Before I began capturing video and writing about Cuban baseball, my photos connected me with the Cuban baseball community. Some of my early photos were the first to circulate as the internet was in it’s naissance. I have had the good fortune to return many times and capture the Cuban National Team in Canada as well. Join me in a new series where I share some of my favourite photos and tell the Stories of some of Cuba’s best players. Today let’s look at Yasiel Santoya Through My Lens.
Player movement in the Cuban National Series is a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to the reinforcement draft players switching clubs was very rare. At the same time that increasing players are repatriating to Cuba and a new cohort of young players are ascending, Cuba is looking for unique ways to balance rosters. A growing number of players both young and old are being granted permission to seek a better playing opportunity in Cuba. Yasiel Santoya is a veteran first baseman and more recently team captain for Matanzas. He will be granted the opportunity to find a new club for the second time. He was originally with Sancti Spiritus before being allowed to join the Cocodrilos roughly a decade ago.
Yasiel Santoya has been a consistent leader for the Matanzas Cocodrilos since he joined the squad for the 2011-2012 Season. The 6’2 197lb First Baseman has been an above average contact bat also able to provide a bit of punch to the lineup in the City of Bridges. He has represented Cuba on the international stage. My introduction was during the 2016 CanAm tour where he received the majority of at bats at first base.
Matanzas has been one of the stronger squads in the Cuban National Series since the mid 2010s. They frequently dominated during the regular season but came up short in the playoffs. The Cocodrilos finally broke through in the 59th Cuban National Series and won their first title. Yasiel Santoya was a key piece but just one year later seemed to fall out of favour. Matanzas appeared in their second consecutive league finals in 2021 but Santoya didn’t see the field in this series. This reduced role likely led to his request for a new opportunity.
Santoya’s numbers might not be eye-popping but they are consistent. It is getting harder to rate offensive performance in the Cuban National Series as batting statistics inflate. Yet In 17 seasons Yasiel has posted a .305/.391/.451 batting line. Perhaps in line with the offensive uptick overall his 2019/2020 season may have been his best. At 32 years of age he hit a robust .356 with 11 home runs and 57 RBI’s which paired with veteran infielders Jefferson Delgado and Erisbel Arruebarrena drove the Cocodrilos offence. His demotion was somewhat surprising even if his 2020 season represented a regression from the year prior.