Without a doubt, the news that the best Cuban baseball player in the last 10 years in the Japanese Professional Baseball League, Alfredo Despaigne from Granma, will participate in the National Series that begins this Wednesday, March 29, is stealing the headlines within the Cuban domestic baseball circuit. The “Horse of Horses” will be the biggest attraction in a league that will have 188 rookies debuting among the 16 teams that make up the tournament.
The power hitting Despaigne was not offered a contract by the SoftBank Hawks during the offseason making him an international free agent. Due to the fact he is banned for life in the Mexican League he did not receive any offers to play in that country’s professional circuit either. By playing in Cuba and showcasing his talents to scouts he is hoping to generate interest from another foreign league.
After his excellent performance in the fifth World Baseball Classic with the Cuban National Team, Despaigne has decided to join the Alazanes in hopes of winning their third title in a row. But for the first time in many years the team will without their manager, Carlos Martí, who announced his retirement days after winning the first Elite League of Cuban Baseball with the Agricultores.
Despaigne made his debut with SoftBank Hawks in 2017 where he was the leader in RBIs with 103 and home runs with 35, a season that concluded with the first of four titles that the Cuban and SoftBank would achieve together. Before starting the 2022 campaign, the native signed his signature with the organization for 2.5 million dollars for this season. The Falcons chose William Astudillo over him, capping his career in second-best baseball in the world.
During his time in the land of the rising sun he slugged 184 homers, drove in 545 runs, collected 786 hits. He also hit .263 over his career in Japan and posted an OPS of .842 , making him one of the best foreigners to have played in the second best baseball circuit in the world. Undoubtedly, he will be recognized as the best Cuban slugger in the history NPB, although in Japan many say that title belongs to Orestes Destrade. Despaigne’s overall numbers are better but Destrade has more individual awards to back up that claim.
Despaigne was a key bat in one top dynasties in the history of the Japanese League winning four titles in six years, this feat was second only to the historic Yumiuri Giants who won nine consecutive crowns between 1965 and 1973 and the invincible Seibu Lions of the 1970’s and ’80s when they raised eight trophies in ten years between 1982 and 1992. He leaves the NPB as one of the most prolific Latin American sluggers of all time.