Cuba has announced its roster for the Caribbean Series, which begins on Feb. 1 in the city of Culiacan in Mexico. The team is light on potential major league talent, a reflection of the diminishing overall quality of players still in Cuba with so many of them having left to pursue careers with MLB teams in recent years.
The team is technically Granma, the Serie Nacional champion, though it is heavily bolstered with reinforcement players from other Cuban clubs. In terms of present ability, the best player on the team is Alfredo Despaigne, a 30-year-old corner outfielder who is the country’s premier power hitter. Despaigne doesn’t play much in Cuba any more though. He has spent the last three seasons playing for Chiba Lotte in Japan and sat out most of the 2016-17 season in Cuba.
Among prospects, Victor Mesa (the son of the long time Cuban national team manager of the same name) is the most exciting player on the roster. Mesa, 20, is a dynamic center fielder with excellent athleticism and tools coming off a breakout season in which he batted .359/.399/.539 in 290 plate appearances, ranking seventh in the league in batting average and sixth in slugging. Mesa was by far the league leader in stolen bases with 40 steals in 50 attempts. Guillermo Aviles, a lefty who plays first base and the outfield, is also on the team. Aviles, 24, batted .306/.419/.441 in 344 plate appearances.
Cuba’s roster also includes Yoelkis Cespedes, the 19-year-old brother of Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Yoelkis plays for Granma, the team Yoenis spent his career with when he played in Cuba.
Notably absent from the team is 20-year-old outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez, one of Cuba’s best young players. Martinez is expected to be on Cuba’s World Baseball Classic team in March.
Jose A. Garcia