October will see the most important baseball of the season played as usual. Major League playoffs? Well yes, that starts October 7th but the Cuban Elite League begins on October 8th.
The 61st Cuban National Series wrapped with Granma as champions this past June. The Series has the longest legacy and is considered the top baseball competition on the island. Historically it hasn’t had a monopoly though. Competitions such as the Serie Selectiva or Super Series have been contested and in certain seasons even considered the true top league in Cuba. In a way Cuba is moving into the future in revisiting the past. Get Inside the Dugout for my Cuban Elite League Preview.
The structure of the National Series has seen accelerated changes over the past decade. The 60th Series saw 75 games contested without fans in response to a pandemic. The 61st Series mirrored this in length but the schedule pivoted from a September launch to January. This is against the backdrop of a fan base that wants more baseball. At a time when attrition of talent grows and financial resources shrink on the island.
The Cuban Baseball Federation has thus been working to provide more chances for Cuban baseball fans to watch their National Game. All of this while facing real challenges of putting a product on the field at all. Plans were announced before the onset of Covid for an expansion to a 125 game National Series. This would have seen a 75 game 1st phase with the top 6 or 8 teams advancing to the 50 game second phase. The advent of the Cuban Elite League and what is speculated to be a six team 50 game schedule appears to be the spiritual cousin to these plans.
This Elite Series may be a one off with it acting as a showcase for those vying to make the 2023 World Baseball Classic Roster. The construction of that roster has seen massive speculation. Conjecture is we could see everything from Cuban MLB’ers representing the Island to select former pros such as Yasmani Tomas repatriating to status quo of only players living in Cuba being eligible. The Series might also be a trial balloon for a shorter National Series of 16 teams augmented by a six team All-Star competition.
I traced out the history of the National Series and the franchises in the video above. The early National Series franchises and special series franchises were frequently named for prevalent trades or jobs in the provinces they represented. The Elite Series will channel a level of this.
As mentioned six teams will vie for the title of being Cuba’s Elite. Is this move necessitated more by the erosion of talent and limited resources including energy? Will the talent level be any different than the 2nd phase of recent National Series? The Elite structure is an escalation of the talent redistribution frequently employed in the 2nd phase. In this scenario instead of a handful of reinforcements joining squads, the team will be a collective of the top talent from multiple teams within geographic proximity.
Let’s look at these geographic catchments the new squads and the preliminary rosters.
Tabacaleros – The Tobacco Growers/Farmers
Pinar del Rio Vegueros
La Isla de Juventud Piratas
Playing in the valley of Tobacco and using a derivative of the local Vegueros name the most famous export of Cuba is represented. Oh and Artemisa and La Isla are here too.
Luis Rivera – La Isla : Dainier Gálvez – La Isla : Luis Castillo – Pinar : Juan Arencibia – Pinar : Dayán Garcia – Artemisa : Yasmani Viera – La Isla : Luis Rojas – La Isla : Osbel Pacheco – Artemisa :
Erlis Casanova – Pinar : Vladimir Baños – Pinar : Jonathan Carbó – La Isla : Frank Medina – Pinar : Geonel Gutiérrez – Artemisa : Dorvis Navarro – La Isla : Kendry Hernandez – La Isla: José Angel García – Artemisa : Franklin Quintana – La Isla : Yunieski García – Artemisa : Manuel Murgado – Artemisa : Leaden Reyes – Pinar : Gabriel Cantero – Pinar : Leonardo Ocle – Pinar :
Portuarios – The Harbour or Portsmen
Representing the Capital and adjacent province a fan vote was held to name the squad. Like most Cuban elections that vote meant nothing. Almandares won in a landslide so Portuarios was adopted as the monicker as a complete surprise.
Yasiel Santoya – Industriales : Ariel Echevarría – Industriales : Rafael Fonseca – Mayabeque : Jorge Alomá – Industriales : Juan Torriente – Industriales : Rangel Ramos – Mayabeque : Juan Martínez – Mayabeque : Sandy Menocal – Industriales : Lázaro Martínez – Mayabeque :
Dennis Laza – Mayabeque : Alexander Pozo – Mayabeque : Yasniel González – Mayabeque : Yhosvani Peñalver – Industriales : Alberto Calderón – Industriales : Orlando Lavandera – Mayabeque : Roberto Acevedo – Industriales :
Adrián Sosa – Industriales : Juan Peñalver – Industriales : Yadián Martínez – Mayabeque : Pavel Hernández – Industriales : Andy Vargas – Industriales : Raimond Figueredo – Industriales : Mailon Cruz – Mayabeque : Marcos Ortega – Industriales : Erick Gonzalez – Industriales : Elder Nodal – Industriales : Yandi Molina – Industriales : Mario Batista – Mayabeque : José Bermúdez – Mayabeque :
Centrales – The Central Provinces
Villa Clara Leopardos
A nod to provincial boundaries from many years ago. The Centrales name is revived and amalgamates the provinces that were once one before forming their own jurisdictions.
Erisbel Arruebarrena – Matanzas : Pavel Quesada – Cienfuegos : Yadir Mujica – Matanzas : Jefferson Delgado – Matanzas : Luis Mateo – Cienfuegos : Yariel Duque – Matanzas : Yente Pérez – V.C. : Christian Rodríguez – V.C. : Magdiel Gómez – V.C. :
Hermes González – Cienfuegos : Dariel Góngora – Matanzas : Alaín Sánchez – V.C. : Renner Rivero – Matanzas : Yamichel Pérez – Matanzas : Javier Mirabal – V.C. : Oscar Hernández – V.C. : Pedro Castillo – V.C. : Freddy Álvarez – V.C. : Randy Cueto – V.C. : Eriel Carrillo – V.C. : Nerves Entenzas – Matanzas :
Ganaderos – The Winners
Sancti Spiritus Gallos
Ciego de Avila Tigres
Camagüey is still listed as the Ganaderos via certain outlets but few recognize that name. The name may be foreshadowing as they are arguably drawing from the deepest collective of talent.
Yordanis Samón – Camagüey : Leslie Anderson – Camagüey : Alexander Ayala – Camagüey : Rubén Valdés : Raúl González – Ciego : Yunier Mendoza – Sancti : Rodolexis Moreno – Sancti : Daviel Gomez – Sancti : Moisés Esqueje – Sancti :
José Rodríguez – Camagüey : Yuen Socarrás – Sancti : Dachel Duquesne – Ciego : José Santos – Sancti : Ariel Zerquera – Ciego : Yander Guevara – Ciego : Luis Marrero – Ciego : Yankiel Mauri – Sancti : Yanielquis Duardo – Sancti : Alex Guerra – Sancti : Frank Madan – Camagüey : Rorolfo Sorís – Camagüey : Roberto Hernandez – Sancti : José Braña – Sancti :
Agricultores – The Agricultural Workers
Las Tunas Leñadores
The previous Agricultores played in one National Series and won the title representing Havana. Regardless this squad figures to be solid in the grass and the dirt as Granma and Las Tunas have combined for 5 titles in the past 6 years. Las Tunas veteran Danel Castro is 27 hits from the all time record and stats from this series will count. Is he a a part of this team? He is not, somebody explain that.
Guillermo Avilés – Granma : Carlos Benítez – Granma : Osvaldo Abreu – Granma : Andrés De la Cruz – Las Tunas : Yordanis Alarcón – Las Tunas : Yulian Milan – Granma : Manuel Ávila – Las Tunas : Yosbany Millán – Granma : Denis Peña – Las Tunas :
César García – Granma : Carlos Juan Viera – Las Tunas : Leandro Martínez – Granma : Alejandro Meneses – Las Tunas : Yoel Mojena – Granma : Yasel Labrada – Las Tunas : Yunier Castillo – Granma : Kelbis Rodríguez – Granma : Carlos Santana – Granma : Ángel Sánchez – Las Tunas : Manuel Frómeta – Granma : Alberto Civil – Las Tunas : Erluis Blanco – Granma : Miguel Paradelo – Granma :
Cafetaleros – The Coffee Growers/Farmers
They are hoping youth will provide a jolt of caffeine as the most eastern contingent is drawing from teams that have struggled of late.
Alberto Bicet – Santiago : Frank Navarro – Gitmo : Danny Betancourt – Santiago : Michel Cabrera – Holguín : Wilson Paredes – Holguín : Yeudis Reyes – Gitmo : Uberleydis Estévez – Holguín : Enyerbada Fernández – Gitmo : Ruben Rodríguez – Holguín : Yoendri Montero – Santiago : Carlos Font – Santiago : Yosmel Garcés – Santiago : José Sánchez – Holguín : Wilber Reyna – Santiago :