FROM CBB NEWS SOURCES
NEW YORK — USA Baseball announced Wednesday 23 of the 24 members of its 2008 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team. The Davey Johnson-led squad is set to compete in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Aug. 8-24 (baseball competition Aug. 13-23).
The team features 12 pitchers and 11 position players. The 24th member of the Olympic Team will be named in the coming days, ahead of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad’s (BOCOG) July 22 cut-off date.
“We are proud of the ballclub we have assembled,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler. “The team is strong from top to bottom, and we are confident it will succeed in Beijing. We applaud our coaching staff and selection committee for their tireless work in putting together an excellent team.”
The initial 23-member roster includes Cleveland Indians OF Matt LaPorta (Port Charlotte, Fla.) and San Diego State University RHP Stephen Strasburg (San Diego, Calif.). LaPorta was recently dealt by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Cleveland Indians as the key piece of a trade that brought 2007 A.L. Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee. Baseball America currently ranks LaPorta as the top prospect in Cleveland’s farm system, and the outfield slugger was also a member of the 2005 USA Baseball National Team (Collegiate).
Strasburg made national headlines this year following a 23-strikeout performance against Utah on April 11, 2008, that was part of a breakthrough sophomore campaign. The 19-year-old righty, who turns 20 on Sunday, is currently anchoring the pitching staff on the 2008 USA Baseball National Team. The team of collegiate all-stars is fresh off a first-place finish at Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands, which included two victories over the Cuban National Team.
The Olympic Team is laden with veteran talent — 14 players are currently playing at the Triple-A. Seven players are in Double-A, one in Class A and one at the collegiate level.
Bob Watson, USA Baseball General Manager of Professional Teams said that they were looking for a roster of experienced players.
“We knew going in that we wanted a veteran club, a team of guys who have been battle-tested, so to speak,” Watson said. “But we wanted younger prospects as well, guys with the fire to go out and showcase their talents on the international stage.”
The 2008 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team will be led by Manager Davey Johnson (Winter Park, Fla.). Johnson returns to USA Baseball on the heels of a gold medal-winning performance last November at the 2007 IBAF Baseball World Cup in Taiwan. That team included All-Star Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as two players named to the Olympic roster: St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Colby Rasmus (Columbus, Ga.) and Cleveland Indians right-handed pitcher Jeff Stevens (Berkeley, Calif.).
Johnson will be joined by the same coaches he has worked with at USA Baseball since the 2005 IBAF Baseball World Cup. Marcel Lachemann (Penryn, Calif.) is the team’s pitching coach, and Reggie Smith (Woodland Hills, Calif.) will act as the hitting coach. Third-base coach Rick Eckstein (Sanford, Fla.) and auxiliary coaches Dick Cooke (Davidson, N.C.) and Rolando de Armas (Palm Harbor, Fla.) round out the staff.
“We have an unbelievable coaching staff,” said Johnson, who in addition to his international accomplishments, also achieved wide-spread success as player and coach in the big leagues, including leading the 1986 New York Mets to a World Series title.
“We have worked together for over three years now and across several international tournaments. With the staff’s help, I think we achieved the well-balanced lineup that is critical for Olympic success.”
In addition to LaPorta, Strasburg, Rasmus, and Stevens, the Olympic Team also features five other USA Baseball alumni: Oakland Athletics left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson (Midland, Tex.; 2005 18U, 2004 16U), Baltimore Orioles right-handed pitcher Jake Arietta (Farmington, Mo.; 2006 National), Florida Marlins outfielder John Gall (Stanford, Calif.; 1998-99 National), Texas Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden (Dallas, Tex.; 2004 National), and Colorado Rockies right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers (Elk Grove, Calif.; 2006 National).
LaPorta, Anderson, Arietta, Teagarden and Weathers were also members of the 2008 XM Future Stars USA Team during Major League Baseball’s All-Star weekend. The game, which saw the U.S. fall to the World Team 3-0, acted as an Olympic Trials event for Johnson and his staff. Trevor Cahill (Oceanside, Calif.), Jason Donald (Fresno, Calif.), Dexter Fowler (Atlanta, Ga.) and Clayton Richard (Lafayette, Ind.) were also members of the Futures Team who are on the Olympic roster.
The U.S. last competed in the baseball competition in the Olympic Games in 2000. Tommy Lasorda managed the team in Sydney and guided a squad featuring Ben Sheets and Roy Oswalt to the gold medal over Cuba. Since baseball was recognized as an official medal sport in Olympic competition by the International Olympic Committee in 1992, the U.S. has finished fourth (Barcelona, 1992), third (bronze, Atlanta, 1996) and first (gold, Sydney, 2000). The U.S. did not qualify for the Athens Games in 2004.