One of the stars of Cuban baseball is in Mexico, but don’t expect to see him in a major league uniform any time soon.
The Cuban government has allowed left fielder Alfredo Despaigne, a three-time MVP in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, to play professionally for the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League.
Despaigne, 27, has shown tremendous righthanded bat speed and raw power that is among the best on the planet, coupled with an all-or-nothing hitting approach that has worked for him in Cuba. He won back-to-back MVP awards in Cuba during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, set the single-season home run record in Cuba in 2011-12 with 36 homers in 87 games en route to a third MVP trophy, then hit .345/.505/.669 this past season for Granma.
Despaigne has been a standout on the Cuban national team for several years, including at the 2008 Olympics when he hit .382/.400/.765 in nine games with three home runs, one of which came against Stephen Strasburg. This year he played in the World Baseball Classic and hit .389/.522/.944 with three home runs in six games.
It’s rare for the Cuban authorities to allow a player to play professionally outside of Cuba—particularly a player as talented as Despaigne in the prime of his career—although it’s not unprecedented. International sources say the Campeche Pirates have good relationships in Cuba, which is how they were able to get former Cuban star righthander Pedro Luis Lazo to pitch for them last year when Lazo was 39.
Despaigne made his Mexican League debut yesterday, going 1-for-4 with a strikeout. Major league teams jump at any chance they get to see the Cuban national team any time they play in an international tournament outside of Cuba, so teams will certainly have their scouts keeping an eye on Despaigne while he’s in Mexico.
• See Also: World Baseball Classic Top 10 Prospects