Hawks Take Advantage of their Cuban Connection

Most of the Japanese teams scout the major leagues to find their foreign players. Some teams like the Hiroshima Carp use their Dominican academy to try to find diamonds in the rough. Alfonso Soriano was one of those diamonds in the rough that first played for Hiroshima before he went to the major leagues. The Hawks work with the Cuban Baseball Federation to find their foreign players.

Alfredo Despaigne was at one time one of the best hitters in Cuba. He rarely plays in the Cuban Nacional Series, saving his at bats now for the NBP. His lack of defense keeps him as a DH now. He started his NPB career with the Lotte Marines, playing with them for three years. This is his third year with the Hawks. His first year he hit 35 homeruns and drove in 103 runs. Last year injuries cut down 30 of his games, dropping his homerun total to 29 and his RBI production to 74. His batting average dropped from .262 to .238. It was his lowest average of his NPB career.

The 2019 season is not showing a lot of promise. His batting average has dropped even further to .236. His power production has dropped to a slugging average of .355, the lowest it has been in the NPB. If his struggles continue this could be his last year in Japan. He will turn 33 years old in June. Major league teams seem to have a reluctance to sign players older than 33.

The Hawks signed Yurisbel Gracial last year. The 33 year old played in 54 games, batting .292 with 9 homeruns. This year the Hawks recently called him up and in his first 8 games he is hitting .357 with two homeruns. Last night he hit a three run homer in the Hawks 12-11 win. In Cuba he was a power hitter for Matanzas for about ten years.

The one pitcher they acquired from Cuba is Livan Moniello. He is not a big guy, standing less than 6′0″ (though he is listed at 6′0″) but less than 140 pounds. He throws left handed and can hit the low 90s with his fastball. Livan pitches out of the bullpen as the Hawks setup reliever. His first two years he picked up 28 holds. Last year he gave up one too many long balls, forcing his ERA to rise from 2.52 his rookie season to 4.53. This year he has yet to give up an earned run. The Cuban Baseball Federation was prepared to make him available to major league teams but Trump nixed the agreement between Cuba and the major leagues.

The Hawks have been the best team the last few years in the NPB, winning the Japan Series the last two years and four of the last five. They generally do not allow their players to be posted. Yuki Yanagita has been one of the best position players in Japan. Last year he hit a career high 36 homeruns with a .356 batting average. Back in 2015 he was a 30/30 player with 34 homeruns and 32 stolen bases, winning the Pacific League MVP award. This year he has been stalled by injuries, playing in only 9 games. At 31 years old major league teams may shy away from him. He does have 154 NPB homeruns in 9 years and could become a free agent soon. He could probably start for any outfield in the major leagues.

One of the better pitchers in Japan is Kodai Senga. He has expressed interest in pitching in the major leagues but he is still a couple years away from free agency. His fastball has reached triple digits but sits in the mid-90s. Since 2016 he has struck out more than one batter per inning. He pitched for Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and was voted to the All World Classic Baseball Team. At 6′0″ he is not a tall pitcher but he is still just 26 years of age. This year his ERA is 1.46 in five starts with 54 whiffs in just 37 innings.

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