By Kevin Baxter | Baseball America
Five veterans of Cuba’s national series and a member of the country’s national junior program are in Miami following the largest mass desertion of baseball players since Fidel Castro’s revolution.
The six players, all reportedly under the age of 24, arrived in the Florida Keys a week ago after spending two days at sea. They are infielder Yunel Escobar Almenares, pitchers Yamel Guevara, Jose Angel Cordero Valdez, Rafael Galbizo Figueroa and outfielders Yoel Perez Mendieta and Yoan Limonta Zayas.
Of the six, Guevara, a 21-year-old righthander, will likely draw the most interest from major league scouts. He went 10-0 with a 2.06 ERA in helping Havana’s Industriales to the 2002-03 Cuban championship and has a 17-2 lifetime regular-season record.
Teammate Escobar, 21, hit .317 that year in 63 at-bats that year and has a .270 lifetime average in three seasons while Limonta hit .250 in 28 at-bats. Cordero, who pitched in league play for the Metropolitanos, reportedly possesses a 95-mph fastball.
None of the six were on Cuban’s powerful national team but Escobar, Perez and Galbizo have all played for the junior national team. The defection of a half-dozen players, coming in the wake of the recent desertions of standout pitchers Maels Rodriguez, Alay Soler and Jose Contreras and first baseman/outfielder Kendry Morales, is a crippling blow to the island’s baseball league, which begins its new season next month.
After being released by immigration officials, the players told a harrowing story about the state of baseball in Cuba. Because of the island’s deep economic crisis, the players said there is a shortage of gloves and bats and the baseballs used in Cuban league play are of inferior quality. Cordero told the Spanish-language Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald that many players are using homemade bats while Galbizo said he’s seen players nail broken bats together to keep playing.
“If it wasn’t for our natural talent, Cuban baseball would have disappeared a while ago,” Galvizo said.