World Baseball Classic 2023 Team Cuba

Team Cuba recently moved to number 8 in the WBSC World Baseball Rankings. This represents an improvement from the twelfth position they occupied a few years back. This is a far cry from an era prior to rankings but when dominance in every major international tournament felt a certainty. Cuba still produces immense talent, talent who left the island in record numbers in 2022. Cuba has held its own in Junior tournaments but have been consistently outclassed in mature tournaments. International tournaments they once ruled.

The phenomenon of mature players leaving for professional riches isn’t new. The number of younger players leaving is though. The Cuban baseball braintrust finally started to acknowledge they had a problem on their hands. But would they act to solve this problem and if so what could they do? With the World Baseball Classic on the horizon rumours began to build. Rumours that the Cuban Baseball Federation was open to welcoming talent previously considered persona non grata to join. The 2023 World Baseball Classic will commence in March and it appears the rumours were true.

The inclusion of players on Major League and other top pro rosters increases the profile and chances for Team Cuba. This will not result in a Cuban Major League All-Star team though. Speculation is that any player that fled Cuba while representing Team Cuba is not invited. This would include players such as Yuli Gurriel and his brother Lourdes Gurriel Jr. who departed in 2016 while playing for Cuba in the Caribbean Series. Other players, many prominently involved in the ACPBP initiative such as Cionel Perez or Raisel Iglesias have stated they wouldn’t accept an invitation.

World Baseball Classic 2023 format via

The unification of Team Cuba thus has been rather divisive. Although many prominent names and talents won’t be involved and may never interact with the Federation some top stars will join. Team Cuba will begin their World Baseball Classic quest March 8th in Taiwan. Prior to the announcement many felt they would likely fall in Pool A as they have struggled against Chinese Taipei and The Netherlands of late. At the very least they now look likely to move to the Quarterfinals in Japan with an improved chance to get to the Semifinals. Let’s take a look at the roster that has generated a lot of interest, buzz and renewed hope.

Team Cuba Batters/Fielders

Erisbel Arruebarrena SS Matanzas Cocodrilos

Once considered the Short Stop of the future for Team Cuba, The Dodgers had similar aspirations when they signed him for over $20 million. Health and discipline problems derailed his MLB ambitions. He did repatriate to Cuba and the National Series in 2019. Once thought of as a glove first SS, his leather is still solid but his power bat has developed over the years. The future has come full circle.

WBC Experience: 2013

Yoenis Céspedes LF/RF Aguilas Cibaenas (LIDOM)

YUP! Yoenis Céspedes perhaps the most gifted or at least exciting player to ever come from Cuba is still with us. Health concerns both physical and mental curtailed his impact in The Majors. His last fully healthy season came back in 2016 and most recently he suited up in the Dominican. When healthy the tools and personality can both be described as Raw. He is a veritable lottery ticket at this point, especially in a short tournament.

WBC Experience: 2009

Alfredo Despaigne DH/OF Granma Alazanes/SoftBank Hawks

Perhaps the most accomplished non-MLB slugger in Cuban History. Despaigne is a veteran of 3 WBC and his 7 home runs pace all participants. I’ve written in the past how Despaigne is De Maigne. Even though his peak is in the rearview, he slugged 36 home runs for SoftBank of Japan’s NPB as recently as 2019. Despaigne is perhaps the biggest what if player on the roster. He has been excellent at every level except MLB, what if he had tried his hand in The Show?

WBC Experience: 2009, 2013, 2017 WBC Record 7 HR

Yadir Drake 1B/OF Matanzas Cocodrilos

Drake’s path has been similar to Arruebarrena’s. Promising National Series star that signed for big money with the Dodgers before finding success back in Cuba. Drake has also played in Japan, Venezuela and has been mashing in Mexico for the past few years.

WBC Experience: None

Dayán García 2B/3B Artemisa Cazadores

García has been a consistent top average hitter in Cuba for over a decade and a half. Unfortunately he has done it in the relative obscurity of Artemisa. The majority of attention around Habana and surrounding provinces is directed towards Industriales and the capital which is a shame for García. He would be a much bigger name if he was plying his craft in the Capital and not next to it.

WBC Experience: None

Yurisbel Gracial LF/3B Matanzas Cocodrilos

Gracial and Despaigne have been key imports for the Softbank Hawks dynasty of the late 2010s. He has put up a solid .293/.347/.477 batting line in over 1200 AB’s in Japan. Yurisbel has increasingly patrolled LF in recent years but can provide depth at 3B as well.

WBC Experience: 2017

Yoelkis Guibert OF Santiago Avispas

Guibert has been on the rise in the National Series and has success in Mexico before stalling out slightly in the Frontier League in 2022. He could represent a solid late innings defensive replacement or a solid contact/speed option in certain lineup configurations.

WBC Experience:

Andy Ibáñez 2B Detroit Tigers

Ibáñez’s name was the first to leak in regard to MLB’ers joining the squad. He has yet to establish himself as more than a utility piece in the Majors but has hit at every level leading to his 2021 debut. Symbolically he may go down as the most important member of this squad in helping to build a bridge over troubled Florida Strait waters.

WBC Experience: 2013

Ariel Martinez OF/C Matanzas Cocodrilos/Nipon Ham Fighters

A promising young bat that recently moved from Chunichi to Nipon in NPB. He has also recently moved from behind the plate to the corner outfield. Early mock ups had him penned in as the starting backstop. He may see some time behind the dish but the lack of recent reps would seem to dispel this plan.

WBC Experience: None

Luis Mateo SS Cienfuegos Elefantes

In a WBC where MLB’ers aren’t returning to play for Cuba Mateo might be the starter at SS. More likely he could be a speedy contact backup at multiple infield positions. At 26 he is perhaps the SS to watch in the CNS and will be in discussions of WBC in the future.

WBC Experience: None

Yoan Moncada 3B Chicago WhiteSox

Once the top prospect in the entire world, Moncada is still young enough to make good on the promise but might need to do it sooner than later. A stellar gloveman at the hot corner his bat has lagged behind. He still represents a dynamic piece for Cuba. Similar to Sox teammate Luis Robert a strong WBC could be a springboard to a big 2023.

WBC Experience: None

Yadil Mujica 2B/SS Matanzas Cocodrilos

The former Yankees farmhand made it as far as AAA but never did get a shot with the Bronx Bombers. He joined Arruebarrena and Drake in repatriating and forming a strong Cocodrilos squad that has been to the finals multiple times over the past few seasons. A versatile defender, he could act as defensive replacement at multiple infield positions and represents a solid contact bat for pinch hitting duty.

WBC Experience: None

Andrys Pérez C Matanzas

Perez has assumed growing catching duties for Matanzas with Ariel Martinez playing in Japan. Although many assumed Martinez would strap on the pads for Team Cuba if Andrys makes the roster, Pérez would likely assume the position over Martinez. It is a long shot for Pérez to make this team but he does continue to develop into a solid contributor for one of the top teams in Cuba.

WBC Experience: None

Luis Robert CF Chicago WhiteSox

El Pantera has tantalized during his time on the SouthSide but has yet to put together. a fully healthy season. He may posses as much baseball talent as any Cuban pelotero ever. A healthy and strong performance in the WBC could foretell big things for him in 2023 overall. He represents the biggest name and skillset to commit to Team Cuba. A top performing Robert perhaps more than any other improves Cuba’s odds.

WBC Experience: None

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Roel Santos OF Granma Alazanes

Santos is a veteran table setter for Granma the most dominant Cuban squad in recent history. More recognizable to fans of the game on the island he has had success in Mexico and Venezuela, Japan and Canada. He is one of the choices that might surprise many . The Powers that be will look to reward some loyal National Series stars. There are bigger names but Santos’ skill set of contact, speed and glove do compliment the sluggers in the rest of the lineup.

WBC Experience: 2017

Lorenzo Quintana C International Free Agent

Cuba and Team Cuba have produced immense catching talent over the years, but few have had success outside of Cuba. Quintana’s MLB window may be closed which is disappointing as he has raked in the minors over the past few years. He has spent as much time at DH as C of late but with few other glitzy options he might end up behind the dish by default.

WBC Experience: None

Team Cuba Pitchers

Frank Abel Álvarez RHP Pinar del Rio Vegueros/Chunichi Dragons

You have to love Cuban names and I wouldn’t blame you if you confused Frank Alvarez with Freddy Alvarez. NPB is hoping this Álvarez will be the next relief gem plucked from Pinar del Rio. The 23 year old spent 2022 in the Chunichi development system and if they can bring him along the way they have Raidel Martinez or Livan Moinelo watch out. Can we also take a moment to bask in those triple digit jersey numbers in Japan?

WBC Experience: None

Ronald Bolaños RHP KC Royals

Bolaños has spent parts of the past 4 seasons at the Major League Level. First with Padres before moving on to Kansas City. He has thrown 48 innings of 5.25 ERA baseball which isn’t that far from his Minor League numbers. Control has been the concern with him giving too many free passes. The tools are there and this roster is light on MLB experience, he has a good chance to make the roster.

WBC Experience: None

Naykel Cruz LHP Matanzas Cocodrilos

Cruz is one of the younger hurlers overall and represents a relative rarity. A young Left Handed starter on the rise in the Cuban National Series. He may be along more for the experience. Manager Armando Johnson on top of trying to win games does have to consider balancing his use of returning pros and giving proper exposure to National Series ballplayers.

WBC Experience: 2017

Roenis Elías LHP Chicago Cubs

Elías has had a pedestrian 7 year run in The Majors going 22-24 with a 3.96 ERA but he enters the WBC perhaps as the hottest pitcher on the planet. His 4-0 0.92 ERA with 20 hits in 39 frames in Lidom action could see him coming in hot at the right time while many other arms are just ramping up for 2023. Elías also hoping a hot performance Cuba will translate into the same for the Cubs in 2023.

WBC Experience: None

Onelki García LHP Mexico/D.R./Japan

A well travelled south paw he has spent time in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican. He had a cup of coffee in MLB throwing 7 innings between the Royals and Dodgers. Not just a Lefty One Out Only Guy he might be best suited facing same hand hitters though.

WBC Experience: None

Elián Leyva RHP Mexico

Perhaps one of the more surprising names on the list. The former Braves farmhand had moderate success in the National Series and obviously parlayed that into a look from Atlanta. He has spent the grander part of the last decade in Mexico with periods of brilliance with a few stints with inflated ERAs mixed in. He likely represents an upgrade over the potential National Series starters available. Expectations would be more to limit damage than to dazzle.

WBC Experience: None

Raidel Martinez RHP Pinar del Rio Vegueros/Chunichi Dragons

They’re growing more than just tobacco in Pinar del Rio. The epicentre of smoke in Cuba is producing hurlers that throw smoke. Martinez along with Livan Moinelo have taken Japan by storm. Martinez assumed the closer role for Chunichi in 2020 and has gotten better each year. 39 saves in 2022 with a barely visible 0.97 ERA

WBC Experience: None

Livan Moinelo LHP Pinar del Rio Vegueros/SoftBank Hawks

Moinelo is another dynamic arm with plus stuff and an impressive NPB resume. He has seen an increasing role with SoftBank of Japan and has been a part of multiple championship squads. He saved 24 games with a microscopic 1.03 ERA in 2022, even rarer as a lefty. 87 k’s in 52.2 innings also jumps off the page. In a tournament where pitch limits will tax bullpens Cuba looks like they can afford the bill.

WBC Experience: 2017

Yeudis Reyes RHP Guantanamo Indios

Another interesting addition to the list. He has walked more batters than he has struck out in his 5 seasons in the National Series. Reyes does possess one of the highest fastball velocities on the island, but has yet to truly command it. Sometimes its just nice to be invited.

WBC Experience: None

Jose Ramon Rodriguez RHP Camagüey Toros

Rodriguez’ inclusion might be more of roster balancing move. A steady arm for Camagüey and still young enough at 30 the Cuban Federation does want to reward some players for still plying their craft on the island. He did win 11 games in the 61st National Series in just 17 games and 15 starts.

WBC Experience: None

Yariel Rodriguez RHP Camagüey Toros/Chunichi Dragons

Rodriguez has represented a rare commodity in Cuba. A young upside starter with plus velocity. He has joined the pipeline of other similar hurlers such as Moinelo and Martinez and found success in Japan although as relievers. 2022 was his first full season at Japan’s top level and his 6-2 1.15 ERA with 32 hits in 55 innings will fortify a staff perhaps light on topline starters but full of young yet experienced international relievers.

WBC Experience: None

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Miguel Romero RHP Oakland A’s

If you can throw 100MPH you will always be given another chance. This might be the case with Romero. At 28 he has spent the past 3 years at AAA and overall his numbers aren’t headed in the right direction. The arm and the stuff are electric though and you can never have enough flamethrowers in the pen.

WBC Experience: None

Carlos Juan Viera RHP Las Tunas Leñadores

Carlos Viera was originally a closer in Cuba before moving to the rotation. He subscribes to the bend but don’t break methodology that many National Series pitchers do. Pitch to contact and if you walk somebody oh well, just don’t give up the backbreaking hit. Keep your team in the game until they hopefully score some runs. He has thrown over 800 innings of mid 3.00 ERA largely in Mexico as well.

WBC Experience: None

Yoennis Yera LHP Matanzas Cocodrilos

Yera is a Wiley veteran who has become the Ace for the perennial contending Cocodrilos. He has also perhaps due to attrition become Cuba’s defacto Ace. Yera will likely slide down the rotation due to the added depth for the WBC. He has also found success in Mexico but it might be best to limit his workload against MLB competition.

WBC Experience: 2017

Team Cuba 50 Man Roster Cuts

Jhonatan Carbó RHP La Isla Juventud Piratas

I’m going to write it as Jonathan Carbó so baseball reference will link to his profile, but all indications it is spelled Jhonatan. He is young hurler from La Isla and is probably in consideration due to Armando Johnson’s familiarity from managing him in the National Series. He is an innings eater in Cuba but his peripheral numbers are middling at best with close to even innings to hits and K’s to BB’s.

WBC Experience: None

Alberto Civil RHP Las Tunas Leñadores

A workhorse out of the bullpen for Las Tunas his peripherals won’t blow you away but he does limit damage overall. His inclusion is likely more reward for years of service than an indication he’ll be on the final roster.

WBC Experience: None

Dariel Góngora LHP Las Matanzas Cocodrilos

Góngora has been one of the most effective lefties in the National Series of the past decade. Originally a reliever he has been making more starts in recent seasons. He could have a better chance than many on this list due to his south paw status and versatility.

WBC Experience: None

Hermes González RHP Cienfuegos Elefantes

González put together a Steve Carleton esqu performance in 2022 winning 10 games for a Cienfuegos squad that only won 21 games on the season. His 52 k’s in 109 innings indicate he pitches to soft contact a skill or strategy that might not play up to the WBC level.

WBC Experience: None

Pavel Hernandez RHP Industriales

The tall youngster from Havana has slowly assumed front of the rotation responsibilities for Industriales. He could see some swing duty and of the young arms he figures to have the biggest role in the future in the National Series. Does that play into usage decisions?

WBC Experience: 2017

Roberto Hernandez RHP Sancti Spiritus Gallos

The former closer for the White Sox? The artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona? No the other Roberto Hernandez. This Hernandez did spend time in the Cleveland Indians organization but returned to Cuba and has become a steady arm for the Gallos.

WBC Experience: None

Javier Mirabal RHP Villa Clara Leopardos

Mirabal has been a dependable piece for Villa Clara. His career 25-29 record with an 4.34 ERA suggest he is more likely to be a roster casualty than key contributor to Team Cuba though.

WBC Experience: None

Franklin Quintana RHP La Isla de Juventud Piratas

Quintana likely makes the list of 50 due to manager Armando Johnson’s familiarity with him. He has seen more success as a reliever of late but has started in the past. He did pitch to a solid 2.16 ERA across 50 innings in 2022 but is a depth piece at best.

WBC Experience: None

Alexander Valiente RHP Guantanamo Indios

Statistics aren’t everything but Valiente did walk 68 batters in 66 innings in 2022. A young project he might be a part of Cuban National teams moving forward but he has yet to figure out how to harness his tools. Valiente probably makes the list due to Manager Johnson’s familiarity from coaching Cuba’s U23 squad.

WBC Experience: None

Marlon Vega RHP Mayabeque Huracanes

Marlon Vega has blown away the competition in his first two seasons. His 12-2 record and 2.75 ERA in 2022 saw him take home the Cuban equivalent of the Cy Young. Young upside starters are a true rarity in Cuba and this might enhance or hurt his chances to make the roster. If his path leans towards MLB they will likely try to protect him. If NPB is interested he will likely be showcased.

WBC Experience: None

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Yosvani Alarcón C Las Tunas Leñadores

The best slugging Cuban catcher of his generation. He has assumed the majority of catching duties for Team Cuba over the past half decade. He is more known for his bat but his glove won’t kill you. Alarcón could end up carrying most of the catching load due to familiarity and the fact he has spent more time behind home plate of late than the other options.

WBC Experience: 2017

Lazaro Armenteros OF Oakland A’s

Perhaps the most surprising name on the list. Armenteros does possess upside but is the rare player on this list whose experience is exclusive to the Minor Leagues. Armenteros is just 23 and has shown promise in his 5 seasons in the A’s system but has not moved past advance A. Perhaps a strong showing in the WBC will result in a quick ascension through the Oakland system.

WBC Experience: None

Guillermo Avilés 1B Granma Alazanes

Another key piece for Granma the most dominant team in Cuba. Avilés is a career .316 hitter in CNS with above average power. He could sneak his way on the roster as perhaps the only true first baseman in consideration. Avilés can also provide depth in the corner outfield spots.

WBC Experience: None

Guillermo García 1B/OF Granma Alazanes

One of the younger talents on the list. García’s name first appeared on the list of qualified players to be posted if 2018’s agreement with MLB had ratified. Since then he as struggled a bit in Cuba but Chunichi has taken a shot and he spent most of 2022 in their development system. His career highlight is likely his Finals MVP performance in the 60th Cuban National Series.

WBC Experience: None

Pedro Revilla 1B/OF Guantanamo Indios/Chunichi Dragons

Revilla broke out in the 61st National Series swatting an impressive 26 home runs. At just 23 he represents the youngest power threat on the island and has parlayed that into an opportunity with Chunichi. If Johnson thinks he is ready for a bigger stage he might have as much upside as anybody on the roster but his short sample in Japan might indicate he is still in need of more seasoning.

WBC Experience: None

Raico Santos CF Granma Alazanes

The Santos cousins Roel and Raico have formed a solid defensive and speed duo for the dynastic Alazanes. Both are solid contact bats with limited power and are easy to confuse for one another. With that in mind it would be tough to find a spot for both on this roster. Most indications are the spot would go to the elder Roel if that is the case. Raico has had success in Venezuela and Mexico as well as Cuba.

WBC Experience: None

Pavel Quesada 3B/1B Cienfuegos Elefantes

A veteran slugger who left the island and returned to have an increasing impact in the National Series. He was the starting third baseman for Cienfuegos during this authors first Cuban game back in 2012 but still appears to have plenty in the tank. It would appear there is more of a path to get AB’s at first base than his natural 3B as the hot corner will be occupied by his former Cienfuegos teammate Yoan Moncada.

WBC Experience: None

Oscar Valdes C Industriales

Oscar recently assumed primary catching duties in the capital and has rounded into one of the top defensive catchers in the National Series. He provides a solid contact bat as well. He could be the go to behind the plate if Cuba wants a more defensive oriented alignment.

WBC Experience: None

Rafael Viñales C/IF/OF Las Tunas Leñadores

Viñales is a versatile veteran slugger for Las Tunas. He is listed as a catcher here and does spell Yosvani Álarcon occasionally but also spends a bit of time in the corner Outfield and infield, largely first base. He has played professionally in Italy and Mexico. Even with his .312 CNS average and defensive versatility his path on the roster isn’t a lock.

WBC Experience: None

Yoan Lopez RHP Yomiuri Giants

UPDATE 01/22/2023

Lopez has removed himself from the running in order to focus on his upcoming season in Japan.

Lopez was the first MLB affiliated pitcher to join Team Cuba, he has since signed with Yomiuri of NPB. Pushing 30 it may be more of a case of fighting the clock to get a solid payday than not hacking it in MLB. In parts of 5 Major League seasons he put up a respectable 4.39 ERA in 112 innings. He represents another solid relief option and veteran presence.

WBC Experience: None

Team Cuba Surprise Omissions

Freddy Asiel Álvarez RHP Villa Clara Leopardos

Freddy Alvarez is a veteran of 17 Cuban National Series and he is still just 33 years of age. His inclusion would’ve resembled more of a reward for being long serving in Cuba’s top league. It appears he was one of the last cuts before the announcement of the 50 man roster.

WBC Experience: 2017

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Frederich Cepeda OF/DH Sancti Spiritus Gallos

It would be tough to exclude Cepeda as he is the all-time WBC leader in many offensive categories. He would be the only player to appear in all 5 Classics. The first Cuban baseball non-MLB millionaire is still getting it done in the CNS but his fit on this roster isn’t great. This is the one roster decision I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for.

WBC Experience: 2006, 2009, 2013, 2017

Yasmany Tomás 1B/RF

WBC Experience: 2013

Tomás is one of the poster children for the wild spending market that developed as Cuban talent moved from the shadows to U.S. shores in the 2010’s. The 2013 WBC marked his arrival on scouts radars. He signed for close to $70 million with Arizona and for one season looked like a good investment. The Habanero slugged 31 home runs as a 25 year old and would put up big numbers in AAA as well but would never get the chance to replicate that initial MLB success. Perhaps he was too one dimensional as a slugger or really was a DH in the National League before that was a thing. In the here and now he is an MVP caliber bat in the Mexican League who could use the WBC as an audition for one last go in The Show.

Phil Selig

Canada’s Top Expert on Cuban Baseball. I first ventured to the island in 2012 with camera in hand and captured some of the future baseball stars of the world. I have returned many times immersing myself in the game and culture. Get inside the Dugout for a unique look at Cuban Baseball.