Cuba will look to a roster filled with veterans of international play to try to win the World Cup for the first time since 2005.
As expected, Cuba will send an offensive-minded lineup to the World Cup in Panama and to the Pan Am Games that follow in Mexico, led by a powerful lineup featuring third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, outfielders Alexei Bell and Alfredo Despaigne, and second baseman Hector Olivera. Bell, Despaigne and Gourriel each have set or approached Serie Nacional's single-season home run record in recent years, while Olivera brings a game comparable to that of a young Placido Polanco to the Cuban lineup. The switch-hitting Cepeda, 31, has been a stalwart in Cuba's national team lineups for nearly a decade.
The roster also includes three catchers, with 37-year-old Ariel Pestano—who was supposedly retiring from international play after last year's Pan Am qualifying tournament—once again behind the plate for the national team. At the other end of the spectrum, 21-year-old shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena made the roster. He's considered a defender in the class of recently-defected prospects such as Jose Iglesias (Red Sox) and Adeiny Hechevarria (Blue Jays).
Cuba once owned the World Cup, winning 11 straight events in which it participated from 1976-2005. But in 2007 and 2009, Cuba lost to the United States in the Cup finals, mostly because the Cubans have failed to develop a new national-team ace to replace the defected Jose Contreras. In fact, Cuba's wins in international play have come with much less regularity in recent years. Cuba won the 2004 Olympics and the '05 World Cup, but since then has lost when facing professional competition in the finals in 2006 (World Baseball Classic and Olympic qualifier, which was played in Havana), '07 (World Cup), '08 (Olympics) and '09 (World Cup), then didn't even make the finals in the '09 WBC. In 2010, the Dominican Republic beat Cuba in the finals of the Pan Am qualifier.
Cuba's pitchers for the World Cup includes just two lefthanders (veterans Yulieski Gonzalez and Norberto Gonzalez) and will lean on other stalwarts such as righthanders Vicyohandri Odelin and Yadier Pedroso, at 25 probably the top prospect on the staff. He features a solid-average fastball that will at times sit in the low 90s to go with a plus split-finger fastball, a solid-average, power slider and a feel for his curveball. The staff also includes Freddy Alvarez, who led Serie Nacional in ERA last season (1.89 in 109 IP). Veteran righty Pedro Luis Lazo kept his word and unlike Pestano is not on this roster.
Via the website baseballdecuba.com, here's the Cuban roster:
Catchers: Yosvani Alarcon, Frank Camilo Morejon, Ariel Pestano.
Infielders: Jose Abreu (1b), Hector Olivera (2b), Yulieski Gourriel (3b), Erisbel Arruebarruena (SS), Michel Enriquez (3b/dh), Rudy Reyes (util).
Outfielders: Alexei Bell, Alfredo Despaigne, Frederich Cepeda, Giorvis Duvergel, Rusney Castillo.
Pitchers: Dalier Hinojosa, Freddy Alvarez, Miguel Lahera, Miguel Gonzalez, Yadier Pedroso, Norberto Gonzalez, Jonder Martinez, Vicyohandri Odelin, Alberto Soto la O, Yulieski Gonzalez.
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