By Yusseff Díaz
Odrisamer Despaigne is having a stupendous season this year with the KT Wiz of the KBO. In his two seasons in the Korean Circuit he has posted a record of 20-11 with 2.74, this includes his league leading 207 ⅔ innings pitched and his 15 wins last season. This year he’s off to a 5-3 start inspite minimal run support and has posted a sterling 1.66 earned run average.
“I feel more comfortable in my second year in the KBO, because now I’m more familiar with the hitters. I also prepared very hard this off-season in Bomaritos. I exerted myself to the maximum. I’m looking forward to helping my team plenty this and staying healthy is the key to doing that.”
During the off-season, the crafty righty signed a 1 year, 1.1 million dollar contract with the KT Wiz and this might be lining up to be his best season as a pro. “In Korea, I think I can dominate,” said Despaigne, “it’s an offensive laden league but I think with my repertoire I can be effective once again this season. But like I stated earlier I’ve prepared very well this offseason to stay healthy and be the leader of the Wiz’s pitching staff.”
A motivated Despaigne could be dominant in Korea and find his way back to the Majors as others before him have done.His repertoire and different angles of release have no befuddled hitters in Korea for two seasons and this could possibly get scouts looking at him once again.
Despaigne’s journey in baseball has had its ups and downs. Here’s what he told us about his experience in the game.
The right-hander signed with the San Diego Padres in 2014 after defecting from the Cuban National Team in the 2013 World Port Tournament.
The native of Havana signed a minor league deal with the team May 2 of that year and made his major league debut June 23 hurling 7 shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants. In his fifth major league start, he pitched 7.2 no-hit innings in a game in which the Padres won 2-1. That season with San Diego he finished 4-7 with a 3.36 earned run average.
In 2016 he was traded to Baltimore and never really given a role with the ball club and he struggled. The righty pitched in 16 games mostly as a reliever and in September of that year, he was designated for assignment. The Miami Marlins claimed the versatile Despaigne on September 15 and he pitched very effectively for the fish. With Miami, he was a jack of all trades. He started, was middle relief and even saved a game that year.
“Miami was an incredible place to pitch. I enjoyed every moment of the being able to pitch in front the South Florida fans, it was almost like pitching in Havana’s Latinoamericano stadium. I love Miami and the Marlins, when I retire, I’m going bring children to watch the ball club.” Although he pitched very well for the Marlins in 2018, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels and had a record of 0-3 to close out the season.
After the 2018 season, Despaigne elected to test the waters in free agency and was only able to ink a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Though he pitched well with Louisville (AAA) he never got a call up from the Reds and decided to opt-out of his contract. “I had an opt-out clause in my contract with Cincinnati and I was pitching well,” said the MLB free agent pitcher, “I noticed that I wasn’t going to get a call up so I decided to exercise the opt-out.”
On May 16 of 2019 he opted out of his contract with Cincinnati. After opting out with the Reds he was immediately signed by within days by the Chicago White Sox. About this, he said, “I had various offers, in fact, I had at least seven teams interested in me. I picked Chicago because of the big Cuban influence on the ball club and because aside from Miami it’s my favorite city in the US.” The righty pitched well in the minors for the Sox and was called up June 10 but had a few rough outings. He once again opted for free agency after the season.
In Cuba, Despaigne engaged with some historic battles with Vladimir García in the 2012 final between Havana’s Industriales and the Ciego de Avila Tigers.
He reflected on this, saying, “Those duels with Vladimir were epic and Ciego had a great team. I was always extra motivated against because of my dislike for their team. They made me exert myself to the limit. We faced each other 4 times during that postseason and I remember him beating me in a thrilling 3-2 raindelayed game in Havana, a game I should not have reentered after the delay.
We opened the next year against each and both put up 9 zeros in a game. I enjoyed all our battles; he was always a game opponent”. In 2013 he was part of the Cuban World Baseball Classic team but hardly saw any action and only Victor Mesa knows why. In 2019 he found himself in the Caribbean World Series wearing the uniform of the Dominican Republic. I asked him if he felt strange not wearing the four letters on his chest.
“Truthfully, I didn’t feel strange at all, I came with the Oriental Stars of the Dominican Winter League. The Caribbean World Series is a club competition, not a national one. Only Cuba brings 90% of their national team. I wouldn’t have felt strange pitching against Las Tunas, but things would have been strange if I was facing Industriales, that’s were my heart is at. But I still would have faced them if I had to because I’m a professional.”
Odrisamer Despaigne, bleeds Industriales blue so I posed the question to him on how he would feel if he could one day take the mound in Havana’s Latinoaméricano Stadium. This is what he said: “I willl always miss pitching in Havana and would love to return to pitch there. There is nothing better than pitching in front of 60,000 Industriales fans, but Cuba has to be free before I ever pitch there again. I love my country and I want a change on my island. I don’t want to have a government impose on me when I can enter and leave our country. “