Yasiel Puig & Other Cuban Baseball Players Face Great Risks

Puig Impressed Fans In Chattanooga While Playing for the Lookouts

Friday, August 16, 2013
Yasiel Puig poses with fellow Cuban Onelki Garcia. Garcia has been promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Yasiel Puig poses with fellow Cuban Onelki Garcia. Garcia has been promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque.
- photo by Tim Evearitt
"I don't think at any time you have seen so many Cuban players come here and have the kind of impact that they are having." -- longtime scout Rudy Santin

It was Esteban Bellan, who was born in Havana and attended college in New York, who was the first Latin American to play Major League Baseball in 1871.

But the circumstances surrounding the Cuban market have changed dramatically in the last decade, much less the last 142 years.

There's an age-old adage that says the best Cuban ballplayers are not in the Major Leagues, but back on the island playing for the country's national team. In recent years, the adage has lost some of its mythical status in part because the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig has burst onto the scene in Los Angeles, while Oakland's Cespedes blasted his way to the Chevrolet Home Run Derby title at this year's All-Star Game in New York, and Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman is in his second year of lighting up radar guns as the Reds' closer.

The 22-year-old Puig, who played for the 2013 Chattanooga Lookouts before being called up, has made an immediate impact in Los Angeles while simultaneously drawing the fury and admiration of the baseball world for his take-no-prisoners playing style. Puig, who signed a seven-year deal for $42 million last summer, is a five-tool player -- six, if you count his attitude

Then there's Cespedes, 27, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal with Oakland not long after defecting from Cuba in 2012. He's made a reputation as the hard-working, humble family man of this new generation of Cubans.

Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million deal in January 2010, is the rebel of the group, but he's coming into his own in Cincinnati. Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez, 21, is another Cuban player on the rise. Fernandez and Chapman were National League All-Stars this year and among the 17 Cuban players who have played in the Major Leagues this year.

There are other Cubans making their mark in the big leagues: Texas outfielder Leonys Martin, White Sox teammates Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez, Seattle's Kendrys Morales, Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria, Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar and shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was recently traded from Boston to Detroit.

And there is another wave of Cuban players on the way. Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, who hit .360 with three home runs and nine RBIs in six games in this year's World Baseball Classic, reportedly defected from Cuba earlier this week. He's a former MVP in Cuba, where he had one of the best seasons in league history in 2010-11, hitting .453 with 33 home runs and 93 RBIs in just 66 games. Various reports have placed Abreu, 26, in the Dominican Republic or Haiti.

Also available is right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who had been close to a deal with the Phillies but remains unsigned. Former Cuban national squad teammate Dariel Hinojosa, a right-hander, is expected to sign a multimillion-dollar deal soon. Odrisamer Despaigne, 26, a right-hander, and 24-year-old left-hander Misael Silverio are among the recent Cuban defectors expected to hit the free-agent market sometime this year. There's also right-handed pitcher Leandro Linares, 19, who recently signed with the Indians for $950,000.

"The Cuban player is at its peak," said former scout Rudy Santin, who represents Guerrero. "I don't think at any time you have seen so many Cuban players come here and have the kind of impact that they are having. They are all starters, and some are making a big difference. Some are contributing as everyday players. There's never been so many contribute like that, and I was a scout for 30 years."

It's been more than two decades since right-hander Rene Arocha became the first player to defect from Cuba's national team in 1991. He later signed with the Cardinals and debuted in 1993 when he was 27 years old. Brothers Livan and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez followed their big league dreams in 1995. "El Duque" was 32 when he made his big league debut, and Livan was 21. Right-hander Jose Contreras defected in 2002 and was 31 when he made his debut with the Yankees the next year.

Decades earlier, Minnie Minoso helped integrate the Major Leagues in the 1950s. Players like Tony Perez, Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and Camilo Pascual left Fidel Castro's communist island and thrived in the big leagues in the years that followed.

---- Source: MLB.com

Puig speaks with reporters in April at Media Day.
Puig speaks with reporters in April at Media Day.
- Photo2 by Tim Evearitt

Randy Smith: A Special Hall Of Fame Class

The 2014 class of inductees into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame was really something special. The group was headed by a pair of Atlanta Braves’ pitchers and their manager. It also included Former Braves’ and Yankees’ manager Joe Torre and White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who played baseball at Auburn. In other words, it was a great day for the south. Braves’ pitchers Greg ... (click for more)

Raiders Baseball Club To Hold Clinic And Tryouts For 9- And 10-Year-Olds

Raiders Baseball Club, based out of Chattanooga and North Georgia, will be hosting a clinic/tryout for upcoming 9-year-olds for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 seasons. It will take place at Baylor School on Aug. 2 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and Aug. 3 from 1-4 p.m. Both days are preferred but not required. The clinic/tryout will take place on the Baylor Softball Field. The clinic cost is ... (click for more)

City Council Presents Potential Ordinance To Address Noise Level Downtown

Members of the Chattanooga City Council presented a potential ordinance to address concerns about the noise level downtown. If passed, the ordinance will put limits to both dB(A) and dB(C) levels of sound. It was noted, "When we compare our dB level, it is clear that Chattanooga is lower than Nashville and Knoxville." However, this comparison only takes dB(A) levels into consideration. ... (click for more)

Harr Outlines $40 Million Plan For Chattanooga Light Rail System

Outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr on Monday outlined a $40 million plan for a Chattanooga light rail system that would serve not only downtown, but also the Airport and the Enterprise South Industrial Park. In a speech to the Chattanooga Engineers Club, Mr. Harr said most cities looking at such an ambitious plan "would be facing costs of over a billion dollars." ... (click for more)

Senator Bob Corker: An Open Letter To Tennesseans

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state in which companies worldwide are clamoring to establish a presence. Many attribute it to our pro-business culture, well-prepared workforce, low tax environment, right-to-work policies, and engaged citizenry.  That is why the announcement by Volkswagen to build its midsize sports utility vehicle and establish the South’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Wamp Refuses To Stoop

With less than two weeks before the Aug. 7 th election and the last week of early voting now underway in Hamilton County, Congressional challenger Weston Wamp sounded upbeat and relaxed early yesterday afternoon. “I’m pleased to say that I believe we are right where we need to be … maybe even more than we had hoped.” Wamp, who is challenging two-term incumbent Chuck Fleishmann ... (click for more)