I just finished re-reading The Duke of Havana, a great book about the back story of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, his rise to the top (and subsequent political fall from grace) in Cuban professional baseball, his escape from his home-land, his rise with the 1998 New York Yankees, and the general politics/life of typical Cubans in the post-USSR era. Despite the crushing effects of the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba over the last 40 years, the island continues to produce MLB-quality baseball players. Of course, thanks to the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, when it comes time for the World Baseball Classic, we can’t see a unified Cuban team. Cubans who have escaped to play in America can never go back, and (as detailed in the book), often times leave behind wives, children and family who are subsequently pressured politically by Castro’s hacks.
I wondered what could an all-Cuba team really look like, if MLB players and other expatriots were allowed to re-unite with the current set of known Cuban amateur stars? Using some of the same methods as in my “All Virginia” post, by searching for those born in Cuba along with some well-known Cuban Americans (per the politics link above), here’s a possible WBC roster of maximum strength for Team Cuba:
Manager: Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves. We’d get Cuban hall-of-famer Tony Perez out of semi-retirement (he was coaching at a small college in Georgia recently).
- C: Yasmani Grandal or J.P. Arencibia
- 1B: Kendrys Morales or Gaby Sanchez
- 2B: Yunel Escobar or Sean Rodriguez
- 3B: Yonder Alonso
- SS: Yuniesky Betancourt or Alexei Ramirez (2006 WBC Team Cuba member)
- LF: Yoenis Cespedes (2009 WBC team member)
- CF: John Jay (parents born in Cuba, emigrated to US before birth)
- RF: Leonys Martin (2009 WBC team member) or Dayan Viciedo
Reserves: Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler, Alberto Castillo, Jose Iglesias, Juan Miranda, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brayan Pena, Eddy Rodriguez
Best Cuban amateurs (aka, the leading defection candidates): Alfredo Despaigne (just named MVP of round 1 of pool play), Alexei Bell, Yulieski Gourriel, Jose Abreu (the consensus #1 Cuban amateur prospect right now).
Thoughts: There’s some talent in this lineup; Cuba has developed some power hitters over the past few years but seems to specialize more in middle infielders (most of these reserves are middle infield prospects). But a potential 3-4-5 of Morales-Cespedes-Alonso is nothing to shake a stick at. I think this team could score some runs and would be excellent defensively.
- Gio Gonzalez
- Jose Contreras
- Livan Hernandez
- Yunesky Maya (2006 and 2009 WBC team member)
- Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez we’ll get him out of retirement; i’m sure he can still throw)
- Aroldis Chapman (2009 WBC team member)
- Francisely Bueno
- Raul Valdez
- Danys Baez (retired in 2011)
Thoughts: So, we’re a little light on pitching, it seems. We make use of Gonzalez’ first generation in USA status to steal him away from Team USA. But after him the starting pitching gets light (even if you push Chapman into a starting role as Cincinnati is looking to do in 2013). Contreras is a career 101 ERA+ guy, Livan may not have a job in 2013 and all nats fans can speak to what Maya brings to the table at this point. I threw in El Duque despite him probably being close to 50 at this point (B-R lists his birthday in 1965); he was always in great shape and probably could throw a few junk balls up there right now.