Jorge Despaigne, one of the more intriguing young arms in Cuba, has left the country, Baseball America has learned.
Despaigne is 23 and has played three seasons for Isla De La Juventud in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional. Under the current rules, that would make Despaigne exempt from the international bonus pools. However, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, those rules change on July 2, when Cuban players are required to be at least 23 and have a minimum of five seasons of professional experience to be exempt. Since the window from June 16 through July 1 is a “closed period” when teams are not allowed to sign any international players to their first contracts (even those exempt from the bonus pools, according to Major League Baseball), the last date to sign before the rules change would be June 15.
Obtaining legal residency in a foreign country and being declared a free agent is typically a lengthy process, so barring anything that would raise a few eyebrows, Despaigne is expected to be subject to the international bonus pools.
Cuba is littered with soft-tossing pitchers throwing in the mid-80s, so Despaigne’s arm strength stands out relative to the rest of Serie Nacional pitchers. According to sources who have seen him pitch in Cuba, Despaigne is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with a plus fastball he can run into the mid-90s, although he hasn’t played on the Cuban national team, so scouts haven’t been able to evaluate him in person.
According to those sources, Despaigne struggles keeping his mechanics in check and in turn has trouble throwing strikes. That shows up in the numbers, as Despaigne had more walks (56) than strikeouts (54) in 70 2/3 innings last year with a 4.33 ERA in 11 starts and nine relief appearances. Unlike players such as Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, who were well-known, heavily-scouted stars on the Cuban national team, Despaigne is more of a relative unknown, and I’ve seen minimal video of him, so there’s a higher uncertainty level with Despaigne than other Cuban players who have left the island in recent years.
Despaigne is a former Isla De La Juventud teammate of Cuban righthander Raisel Iglesias, the top unsigned Cuban defector among pitchers at the moment.