Mike Scioscia has the tough task of reaching the Olympic baseball tournament with a U.S. roster likely to include players cut during spring training and prospects not needed by their clubs this summer.
Scioscia was hired Tuesday by USA Baseball as the third manager of the U.S. baseball team in this Olympic qualifying cycle and will try to get the Americans to the tournament in Japan this summer.
The former Los Angeles Angels manager will lead the U.S. at the pandemic-delayed second-chance qualifying event, the Baseball Americas Qualifier, to be played in June in Florida.
Only players not on 26-man major league rosters and injured lists will be eligible to play.
“I’m very, very comfortable that we’re going to put together the type of team, particularly a pitching staff, that’s going to be able to carry us through a short series,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to look within and play the way we need to play with this group of guys.”
Scioscia said he has had a good response from general managers about making players available.
“There’s naturally guys that are on the roster or close to the roster that they’re going to hold tight for common-sense reasons,” he said. “But I think the response has been terrific. It is incumbent on every general manager of every team to worry about their organization first, but that being said, the guys — I think the GMs recognize the great opportunity they have to move some players forward, and they’ve been very, very cooperative.”
Joe Girardi quit as U.S. manager in October 2019 to pursue a major league managing job — he was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies — and Scott Brosius took over.
The U.S. was three outs from qualifying for the Olympics in November 2019 at the Premier12 tournament in Tokyo when Matt Clark hit a tying home run off former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Efren Navarro had a broken-bat single against Caleb Thielbar to drive in the winning run in the 10th and Mexico beat the United States 3-2 to reach its first Olympic baseball tournament.
That roster included top prospects Bobby Dalbec and Jo Adell but also older players such as Clayton Richard and Erik Kratz. Scioscia says he will have a blend of veterans, prospects from the low minors and Triple-A pitchers.
“These are playoff games. You’re going to go into these games with every bit of the intensity you’re going to need if you’re in a major league playoff game or a pennant race game,” he said.
Scioscia, 62, led the Angels to a 1,650-1,428 record from 2000-18 and won the 2002 World Series.
The U.S. plays the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua in Group A at the Americas tournament, and the top two teams advance to the super round along with two teams from Group B, which includes Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. The top team from the super round joins Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea at the Olympic baseball tournament, to be played from July 28 to Aug. 7 in Fukushima and Yokohama.
Second- and third-place teams advance to a final qualifier in June in Taiwan, which will include Australia, China, 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 United States 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.