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

Lookouts Open Homestand Tuesday With 9-4 Win Over Birmingham

The last place Birmingham Barons fell victim to a six-run sixth inning uprising that lifted the first place Chattanooga Lookouts to Tuesday night's 9-4 win  -- their 24th win of the second half. The Lookouts have 12 wins at home and 12 wins on the road. Starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves allowed just three hits over 5 2/3 innings. Gonsalves (7-3) allowed two runs while ... (click for more)

Rusty Ballenger Sits Atop Current UCRA Points Standings

The reigning/defending United Crate Racing Alliance (UCRA) Champion Rusty Ballenger of Seymour, Tn., sits atop the current points standings after eight rounds of the 2017 season leaving Fort Payne (AL) Motor Speedway gaining five valuable points over his two closest challengers  Saturday  night. Ballenger took over the points lead two weeks earlier exiting I-75 ... (click for more)

Soddy Daisy Considering Property Tax Increase Of Just Under 10 Cents

Soddy Daisy officials are considering a property tax increase of just under 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.   A possible vote on the increase is set for the next meeting of the Soddy Daisy Commission on Aug. 3 at 7 p.m.   The current tax rate is 1.3524, but the new certified rate after the recent reappraisal is 1.2559.   ... (click for more)

Police Find Large Cache Of Meth, $23,134 Cash On Hensley At Motel Near Hamilton Place; Police Say He Was Supplier To Rossville Man Who Died In June 29 Overdose

Chattanooga Police said they found Michael Wade Hensley with a large cache of meth, a loaded handgun and $23,134 cash after being summoned to a motel near Hamilton Place Mall last Wednesday. Police said they believe that Hensley, 41, was the supplier for a 36-year-old Rossville man who died of an overdose on June 29. Hensley is now facing federal charges of possession of meth ... (click for more)

Dr. Livesay Should Step Down From Bryan College Leadership - And Response (3)

I am writing in response to the July 25th article, "Online Petition Seeks Removal of Bryan College President, Board Chair".  As a graduate of Bryan College (1984), I am saddened by the response of Dr. Stephen Livesay and the Board of Trustees regarding the online petition.  The purpose of the petition really has little to do with the school’s “clarification” of its ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘No Sir -- It Stays Here’

To any of the millions who have served the United States on the field of combat, the most hallowed and prized distinction is our nation’s Medal of Honor. It is never given, it is always earned before it is ever awarded.  At least that’s the way it was up until a sun-splashed Wednesday three weeks ago in Vicenza, Italy. There is an Army base there that houses the 173 rd Airborne ... (click for more)