The Best & Worst Cuban Baseball Players in MLB’s 2016 season
The Best & Worst Cuban Baseball Players in MLB’s 2016 season
The 2016 season was very special for Cuban baseball. In almost six decades, it was the first time that over thirty ballplayers from that country were on the field in Major League Baseball, most of them with megabuck contracts; however, not everything was right in this championship, since 24-year-old Jose Fernandez, the most promising pitcher in MLB, passed away and other athletes faced in and out of the field.
PanamericanWorld proposes a review of moments that will certainly remain in the memory of Cuban baseball fans, as well as the stories of those players that weren’t up to expectations.
Jose Fernandez (Villa Clara – Miami Marlins)
Jose Fernandez had passed from being a prospect to becoming the main pitcher of Miami Marlins. His elbow underwent surgery and its performance was great, with speeds over 95 mph, combined with an unreachable slider to defeat his rivals. He won 16 games, delivered 253 strikeouts in 182.1 innings and was included in the National League team during the All-Star Games. A candidate to Cy Young? There was no doubt about it… but everything faded away on Sunday September 25th, when his motorboat crashed in Miami Beach. Fernandez’s death shocked the baseball universe.
Jose Dariel Abreu (Cienfuegos – Chicago White Sox)
The White Sox executives and fans were hoping Abreu, rookie of the year in the American League 2014, to go beyond the results achieved in previous seasons, when he shot over 30 homeruns and finished with more than 100 RBI. It didn’t happen, but, anyway, it’d be too risky to describe the season as bad, since the Cienfuegos-born player’s batting average was .293, with 25 HR and 100 RBI. There are critics who point out —with certain deal of reason— that his first half was terrible and his recovery came when his team was already down in the fourth position of the Central division.
Yoenis Cespedes (Granma – New York Mets)
In New York, everybody was hoping Cespedes to have a performance similar to the one lived back in 2015, when he batted the Mets into the postseason. That’s why he was offered 75 million dollars for three years; however, Cespedes suffered some injuries —as well as several players in the team— which affected his overall performance. He finished with a batting average of .280, 31 HRs and 86 RBIs. The Mets were defeated by the San Francisco Giants and Cespedes couldn’t do much against Madison Bumgarner’s balls. He has two more years of contract, but the Cuban player is likely to go out and join a new team interested in paying at least 100 million dollars for his services.
Yunel Escobar (Havana – Los Angeles Angels)
This was the Cuban player with the highest average in MLB. Escobar had shown, since 2015, a remarkable improvement in his offensive capacity and he played his role with the Angels, although the team was actually a mess. The player from Havana batted for .304, 28 doubles and 39 RBIs.
Yasmani Tomas (Havana – Arizona Diamondbacks)
The “Tank”, as he’s called due to his physical constitution, clearly showed that he had adapted to the MLB pitching style. In his second campaign, Tomas shot 31 HRs and 83 RBIs, with an average of .272, which is acceptable for a slugger. The Diamondbacks were one of the biggest disappointments in the National League, but nobody can blame the Cuban ballplayer for the poor outcome of 69 wins and 93 defeats.
Kendrys Morales (Havana – Kansas City Royals)
After two consecutive participations in the World Series, the Kansas City Royals were trying to make to the postseason, but they couldn’t do it. Actually, the whole team, except for Morales, was below expectations. The Cuban player was the best batter, with 30 HRs and 93 RBIs.
Aledmis Diaz (Villa Clara – San Luis Cardinals)
Diaz was the great sensation of Cuban baseball this season. He was betrayed by the nerves at the beginning of the season and made several mistakes, but his skills convinced the executives of the San Luis Cardinals to give him a vote of confidence and the Villa Clara-born player proved his worth. An injury in the hand kept him away from the fields; nonetheless, Diaz finished the championship with excellent numbers: batting average .300, 17 HRs and 65 RBIs.
Yulieski Gurriel (Sancti Spiritus – Houston Astros)
After having played for Cuba in the Caribbean Series, held in the Dominican Republic, Gurriel, accompanied by his younger brother, decided to abandon the delegation and go after a MLB contract. Six months later, the Houston Astros offered him 47.5 million dollars, for 5 years. The beginning in MLB was promising; however, his performance went down during the last games of the championship and he finished with .262, 3 homeruns and 15 RBIs.
Aroldis Chapman (Holguin – New York Yankees / Chicago Cubs)
The pitcher that holds the speed record in Major League spent a whole month without playing with the Yankees, as a punishment for a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend. He returned in good shape and saved 20 games, but this franchise decided to “rejuvenate” its lineup and sent the Cuban player to the Chicago Cubs. Chapman certainly thanked the transfer because he joined the most complete team in MLB. With the Yankees he won three games and struck out 44 batters in 31.1 innings; while, as a member of the Cubs, he saved 16 games, his ERA was barely 1.01 and he defeated 46 batters in 26.2 innings.
Ariel Miranda (Havana – Baltimore Orioles / Seattle Mariners)
This talented southpaw pitcher couldn’t do much with the Orioles, since he only worked 2 innings and he got severely punished. The Seattle Mariners “rescued” Miranda, who got a position in the opening lineup. The team made it to the final in the battle for the ticket to the postseason, but it was defeated once again; nonetheless, the Cuban ballplayer, who opened 10 games, won 5 and lost 2, probably guaranteed his presence in the 2017 season with the same uniform.
Several Cuban baseball players had problems in and out of the field. Yasiel Puig’s story made lots of headlines. The Dodgers decided to take him to Triple A, due to his limited performance, and they unsuccessfully tried to transfer him to another team; but nobody was willing to offer something for the “wild horse”. The Cienfuegos-born player was given a second chance: he was promoted to the main team and he made it to the playoff. His batting average was .263, with 11 HRs and 45 RBIs.
Yohan Moncada, from the Boston Red Sox, wasn’t up to expectations either, since he was described as the main prospect in MLB. Moncada stood out in Triple A, but he couldn’t do much against breaking balls: he had 19 opportunities to carry the bat and got 12 strike outs. John Farrell and the executives will sure give him another chance… in 2017.
When Boston decided to offer Rusney Castillo the amazing 72.5 million dollars —the highest figure obtained by a Cuban ballplayer— many people thought that the contract was out of proportion. In two years, Castillo has proven that the critics were right because, in 2016, this fielder had barely 8 batting opportunities with the Red Sox.
The worst moment for a Cuban baseball player was lived this year by Hector Olivera. The Dodgers hired him for 62.5 million dollars and later transferred him to the Atlanta Braves, where he seemed to have a position in the lineup. Olivera began the season with the wrong foot and he solely shot 4 unstoppable balls in 19 batting opportunities. He was later involved in domestic violence incident, so he was suspended for 82 games. The Braves transferred him to the San Diego Padres, in the movement that included Matt Kemp. Finally, the Padres didn’t even allow him to wear the uniform and he was taken out of the team. He is unlikely going to be hired by another franchise.