One of the things that drives international scouting directors nuts is when Cuban players who have starred on the country’s top national team are described as unknown.
In the case Jose Abreu, it’s absurd. Not only has the 26-year-old first baseman been a star in his home country, but major league teams have been able to evaluate Abreu extensively outside of Cuba.
“If I hear that the Cubans are going to be playing tomorrow in Russia,” said one international director, “I’m packing a bag and getting on the next flight.”
Over the last three years, teams have had the opportunity to log at least 243 at-bats from Abreu that Baseball America has documented. That doesn’t include another 25 or so at-bats from six warm-up games in Taiwan and Japan this year before the World Baseball Classic.
It also doesn’t include walks, hit by pitches and sacrifice flies that are harder to track at some of these events, so there’s probably at least 300 plate appearances that scouts could have legally seen of Abreu in person outside of Cuba, plus batting practice before every game.
Throw in extensive video libraries that the savvier teams have of his televised games in Cuba, and it’s clear that teams should know him well if they have done their homework.
Here’s a look at every instance we could find of Abreu playing outside of Cuba over the last three years since August 2010, including roughly 100 at-bats over the last 13 months.
June 30-July 7: World Port Tournament in the Netherlands
Abreu played in Cuba’s first two games against Curacao and the Netherlands, but he went just 1-for-6 with a single and didn’t play the rest of the tournament due to injury.
March 3-11: World Baseball Classic in Japan
Abreu went 9-for-25 with three home runs, one double, no walks and five strikeouts to compile a .360/.385/.760 line in six games. Abreu faced some advanced competition, particularly the Japanese team and White Sox righthander Andre Rienzo when Cuba played Brazil, but he also got to tee off on China.
Feb. 18-March 1: WBC warm-up tour in Taiwan and Japan
To prepare for the WBC, the Cuban team traveled to Taiwan to play four exhibition games—two against Taiwan, one against Australia and another against the Netherlands. We don’t have complete records for these games, but the highlight was a 20-11 rout over Taiwan on Feb. 22 in which Abreu went 5-for-6 with a home run, while fellow Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne went off for three home runs in the same game.
The Cubans then made their way to Japan, where they played one exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers and another against the Softbank Hawks, which put former big leaguer Vicente Padilla on the mound for the first couple of innings.
November 16-18: Samurai Series in Japan
Cuba sent basically the same team to the WBC that they did for this friendly series against Japan and a few days earlier against Taiwan. The Cuban national team played two games in Japan, where Abreu went 2-for-7 with a double and two strikeouts.
November 11-13: Thunder Series in Taiwan
In the three-game friendly series between Cuba and Taiwan, Abreu went 2-for-9 with a double and a walk.
July 13-22: Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands
Cuba’s top national team won the gold medal, but Abreu went 6-for-30 (.200) with no extra-base hits, one walk and three strikeouts. The U.S. college national team was there, as were Japan, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, though those teams don’t send their country’s top players to the tournament.
July 5-9: Cuba-USA Series in Cuba
Major league teams couldn’t scout Abreu in person at this series, but it’s worth at least noting that Abreu played well against the U.S. college national team in a five-game exhibition series. Abreu went 7-for-17 with a home run, two doubles, one walk, five strikeouts and two errors. Abreu hit his home run against Gonzaga lefthander Marco Gonzales, who signed with the Cardinals in June as a first-round pick (No. 19 overall) in the draft.
Cuba brought a team to the United States to face the U.S. college national team last month, which would have been a terrific opportunity for scouts to evaluate Abreu against premium velocity from pitchers like North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon and Texas Christian’s Brandon Finnegan, but Cuba left several of its top players at home, including Abreu.
October 18-25: Pan American Games In Mexico
In a tournament in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, Cuba played against Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, the U.S. and Venezuela. Team USA brought a group of pro players, the most notable being A.J. Pollock, but it was a team with a lot of fringe big leaguers and minor league veterans, including righthander Todd Redmond, who started against Cuba. Abreu led the tournament with three home runs, going 11-for-21 (.524) overall with two doubles, a walk, a strikeout and an error. Against Team USA, he went 3-for-4 with a walk, while against Canada he went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run that came off righthander Scott Richmond.
October 1-15: IBAF World Cup in Panama
Cuba took the silver medal at the World Cup, where Abreu made the all-tournament team. While 16 countries were represented at the World Cup, these weren’t the A squads for most of the top countries in attendance, with Team USA sending a pro roster highlighted by Pollock, Travis d’Arnaud, Drew Smyly and Brett Jackson, along with a handful of minor league journeymen.
Abreu excelled in 11 games, going 19-for-40 (.475) with a team-high three home runs, three doubles, a walk and two strikeouts. He ranked third in the tournament in batting average, second in slugging (.775), tied for seventh in OBP (.500) and tied for second in homers. He hit well against Team USA too, going 3-for-4 with a double.
July 8-17: World Baseball Challenge in Canada
The World Baseball Challenge this year featured Ciego de Avila, which won the championship in Serie Nacional. But back in 2011, Cuba brought its national team to the six-team series that included the Bahamas, Canada, China, Japan and Taiwan. In nine games, Abreu went 12-for-35 (.343) with two home runs, a double, two walks, three strikeouts and one stolen base.
October 23-31: Intercontinental Cup in Taiwan
Cuba edged the Netherlands for the gold medal at the Intercontinental Cup, a tournament that included Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Nicaragua, along with more lightweight competition in the Czech Republic, Thailand and Hong Kong.
In six games Abreu hit .286/.318/.476, going 6-for-21 with a home run, a double, no walks and four strikeouts. Those numbers were relatively modest compared to what teammates like Hector Olivera, Yulieski Gourriel and Despaigne did at the tournament, although part of that was because Abreu didn’t play in the 20-0 drubbing of Hong Kong. Abreu was a teammate here with Yoenis Cespedes, but Cespedes saw limited action in the tournament despite being a favorite among major league scouts.
October 1-13: Pan American Games/World Cup Qualifier in Puerto Rico
Before heading off to Taiwan, Cuba sent its national team to Puerto Rico for a 12-team tournament. Abreu went 7-for-21 (.333) with a home run, two doubles, four walks and 10 strikeouts. Cuba didn’t end up playing Team USA in this tournament, but the U.S. did bring a stacked pro roster with Mike Trout, Eric Hosmer, Todd Frazier and Mike Moustakas in the lineup, along with Chris Archer, Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery when he was still a top prospect.
September 22-26, 2010: Cuba-Nicaragua Series
Cuba played a friendly series against Nicaragua in June 2012, although Abreu was a surprising omission from the team. When the two teams met in 2010, Abreu was on a team featuring Cuba’s top national team stars and went 5-for-10 with two home runs and two doubles.
July 30-August 7: World University Championships in Japan
Abreu was a monster at this tournament, going 10-for-18 (.556) with four home runs, a triple, a double, two walks and three strikeouts. He earned all-star honors at first base, although Despaigne was named MVP of the tournament after he hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning against Team USA in the gold-medal game.
Abreu faced premium velocity from then-UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole (now in the Pirates rotation), who threw seven shutout innings in the championship game, with Abreu going 0-for-4 with a strikeout in that contest. Abreu had several future major leaguers as teammates here, including Cespedes, Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin and Orioles outfielder Henry Urrutia.