseball player to join Team Israel.
Despite stricter qualifications, there are familiar faces on the roster, most notably long-time MLB seconde baseman Ian Kinsler and utility infielder Danny Valencia. The latter figures to be the most important bat for Israel if they’re going to be heard from in Tokyo as he was a .375 hitter during the qualifying for the Olympics.
All told, Team Israel isn’t going to get boat-raced during their first Olympic games for baseball but they do face an uphill battle. With little to speak of in terms of pitching and with some solid but not overwhelming bats, it would be a bit shocking if they were to end up on the podium.