The inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 looks like a text book case of unintended consequences for Cuba. Cuba finished 2nd to Japan in a hotly contested tournament. Even as the runner up, it cemented their status as a World baseball superpower. It also put many players on the foreign scouting radar and started the wave of defections still occurring today. Let’s take a look at Leslie Anderson Camagüey Bull to Bull Durham and Back.
Yuli Gurriel and Alexei Ramirez went on to have the most successful Major League careers but many more left to pursue pro careers. One player who falls into the latter category is Leslie Anderson. A centerfielder for the Camagüey Toros in his earlier days. He would return for Cuba in the 2009 classic, but soon venture to America and beyond. His path might be described as a Camagüey Bull to Bull Durham and back.
Leslie Anderson is a 6-1 lefty who patrolled centre in his youth but eventually settled into a corner outfield/1st base type. This move from the premier outfield spot might have hurt his prospect status or explain why he was unable to advance past AAA. He would sign with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 and soon debut with the Durham Bulls. Anderson would spend 4 seasons largely with Durham and put up steady if not impressive numbers. Unfortunately when you get 4 seasons to put up impressive AAA numbers it might tip the organizations plans for you.
In 1724 At Bats he hit .295/.350/.441 with 52 HR and 244 RBI but the call to the Tampa Bay Rays never came. The decision to leave Cuba was at least cushioned by the $1.4 million dollar signing bonus he received. Anderson would set his sights on Japan and join the Yomiuri Giants. He would play parts of three season in Tokyo but only amass the equivalent of one full season’s at bats. His numbers in NPB mirrored his AAA performance hitting .288/.355/.460 with 22 HR and 82 RBI in 541 At Bats.
There is much commonality amongst players as to why they left Cuba. A greater proportion though are similar in their desire to return to Cuba. Anderson fulfilled this desire in 2019. Increasing players are being granted the chance to return to Cuba and return to the Cuban National Series. Anderson rejoined the Camagüey Toros and was a key piece in their run to the finals in the 59th National Series. He would hit a key home run vs Industriales in the semi-finals. His 2020 season was impressive in a small sample as he hit a robust .385. He would join Camagüey late due to Covid-19. He has a unique arrangement in that he lives in Florida most of the year but is able to travel to Cuba for the National Series.
This arrangement seemed impossible just a few years ago. It is a path increasing players are taking though. Erisbel Arruebarrena and Yadir Drake have followed suit. Both of the sluggers for Matanzas are also able to play professionally in Mexico and earn relative decent money. Some might look at many of these players as Quadruple A at best. But it is a creative approach to fortifying Cuba’s top league. Players that tried their hand in the Majors can still make money professionally and return to their beloved home country and contribute.
Leslie Anderson had a robust Cuban National Series career before leaving Cuba. He has played 11 seasons and is on the cusp for 100 home runs and 200 doubles. Both of those milestones are within reach but will have to be attained in the 61st National Series. He has indicated he plans to retire at the end of the season. Camagüey underachieved in 2020 but returns much of the squad that fell just short of their first title in the 59th National Series. Anderson is hoping he can lead the Toros and go out on top. Either way his story is compelling as a Camagüey Bull to Bull Durham and Back.