Cuba Enters 2023 World Baseball Classic With Something To Prove

When the Cuban national team traveled, it was appointment viewing for scouts.

Or, at least, it used to be.

Up until the mid 2010s, Cuba’s national team was stacked with players who could have immediately fit into a major league lineup—including multiple all-stars—along with younger players on the rise.

Scouts couldn’t see them play live in Cuba, so whether it was a big event like the Olympics, the first three World Baseball Classics in 2006, 2009 and 2013, or a smaller tournament or friendly series, MLB teams made sure they sent some of their top evaluators to watch the Cuban team at one of the few opportunities they had to get in-person looks.

With the state of the Cuban national team in recent years, that’s no longer the case. For the younger teams, like Cuba’s 18U or 15U national teams, those still draw a considerable scouting presence, though even those teams have been hampered by players leaving Cuba at younger ages.

Now, with hundreds of Cuban players having left the country to pursue a career with a major league club, the national team is filled with veteran types who are more comparable to a longtime Mexican League player. The heat of the heavy scouting presence following them has cooled.

And it has taken a toll on the success of what was once a perennial powerhouse expected to reach the gold-medal game in every tournament. After finishing runner-up to Japan in the inaugural 2006 WBC, Cuba hasn’t reached the semifinals since. 

At the 2020 Olympics—held in 2021 in Tokyo—Cuba failed to even qualify for the games for the first time ever after getting eliminated in the first round of the World Baseball Softball Confederation Americas Qualifier.

The 2023 Cuban national team for this WBC will have a different look, one that for the first team will be a mix of players who are still in Cuba playing in their top league, Serie Nacional, along with major league players. 

Outfielder Luis Robert and third baseman Yoan Moncada were both rising stars in Cuba’s junior leagues who left before they ever became stalwarts on the national team. Now they will lead the Cuban lineup. Former national team star Yoenis Cespedes, now 37, is on the roster, reunited with longtime national team slugging outfielder Alfredo Despaigne.

Many of the best Cuban players in the world are still not participating, with Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu, Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel, Jorge Soler and Randy Arozarena not on the roster. 

Cubs lefty Roenis Elias, Athletics righthander Luis Romero and Royals righthander Ronald Bolaños are on the pitching staff.

That’s not enough to bring Cuba back to the juggernaut status of its old national teams. But it represents a major change in the way the country is building its roster, one that should give it a greater chance to be more competitive in future WBCs. 

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