By Yusseff Díaz
Though he has never had a big-league at-bat, Alfredo Despaigne has faced big-league pitching and crushed like one of the best international prospects.
Alfredo Despaigne has been one of the most feared international prospects for a long time now. Originally born in Santiago de Cuba he supposed to be a Wasp but was shunned by the team because of his diminutive stature. This was the biggest mistake the storied Cuban team ever made.
Though Despaigne has never taken a big-league at-bat he has faced plenty of big league pitching in international competitions and hasn’t fared too bad.
Moving to Granma
Wanting to play baseball he moved to the Granma to play for the horses and became a star.
The slugger had one of his best seasons in the league in 2009 where he hit .373 and drove in 97 runs.
The following year in 2010 he was the league’s MVP and in 2012 he set the league’s record in round-trippers when he 35 in a 90 game season.
Combined between Japan, México and Cuba Despaigne has gone yard 418 times and driving in 1,337 runs.
A World Classic Legend
Despaigne is a veteran of three World Baseball Classics. The Cuban first appeared on the scene in the 2009 Classic but was overshadowed by a powerhouse lineup that included future major leaguers Hector Olivera, Yulieski Gurriel and Yoenis Céspedes.
He came into his own in the 2013 Classic slugging .389 and driving in six runs in the first round en route to MVP honors of that stanza of the tournament.
In 2017 he was the main threat in a depleted Cuban squad that was hit hard by defections. During that tournament, Despaigne hit .474 with three bombs and six ribbies.
His grand slam against Australia provided all the offense Cuba needed in their do or die game with the Aussies punching Cuba’s ballot for the second round.
A Méxican incursion
In 2013 he was signed by the Campeche Pirates when Cuba opened up its league and allowed professional teams to sign its player.
In his first season in the Aztec circuit, he hit .338, hit eight homers and drove in 24 in 33 games. Although it was a short season he made an impression on Campeche, even tying a Mexican league record that was owned by Martin Dihigo when he went 6 for 6 in only his eleventh game in the league.
But in his second season problems arose, when it was learned he was playing in the league with a fake Dominican passport , causing him to be banned for life.
“I don’t know what exactly happened. I went to México to play baseball and then I was suspended. I was something that was very frustrating. I feel very bad about it,” said Despaigne to a Cuban news station in Granma.
A Nippon League Great
Shortly after being banned in México Despaigne inked a contract with the Chiba Lotte Marines and the rest is history.
The robust kid from Santiago has become one of the most feared foreign hitters in the land of the rising sun.
The slugger signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2017 and has been a key cog in the team’s three straight crowns in the league.
In his eight seasons in Japan, he’s hit .262 with 161 bombs and 470 runs batted in making him the all-time amongst Cubans in those categories. When I asked him who was the toughest pitcher he has faced in NPB he replied, “In Japan, you face quality pitching every day and one has to be prepared every at-bat. No pitcher here is a walk in the park.”
He also had the distinct pleasure of facing the revered Shohei Ohtani. “He is a phenomenon. He can pitch and hit. Without a doubt he’s not of this world,” said Despaigne about Ohtani.
Career highlights and awards:
- 1× Pacific League Homerun champion (2017)
- 1× Pacific League RBI champion (2017)
- 2× Pacific League Best Nine Award (2017)
- 3× NPB All-Star (2017–2019)
- 1× NPB All-Star Game MVP (2017)
- 4× Japan Series champion (2017, 2018, 2019,2020)