We’re taking a look at the top bats headed to Prague this summer for the XVI WBSC Men’s Softball World Championship 2019 in Prague/Havlicku Brod, Czech Republic. This is a two-part article so look for more to come on the subject.
Over the coming week’s we’ll be taking a deep dive into the categories of hitting, fielding and pitching to give you an in-depth look at what to expect in June.
In addition to researching the stats of all the participating clubs dating back to the 2017 tournament, we spoke with Israel Nukunuku. Izzy, as he’s better known, is our resident expert for this tournament.
Coaching since 2008, Izzy’s recent credentials include stints with five countries across both the men’s and women’s games. In 2019, he will be the head coach for the Swedish men. In 2018, he coached both the Swedish Men and Danish Women’s national teams, and held a position with the International Softball Academy to Canada.
According to our expert, the top 4 teams to keep an eye on when they take their ups this June are Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
Ranked 4th by the WBSC heading into the 2019 season, Australia placed 2nd in the last tournament, sat out the international tournaments in 2018, and left their starters at home during the TAB Challenge earlier this year. That leaves us to make some educated guesses about who will be hot at the plate.
In our estimation, Nick Shailes and James Todhunter are the top two bats for the Aussies. In 2017 both appear on multiple leader boards. Nick led the tournament with 6 homeruns and 12 walks. Can’t say as we blame the opposition. James wasn’t far behind him with 5 dingers off 11 hits and 13 RBIs over 31 at bats.
photo: Nick Shailes (credit: http://www.softball.org.au/shailes-in-demand-for-club-and-country/)
Neither man traveled to New Zealand for the TAB Challenge in February so we’ve yet to see them in action in 2019. It looks like the coach took over some guys he wanted to give a look-see before making final cuts heading into the Worlds.
Australia also did not make a showing at the InterContinental Cup in September of last year so we’ve not seen either man swinging since late 2017. Shailes will be 34, and Todhunter will turn 27 the month following tournament play. The Steeler’s website however does show both men on the team’s current roster.
photo: James Todhunter (credit: Source: Simon Watts/Getty Images AsiaPac)
According to our resident expert, Shailes’ bat is the one to keep an eye on throughout the tournament. Izzy says, “He’s a consistent hitter and always a threat in the batter’s box.”
Canada enters 2019 in the #2 slot on the WBSC rankings scale. Looking over their stats from 2017, we find nothing more outstanding than a well-rounded bench. That can be a threat for any opponent.
We turned to Izzy for help and he gave us Steve Mullaley and Jeff Ellsworth (cover photo) as the two to watch. He says that Mullaley can open up a game with one swing and, with Ellsworth following close behind in the lineup, the threats don’t stop.
While neither man’s name appeared on the leader boards in 2017, Mullaley hit .333 with 8 runs off 7 hits including two doubles and a homerun. He had 3 RBIs and 12 total bases for a .571 slugging percentage and a .483 on base percentage. The opposition walked him 7 times while striking out 6 times.
In 2015, winning double gold, Ellsworth retired from softball due to work commitments. In the summer of 2018, the 40-year old returned to competitive play and was invited to try out for the national team. He, and 16 others out of the field of 43 hopefuls, made the cut.
Jeff will bring with him his experiences from three previous world events. He was with the bronze winning 2009 team, the gold winning 2015 squad and on the 2013 bench as well when they placed 5th.
We’ll reveal the remaining bats from Izzy’s top 4 in part II but, before we let you go, there are a few other names we want you to get to know. Here are a few key players from the remaining field of competition to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.
From 8th ranked Venezuela you need to watch the plate if Rafae Flores returns to the team. He’ll be 36 years old this tournament. In 2017, over 24 at bats, he had 12 runs off 13 hits, including 4 doubles and 5 homeruns. He finished the tournament with 32 total bases and 11 RBIs. All that and he didn’t even make the leader board’s top 5 for at bats! The catcher hit .542 over the week finishing with a 1.33 slugging percentage, .560 OBP and a stolen base. Amazingly he was walked just once during the tournament while striking out 3 times.
5th ranked Argentina’s bench was filled with sluggers in 2017. The one we’ve got our eye out for on the roster this year is Bruno Mortroni. In 6 games he had 17 at bats and finished the tournament hitting .529. He topped the leader board in hits with 9 including a double, triple and 2 homeruns. He had 7 runs as well as 3 walks and 10 RBIs. During the club’s win in the 2016 South American Men’s Championship, he lead the tournament in runs, RBIs and total bases with 7, 10 and 18 respectively.
Two teammates to keep an eye on are Santiago Carril and Juan Zara. Each played in 6 games in 2017. Carril averaged .533 with 15 at bats. He had 6 runs off 8 hits with 5 RBIs including a triple, homerun and a walk. Zara had a .529 average over 17 at bats. Juan had 5 runs off 9 hits (lead tie), including 3 doubles (leader) and a homerun. He drove in 4 while walking once.
That’s it for part I of the hitting article. Part II will explore both New Zealand and Japan’s lineups as well as the European teams in this year’s WBSC Men’s Softball World Championship.