See also: What’s Next For Despaigne
Another Cuban baseball star is on his way to Japan, as the Chiba Lotte Marines announced Tuesday that they have signed 28-year-old outfielder Alfredo Despaigne.
Like third baseman Yulieski Gourriel and outfielder Frederich Cepeda, Despaigne will play in Nippon Professional Baseball on a contract brokered by the Cuban government, with the understanding that he will return to Cuba when the Japanese season is finished and the Serie Nacional season begins. Despaigne had previously been playing for the Campeche Pirates in the Mexican League, but the league banned him for life when it determined he was using a fraudulent Dominican passport.
Built like a fire hydrant, Despaigne has a Kirby Puckett body type at 5-foot-8, 215 pounds. His raw power—an 80 on the 20-80 scale—ranks among the best on the planet, with the ability to hit balls nearly 500 feet in batting practice. He has more raw power and better bat speed than White Sox Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, though Abreu has a more balanced swing and approach than Despaigne, who's known for his aggressive style and all-or-nothing hacks. That approach could cut into his OBP when he faces better pitching than he’s used to seeing in Cuba, but he's consistently been one of the top performers in country, with a true elite tool in his power. A below-average runner, Despaigne isn't a great athlete but he moves around in the outfield better than his body type might suggest, with enough arm strength to play left or right field.
Despaigne is a three-time MVP in Serie Nacional while playing for Granma in Cuba, including back-to-back honors in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. In 2008-09, Despaigne set Cuba's single-season home run record with 32 homers, a record that lasted two years until Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Despaigne's former Granma teammate) each hit 33 home runs in 2010-11. By OPS, those were the two best years of Despaigne's career, as he hit .375/.480/.756 in 2008-09 and .404/.484/.814 in 2009-10. Despaigne recaptured the single-season home run crown in 2011-12, blasting 36 home runs in a .326/.483/.695 season to win his third MVP award. This past season, which ended in March, Despaigne led the league in OPS, batting .311/.474/.533 with 12 homers, 55 walks and 26 strikeouts in 253 plate appearances split between Granma in the first half of the season and Santiago de Cuba in the second half.
Gourriel has found early success playing for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, batting .333/.398/.625 in 108 plate appearances. Cepeda, playing for the Yomiuri Giants, is hitting .171/.324/.378 in 102 plate appearances.