Honkbal Week Haarlem Preview via Special Contributor to CubaDugout Gawain Owen
Cuba must finish in top 4 to progress
With bags packed and ready to jump on a plane to the Netherlands, below is an outline of Team Cuba,
who they will be playing and my Honkbal Week Haarlem Preview.
Cuba last won this tournament 10 years ago. That roster was stacked. It included players such as José Abreu, Yuli Gurriel and Guillermo Heredia who are playing in MLB. This also included Cuban legends such Alfredo Despaigne, Frederich Cepeda, Frank Morejón and Ariel Pestano.
A lot has changed in the world since then. To put it bluntly Honkbal Week and Team Cuba have had it’s issues. Putting aside the pandemic Cuba did not attend in 2014 or 2016. Various reasons were cited but logic would suggest the terms were not acceptable to the federation. They often require extra plane tickets and lot’s of return luggage!!.. In 2018 when Cuba finally came back the roster of players failed to excite. This was backed up with an 0-5 group stage performance. Cuba only finished 4th overall. If the rumours are true it was made clear by the tournament that Team Cuba must perform this time. They have a long list of countries wanting to compete who are both competitive and self-sufficient.
In 2022 we will be seeing 6 teams play. They are Netherlands, Team USA College, Curacao, Italy, Japan and Cuba. None of these will be an easy game. Historically many teams have come to Holland with the sole intention to beat Cuba. They often set the pitching rotation to match this. With the continued globalisation of baseball driven by MLB we now see Ex MLB players such as Roger Bernadina and Japan HR King Wladimir Balentein with Team Netherlands.
Mike Piazza is the Manager of Team Italy. They will be well organised. Their roster yet finalised will likely be littered with latin players who are given Italian passports. If this was not hard enough Team USA are sending it’s strongest college team. This includes many players already featuring high on the 2023 draft predictions. One name of Team USA worth noting is Yohandy Morales. He is the son of Andy Morales who played for Team Cuba vs. Orioles.
Cuba declared the 60th National Series Champions fortified with select reinforcements would attend in 2022. As Serie Nacional was wrapping up and the announcement of the additional players was made the noise started. It even threatened to overshadow the conclusion of Serie Nacional 61 with it being unclear who selected the added players.
With the team departing on Wednesday many of the reinforcements have not yet met up with Granma. Therefore it will be interesting to see how this team comes together once it arrives in Holland on Thursday. Two names of note are Frederich Cepeda who had a stellar SN61 season and Ariel Pestano Jr who is the son of one of the greatest Cuban catchers of all time.
Personally I don’t want to get into a debate if players should or should not be added. What I will say is the following.
- Fastballs – How many of these batters have seen 90-95mph fastballs on a regular basis and can hit them?
- Pitchers – How many of these pitchers can throw above 90mph?
- Serie Del Caribe – When Granma attends they will hope to have it’s players who are in Japan/Mexico plus reinforcements. Factually many players who played in SN 60 and 61 will not be on the roster.
The federation is sending a team to compete on the field and they believe by adding the players it gives them the best possible chance of being competitive. Remember Cuba finished 4th last time and they must do better this time to ensure they are invited back.
My Cuba prediction.
Cuba are starting with a hard first assignment by playing Holland. This in my opinion will set the expectation for the rest of the tournament. It is critical in the pool stage they finish in the top 4 and then ideally miss Team USA in the Semi Final. Gone are the days of me predicting Team Cuba will win with ease. Now I hope the batters can adjust to 90mph fastballs and the pitchers have enough wisdom/deception to fool the batters they will face.
The team is as follows
RECEIVERS: Iván Prieto González, Ariel Pestano Rosado and Gumersindo Cisneros Morán.
RANKERS: Guillermo Avilés Difurnó, Carlos Benítez Pérez, Lázaro Cedeño González, Osvaldo Abreu Sánchez, Yulián Milán Matos and Alexander Ayala García.
GARDENERS: Alexquemer Sánchez Sánchez, Fréderich Cepeda Cruz, Denis Laza Spencer and Leonel Moa Acevedo.
PITCHERS: Leandro Martínez Figueredo, César R. García Rondón, Yoel Mojena Machado, Kelvis Rodríguez León, Carlos Santana Santiesteban, Erluis Blanco Reyes, Miguel Paradelo Aguilar, Juan Danilo Pérez Meriño, José R. Rodríguez Menéndez, Yuen Socarrás Suárez and Pavel Hernández Bruces.
TECHNICAL STAFF: Carlos Martí Santos (DT), Ramón Rodríguez Rondón, Luis A. Ferrales Jiménez, Leonardo Soto Agüero, Ciro Silvino Licea González, Mario Sánchez Medina, Francisco Diéguez Rivas and Juan E. Orozco Amaya.
Cuba commences tournament play on Saturday vs. Netherlands. I look forward to bringing you the action on a daily basis as we see how Cuba will do on the international stage.
To put it simply Historically
- Team USA
Often the team is like a fine bottle of wine. It needs to be laid down to rest for a few years before you can really appreciate it’s depth. This year on paper many of the college players will be high on the 2023 draft board for teams. What this team will have is blazing fastball and hitters who will be able to crush poor pitching. With many scouts in attendance it will be interesting to see which players thrive under the pressure of tournament play.
Haarlem has a traditional round robin format. The top 4 finishers move into a semi and then final. This year the tournament is condensed into one weekend. This allows Italy to attend and then return to play in it’s own league.
Simply Cuba must perform if they wish to be invited back. Gone are the days of Cuba being the second team on the invite after the Netherlands.