Saturday, February 4, 2017

WBC 2017 Preview: Breaking down Cuba

Despaigne highlights the roster of players likely to participate in the Classic for Cuba. The 30-year-old, who plays for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization in Japan, filled up the stat sheet during the 2013 Classic. Despaigne hit .389/.522/.944 in the last Classic, with three home runs, five runs scored and eight RBIs in six games, winning MVP of Pool A.
Escalante of Ciego de Avila in Cuba figures to play a big role for the club's pitching staff. The 34-year-old has pitched 11 seasons in Cuba, going 77-49 with a 2.74 ERA in 120 starts. He last pitched in the Cuba Serie Nacional in 2015, when he went 11-3 with a 2.18 ERA over 19 starts.
Cuba has not had any players publicly commit to playing for its Classic team thus far, but as the Cuban roster shakes out, it should represent its country well.
How they fared in the past
Cuba's best Classic finish came in 2006, when it reached the championship game, losing to Japan, 10-6. The Cubans were eliminated yet again by the Japanese in 2009 in Round 2 of the tournament, for the national team's lowest finish in international competition. Cuba reached the second round in 2013, losing to the Netherlands and falling shy of the championship round.
What they should do well
With a rotation anchored by Garcia and Alvarez, Cuba's pitching staff should be its strength. Alvarez, 27, is 64-48 with a 2.90 ERA in 164 starts over 11 seasons in Cuba. The right-hander also fared admirably in the 2013 Classic, allowing two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Where they could struggle
On offense, Cuba may have a tough time protecting Despaigne in the heart of its batting order. With numerous top Cuban hitters unable to represent their country in the Classic in 2017, runs could be hard to come by. Finding a way to get Despaigne, who is tied for the third-most homers in Classic history with four, to the plate as much as possible will be key to pushing runs across the plate.
How far they could go
Team Cuba is set up nicely to advance to the second round for the second straight Classic. The roster is likely to be filled with veteran players who have experience playing at the international level. Japan, also in Pool C, stands in Cuba's way once again and could be the difference between the Cubans reaching the championship round or facing an early exit.

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