One of the best young pitchers in Cuba is off to Japan, as the Yomiuri Giants announced that they have signed 20-year-old righthander Hector Mendoza.
The contract is part of a new agreement the Cuban government has to allow certain players to participate in foreign professional leagues during the Serie Nacional offseason, earn a salary in those leagues (part of which goes back to the Cuban government), then return to Cuba when that season ends.
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Mendoza can throw in the mid-90s, according to sources who have seen him pitch in Cuba. Given Mendoza’s youth, scouts haven’t had a chance to watch him pitch on the Cuban national team, so the ability to evaluate him in person in Japan the rest of the season will be the first look at Mendoza for many clubs. Menzoza served as the closer for Isla De La Juventud during the 2013-14 season, racking up 13 saves, a 2.36 ERA in 49 2/3 innings with 40 strikeouts and 31 walks. Mendoza was one of three intriguing young pitchers on the Isla De La Juventud team, though the other two—righthanders Jorge Despaigne and Joan Lopez—have both defected.
Mendoza will join Cuban outfielder Frederich Cepeda with the Giants, along with third baseman Yulieski Gourriel (Yokohama DeNA BayStars) and outfielder Alfredo Despaigne (Chiba Lotte Marines) in Nippon Professional Baseball. Given the thin state of pitching in Cuba, it’s not a surprise that Mendoza is the only Cuban pitcher so far who has signed to play in Japan.