Analyzing Cuba’s Caribbean Series Roster

After winning the 2014-15 Serie Nacional championship last season, Ciego De Avila will represent Cuba in the Caribbean Series, which begins Feb. 1 in the Dominican Republic.

While it’s technically Ciego De Avila playing in the tournament, the team will be heavily reinforced with top players from around the country, making it a hybrid of Ciego De Avila and the Cuban national team. While the national team has been decimated by players leaving the island in recent years, there will still be several players of interest to major league teams.

When the Cuban national team traveled to North Carolina last summer to prepare for the Pan American Games, two top players—infielder Luis Yander La O and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez—both left the team to pursue major league contracts. At last year’s Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico, righthander Vladimir Gutierrez and shortstop Dainer Moreira both left the team as well.

The roster is listed below, with each player’s Serie Nacional team listed in parentheses if the player is a reinforcement from another club, along with analysis of the players for Baseball America subscribers.

Osvaldo Vazquez
Yosvani Alarcon (Las Tunas)
Frank Morejon (Industriales)

1B Ariel Borrero
1B Yorelvis Charles
2B/3B Raul Gonzalez
SS Yorbis Borroto
SS Yordan Manduley (Holguin)
3B Yeniet Perez
3B Yulieski Gurriel (Industriales)
SS/3B/OF Yurisbel Gracial (Matanzas)

Yorelvis Fiss
Jose Garcia
Alfredo Despaigne (Granma)
Lourdes Gurriel (Industriales)
Guillermo Aviles (Granma)
Stayler Hernandez (Industriales)

Vladimir Garcia
Yander Guavera
Yunier Cano
Livan Moinelo (Pinar Del Rio)
Vladimir Banos (Pinar Del Rio)
Yaifredo Dominguez (Pinar Del Rio)
Yoanni Yera (Matanzas)
Wilber Perez (La Isla De La Juventud)
Miguel Lahera (Artemisa)
Dachel Duquesne
Jose Angel Garcia (Holguin)

After some drama last summer where neither of them played in the Pan American Games, both Gurriel brothers will join the Ciego De Avila team in the Dominican Republic as reinforcements. Yulieski, 31, is still the best player in Cuba, hitting a ridiculous .494/.586/.861 in 215 plate appearances with 14 home runs, 37 walks and just two strikeouts. Younger brother Lourdes, 22, is also one of the top five players in Cuba right now in terms of major league potential. He’s hitting .340/.400/.561 with 10 home runs, 19 walks and 23 strikeouts in 237 plate appearances. While his major league value would be highest as an infielder, Lourdes Jr. has mostly played left field this season and is listed as an outfielder on the Caribbean Series roster.

Alfredo Despaigne is the premier slugger in Cuba, though after playing a full season in Japan in 2015, he hasn’t played in Serie Nacional during the current 2015-16 season in order to get some rest. Given the down time, Despagine might not be at his sharpest, though the 29-year-old is always a threat to go deep to any part of the park.

Scouts will get their first in-person look at lefthanded outfielder Guillermo Aviles since 2010, when he played on the 18U junior national team in Canada. Now 23, Aviles would be exempt from the international bonus pools if he were to ever leave Cuba and pursue an MLB contract. He’s one of the better young players in Cuba, though he hasn’t quite taken the next big leap forward as he’s still slender with just three home runs 286 plate appearances, with a .322/.413/.456 slash line this season.

After getting left off the Premier 12 team in November, outfielder Jose Garcia will play in the Caribbean Series. The regular right fielder for Ciego De Avila in Serie Nacional, Garcia played center field last summer during the Pan American Games and would likely play there if he ever signed with a major league team. With plus speed, a 70 arm and impressive raw power, Garcia is one of the toolsiest players in Cuba. He’s performed well in Cuba too, batting .308/.393/.520 in 326 plate appearances with 13 home runs, though he’s a free-swinger whose plate discipline is a major red flag. Garcia, 23, would be exempt from the international bonus pools if he were available.

Yurisbel Gracial, 30, is a versatile athlete who has played shortstop, center field and third base, with good speed and arm strength and some of the better offensive numbers in Cuba. He’s hitting .307/.426/.520 in 299 plate appearances with 10 home runs and more walks (47) than strikeouts (32), while his 21 stolen bases (in 28 tries) lead the league.

The quality of pitching in Cuba is low, and that’s evident on the Caribbean Series team, which is mostly filled with non-prospects who are decent strike-throwers but have limited stuff. Only a few pitchers on the team will be of any interest to major league teams.

Righthander Vladimir Garcia, 27, was once an anchor of the Cuban national team’s starting rotation who could reach the mid-90s, though a shoulder injury last season has taken a toll on his stuff. He has a 2.40 ERA in 82 2/3 innings, but his 53-41 K-BB mark hasn’t been inspiring.

The two young pitching prospects on the team to note are a pair of relievers, righthander Yunier Cano and lefthander Livan Moinelo. Cano, 21, has a long-armed, projectable frame that could allow him to add velocity to a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can scrape 93-94 mph, though his secondary stuff and command will need work. Moinelo, 20, is 5-foot-9, 165 pounds and sits at 87-89 mph, though he can reach back for 91. Despite his small frame and below-average fastball, Moinelo succeeds with advanced secondary stuff and outstanding feel for pitching. He hits his spots, throws any pitch in any count and keeps hitters off balance with a swing-and-miss changeup.

Notable Omissions

Though Luis Robert plays for Ciego De Avila and has been hitting leadoff for the team this season, the 18-year-old outfielder won’t be joining the team in the Dominican Republic. Robert was the star of Cuba’s 18U World Cup team in Japan in September and is one of the country’s top young prospects with his combination of size, power, speed and athleticism.

Center fielder Julio Pablo Martinez played for Cuba’s Premier 12 team in November, but he didn’t make the cut for the Caribbean Series. Martinez, 19, is a lefty with a power/speed combination who has hit .300/.403/.494 in 300 plate appearances.

As a prospect, Victor Mesa (known as “Victor Victor”) is in the same elite group of up-and-comers with Robert and Martinez, though it’s not a surprise that Mesa isn’t on the team. He just returned to game action this month after rehabbing an elbow injury.

Center fielder Roel Santos, 28, is an outstanding runner, though he didn’t play much during the Pan American Games and was left off the Premier 12 team. He’s a smaller lefty with top-of-the-scale speed, a good batting eye (he has 50 walks, 22 strikeouts) but not much power, with a .280/.400/.377 batting line in 328 plate appearances.

The best pitching prospect in Cuba is righthander Hector Mendoza, but he won’t be pitching in the Caribbean Series. He recently re-signed a contract to play for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan this season.

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