The New Zealand Diamondblacks baseball team will be missing two towering figures as they embark on next week's World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament in Sydney.

Brothers John and Lincoln Holdzkom played significant roles in the New Zealand team's unlikely progression to the qualifying tournament final four years ago in Taiwan but neither will make the trip to Sydney.

Younger brother John wasn't released by the Pittsburgh Pirates as he battles back from an injury-plagued 2015. While disappointing for the Diamondblacks not to have their star reliever, it bodes well that the Kiwi representative is clearly in Pittsburgh's plans for the upcoming MLB season.

Tragically, older brother Lincoln, who was seen as the national team's pitching leader, was killed in a car crash in California prior to Christmas. The impact of that loss has hit the New Zealand team hard.


"We have got his picture up in the locker room," said outfielder Max Brown, who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. "I know myself and other guys touch his picture every time we walk out onto the field. I think we will carry his number on our playing jersey and I think they might even retire his jersey.

"We have been talking about him and all the good times we had with him and that has been awesome.

"It is sad and awful but it does bring the team together more. In Taiwan, we got on well but we didn't know each other that well, whereas now it feels like we see each other day and we know each other a lot more."

Despite not having two of their best players, Brown believes the New Zealand team are capable of causing a surprise and booking a spot at the 16-nation World Baseball Classic finals next year.

"We have a really good shot at winning this thing. I actually think we will win it. A lot of eyes are on us and that is great for the programme and for the country. Winning this tournament and going to the WBC finals would be huge."

The Diamondblacks will have young pitcher Jimmy Boyce in their squad but the 18-year-old faces a possible suspension from the spring high school baseball season in Seattle for playing at this tournament.

The Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association has warned Boyce he could be suspended upon his return as the body says its rules prevent high school players competing against professional athletes, something Boyce believes is a double standard. "I have already played three tournaments against pro players over the last couple of years and nothing's been said," said Boyce, who attended Sacred Heart College before moving to Seattle.

He played for the New Zealand under-18 and under-21 teams against professionals and also played at the Arizona Senior Classic showcase tournament in August.

Boyce has a number of college offers to pick up a baseball scholarship.