Powerful Outfield Highlights Cuban WBC Roster

World Baseball Classic provisional rosters will be announced Thursday, with the U.S. roster released in the morning and the other 15 provisionals in the afternoon. Cuba, however, scooped MLB Network by releasing its roster on its own.

The Cuban team, which opens play March 2-6 in the same pool with host Japan, Brazil and China, features several familiar names and veterans of Cuban national teams, such as infielder Yulieski Gourriel and outfielder Frederich Cepeda. Gourriel, who was No. 8 on BA’s Top 10 WBC prospects list in 2009, is now a 28-year-old seasoned veteran of international play, a membrer of Cuban national teams since the 2002 Intercontinental Cup. Cepeda, 32, also made his senior national team debut in that 2002 tournament and was the hero of the 2004 Olympics.

They’re part of a lineup that still makes Cuba a strong WBC contender, despite the fact that five members of the ’09 WBC roster now play in the U.S., including Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. First baseman Jose Dariel Abreu and outfielders Alexei Bell and Alfredo Despaigne bring thump to the Cuban lineup, as each has set the Serie Nacional single-season home run record in recent seasons.

Despaigne, listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, has set it twice, most recently in 2011-2012 with 34 (setting the mark with an inside-the-park homer), and at 26 is probably the team’s top player, with a strong track record in international play that includes a home run off Stephen Strasburg in the 2008 Olympics. Bell, listed at 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, is a 29-year-old most noted for his dominating ’08 Olympic performance, which followed his setting the single-season home run record in 2007-08. Abreu, 25, set the home run record in 2010-11, when he was league MVP, and the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder dwarfs his fellow sluggers physically. The most intriguing prospect could be toolsy, 22-year-old shortstop Barbaro Arrebarruena, a dazzling defender in the Jose Iglesias mold.

For all its familiar names, Cuba will have some roster turnover as veterans leave the scene. Catcher Ariel Pestano and righthander Pedro Luis Lazo (who pitched in the Mexican League this season) have finally retired from international play. Veteran lefthander Yulieski Gonzalez, 32, and 23-year-old hard-throwing righty Freddy Asiel Alvarez, are among the more prominent names on the pitching staff, which has not been the team’s strength in recent international tournaments.

Cuba’s dominance of international baseball has waned considerably in recent years. Since winning the 2004 Olympics and 2005 World Cup, Cuba has won two major international tournament involving professionals, the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2010 Intercontinental Cup. In other major events, from the 2008 Olympics to the first two Classics to the last three World Cups, Cuba has managed to be runner-up at best. The talent drain of Cuban players drawn to Major League Baseball has sapped top-end talent from its national team and domestic league.

BA will have more complete breakdowns of the provisional rosters Thursday, as well as a complete WBC preview in the coming weeks. Via Cuba’s official Prensa Latina, here is Cuba’s provisional WBC roster.

Catchers: Yulexis La Rosa, Frank Camilo Morejon, Eriel Sanchez.

Infielders: José Dariel Abreu, Luis Felipe Rivera, José Miguel Fernández, Andy Ibañez, Yulieski Gourriel, Barbaro Arrebarruena.

Outfielders: Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne, Rusney Castillo, Alexei Bell, Guillermo Hernandez Heredia, Yadiel Hernandez.

Pitchers: Freddy Asiel Alvarez, Ismel Jimenez, Raciel Iglesias, Odrisamer Despaigne, Norberto Gonzalez, Darien Nuñez, Wilber Perez, Yulieski Gonzalez, Vladimir Garcia, Alexander Rodriguez, Danny Betancourt, Vichyoandri Odelín, Yander Guevara.

Manager: Victor Mesa.