FanPost

Cubans, anyone?

Yulieski Gourriel of Cuba hits the ball during the Baseball Bronze Medal Match between Mexico and Cuba during the XVI Pan American Games in October 2011 in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. - Dennis Grombkowski

Cuba finally announced its complete 28-man roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic which begins on March 2nd. The tournament should provide some of the team's best players with ample opportunity to defect to the MLB and the copious riches it has to offer. Here are the names of some of the top players who could potentially help a major league team, and wouldn't count against their IFA bonus pools.

1) Alfredo Despaigne, OF, 5'9 172, R/R, (Age 26)
(2012) .326/.479/.695 36hr 105rbi 19(2b) 91bb 47so 4sb 2cs

He's a monster of the Cuban leagues, a perennial All-Star and three-time league MVP. A standout performer on several Cuban national teams at international tournaments, including the 2008 Olympics where he homered off Stephen Strasburg. Unquestionably Cuba's most accomplished player, and arguably their best power hitter, Despaigne has set the league record for homeruns hit in a season twice, most recently in 2011-2012, reclaiming his title from slugger Jose Abreu. Despite his modest size the small right-fielder has a ultra quick bat in the mold of a Gary Sheffield, allowing for game changing power that’s on par with the best that MLB has to offer. Though his batting average has declined in recent years, his walks have increased to an almost Bondsian level. Despite all of his talent, there is no way of knowing for certain if or when he might decide to defect, with some teams believing Despaigne will never leave Cuba. VIDEO

2) Jose D Abreu, 1B/DH, 6'3 240, R/R, (Age 25)
(2012) .394/.542/.837 35hr 99rbi 18(2b) 1(3b) 75bb 40so 1sb 0cs

There are lot of things to criticize about Abreu: he isn't nearly the all-around athlete that someone like Cespedes is; he's a first baseman at best and maybe a DH; he doesn't run well; his body is not exactly chiseled; his stats have been inflated somewhat by all the intentional walks. What can't be criticized is his ability to hit a baseball and hit it hard. Abreu is arguably the best offensive player to ever come out of Cuba, the young slugger has been a triple crown threat almost every year in the Series Nacionales. With the ability to hit for power and average, and keen batting eye, he's like Cuba's answer to Miguel Cabrera except four years younger. He's the prototypical cleanup hitter who could start today at 1st or DH for all 30 teams, and be an above average player from the start. VIDEO

3) Yulieski Gourriell, 3B/SS, 6'0 175, R/R, (Age 28)
(2012) .324/.434/.586 22hr 85rbi 61bb 34so 14sb 4cs

For a long time Yulieski Gourriel was generally thought to be the most talented player in the world not playing in the majors. Unfortunately, for major league scouts and general managers, he has resisted the temptation to defect time and time again, and there seems to be no desire on his part to leave his homeland, where he is a national hero, for the riches of the MLB. Now squarely in the prime of his career more than a few teams will be anxiously waiting again to see if he decides to make the move stateside after the 2013 WBC. At his best Gourriell is a bonafide 5-tool player, though his speed has diminished somewhat from his early days. A slick fielder he can play at either short or second base capably, but thrives at the hot corner where he could provide a team with gold glove caliber defense. Offensively he's as smart and patient a hitter as they come with a good approach and power to all fields. He profiles as a power hitting third baseman who can hit in the middle of a lineup, and could surpass fellow country man Yeonis Cespedes for the highest bonus ever given to a Cuban position player should he choose to finally defect.

VIDEO

4) Frederich Cepeda, OF, 5'10 207, S/R (Age 31)

(2012) .362/.505/.612 7hr 32rbi 9(2b) 4(3b) 46bb 22so 0sb 0cs

Now 31-yearsold the switch-hitting left fielder isn't likely a candidate to defect at this point in his career, but if he did there would still be a lineup to sign the aging slugger, hoping that he still has something left in the tank. In his prime Cepeda was Cuba's best hitter, and is probably still among the top 3 regardless. The guy can flat out hit, from both sides of the plate. A veteran outfielder of the Series Nacionales, Cepeda has a thick upper body and massive, strong hands that allow him to put the kind of charge into a ball that you wouldn't expect from a player his size. Cepedes is as complete a hitter as they have in Cuba with an incredible batters eye at the plate. He is able to wait for the pitch he wants, recognize it, and hit it hard, and often, a long way. What makes him even more impressive is his sense of the moment, his ability to play well at crucial times. During the 2006 WBC he batted .385/.500/.731 with 6 walks and 8 RBI in 8 games. Cepeda was also the best hitter in the first two rounds of the 2009 WBC when he hit .500 with 2 doubles, 3 homers, 5 runs and 10 RBI in six games. VIDEO

5) Jose Miguel Fernandez, 2B, 5'11 185, L/R (Age 24)

(2013) .393/.495/.593 7hr 35rbi 9(2b) 0(3b) 27bb 5so 0sb 0cs

Blessed with one of the best bats in in Cuba, Fernandez led the Series Nacionales in hitting beating out both Abreu and Cepeda with a .393 batting average at only 24-years-old. The young second baseman has a very good offensive skillset which includes excellent bat control, patience, and some unexpected pop in his bat. Fernandez strikeout-to-walk ratio is indicative of his ability to make contact, with a sweet lefty stroke that allows him wait on pitches and slap them to the opposite field. The talented second baseman has the tools to be the ideal number two-hitter in a major league lineup. Not much of a speedster his range and defense is perfectly adequate for second where he is considered a solid to above average defender, never posting a fielding percentage below .973 in his Series Nacionales career. VIDEO (34-1:25)

6) Alexei Bell, OF, 5'9 174, R/R (Age 28)
(2012) .327/.449/.590 18hr 69rbi 53bb 35so 16sb 9cs

Bell is currently experiencing a down year in the Series Nacionales, by far the worst of his career. Some think he is no longer the same player who broke the Cuban homerun record a number of years ago, but at only 28-yearsold, that may be a little premature. At his best Bell is one of the most exciting players in Cuban baseball with a rare combination of power and speed. Similar in physical profile to country man Despaigne, Bell is a smaller player with some juice in his bat. The only ballplayer in any known league ever to smash a pair of grand slams in the first inning on Opening Day, Bell combines that ability to hit with power with solid plate discipline which also allows him to hit for average. His age as well as his long track record will have many teams hoping to sign him, with the expectation of a boucneback to his previous form. VIDEO

7) Yasmani Tomas, OF, 6'1 230, R/R, (Age 22)

(2013) .346/.403/.638 8hr 25rbi 9(2b) 2(3b) 12bb 19so 1sb 3cs

Young centerfielder with excellent range and a power bat. Well developed build with thick lower half, physically very similar to Oakland left-fielder Yeonis Cespedes. A very strong player. Tomás hit .297 for the Industriales in 2008-2009 and was 5 for 26 with a triple and a homer in 2009-2010. After not playing for a year, he hit .301/.333/.580 with 16 homers in 69 games in 2011-2012 to establish himself as a power threat at DH. He is on Cuba's roster for the 2013 WBC. VIDEO (6:10-6:30)

8) Erisbel Arruebarruena, SS, 6'0 167, R/R (Age 22)
.320/.367/.520 8hr 19(2b) 9(3b) 19bb 39so 10sb 8cs

A 5-tool athlete with a wiry and projectable build, Arrebarruena is a dazzling defender said to be the best the country has ever produced. However, unlike fellow Cuban shortstops Rey Ordonez (Mets), or more recently Adeiny Hechavarria (Marlins), and Jose Iglesias (Red Sox) Arrebarruena's bat is said to be just as good as his glove, leaving no question about his ability to hit. Arrebarruena is aggressive at the plate with a quick bat and strong wrists. Phyiscally resembling Hechavarria, he has already shown the ability to hit for power in the Series Nacionales and could likely post double digit homeruns annually for a major league team. VIDEO

9) Rusney Castillo, OF, 5'8 170, R/R (Age 25 )

(2013) .250/.352/.342 3hr 15rbi 3(2b) 1(3b) 16bb 16so 6sb 6cs

Toolys player with good all-around talent. Relatively polished bat. Leadoff type hitter who does a good job getting on base. Looks physically similar to Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis but with much more pop in his bat (even to the opposite field). Possesses premium speed despite the sub par stolen base numbers this year. Having a down year overall, but has track record of success in the Series Nacionales. Stellar fielder with the range to play centerfield and a cannon for an arm. Best year was 2010-2011 when he hit .324/.373/.555 with 22 doubles and 18 homers, 29 stolen bases 79 rbi in 88 games. VIDEO (5:44-6:09)

10) Wladimir Garcia, RHP, 6'2 200, (Age 23)
(2012) 14-5 1.71era 173.2ip 119h 101so 68bb 5hr

The Cuban pitching is not as strong as it once was in the days of El Duque, Livan Hernandez, Jose Contreras, and especially with the defection of fireballer Aroldis Chapman to the MLB. Garcia represents the best of what remains at this point, with the kind of stuff to make scouts take notice. A hard-thrower (though not in Chapman's class) Garcia's fastball generally sits in the 94-95mph range, but has been clocked as high as 97 at the WBC. The pitch has solid life and rides in on right-handed batters. Garcia compliments his above average heater with a devastating forkball that is his go-to pitch for a strikeout and a big sweeping curveball that he will throw from time to time. Garcia has the size and frame to sustain the rigors of starting, and with his three pitch repertoire would probably profile as a 3 starter on a first division team. VIDEO (#34 RED)

11) Yadier Pedroso, RHP, 6'0 190, (Age 26)
(2012) 10-6 2.64era 129.1ip 97h 128so 34bb 9hr

Pedroso is a solidly built relief pitcher for Cuba's 2013 WBC entry. He throws a solid-average fastball that will sit 87-89 and skim 90mph. The pitch has excellent life. Pedroso throws at three quarters, but like a lot of Cuban pitchers he will drop down his arm slot from time to time to throw the hitter off and create deception. His best secondary pitcher is a slider that he throws almost straight over the top. The pitch has sharp break at times, and he uses it as his strikeout pitch. Pedroso also throws a splitter, which he tends to bury in the dirt. He uses it primarily against lefties, presumably as a changeup. VIDEO (#62 RED)

12) Ismel Jimenez, RHP, 5'10 214, (Age 26)
(2012) 17-5 2.48era 185ip 167h 119so 39bb 12hr

This smallish starter is expected Cuba's opening starter for the WBC when they face Brazil on March 3rd. With his 17 wins in 2012, he recorded the highest single season victory total in the Series Nacionales for the past decade and 4th highest in the league's history. Jimenez owns the highest winning percentage (102-38) in the history of the Cuban league, recently passing El Duque’s gold standard. Built physically like former Blue Jays' pitcher Estaban Loiaza, he has a thick lower half, and long loose arms that allow him to withstand the rigors of starting despite his compact size. While Jimenez stuff is not as good as his countryman Garcia's, but it's solid-average and his pitchability is excellent. Jimenez' fastball routinely clocks in at 88-91mph. He throws from a low three quarter delivery giving the pitch solid movement and he spots it well to both sides of the plate. Jimenez relies primarily on his offspeed offerings which he can throw for strikes at any time. Very good command of a tight breaking slider at 84-85mph. He also also flashes a slow curveball at 77-81mph. Rare changeup, at 80-81, that drops off the table, might ctually be a screwball. He has all the pitches. Can be a decent number 4 or 5 starter in the majors, or a very good long man. . VIDEO

13) Freddy Asiel Alvarez, RHP, 5'11 200, (Age 23)
(2012) 7-5 2.90era 99.1ip 98h 61so 28bb 4hr

Short stocky pitcher with strong muscular build. Deceptive delivery. Changes arm angles from over the top, to three quarters, to side arm. Fastball has lots of movement especially to the arm side, mostly 88-91mph. Slider 82-85 mph, thrown from different arm angles. Tighter spin from three quarters. Slow looping curve, thrown mostly over the top, 79-82mph. Command is spotty. Reliever profile. VIDEO

14) Norberto González, LHP, 6'0 209 (Age 33)

(2013) 4-2 2.30era 62.2ip 67h13bb 34so

Lefty reliever with a high leg kick and a deceptive sidearm delivery. Slings the ball. Fastball mostly up to 86mph, with a very good 79mph slider, which is his go-to pitch. The off-speed specialist posted a 2.45era at the 2009 WBC. Has been given the unflattering nickname "Quasimodo."

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