The BEST Switch Hitters in Cuban Baseball History

By Jesús Pérez Vichot (Chuchi)

Most hitters are more effective while facing pitchers of the opposing hand than against pitchers of their own hand. However, if a hitter can take both sides of the plate, the task is less hard. Some of them, however, end up hitting from one side of the plate because they feel more comfortable and are more productive. The Big Show has seen great switch hitters, like Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray, Tim Raines, Lance Berkman, Chipper Jones, Frankie Frisch, and others.

Yet, I would like to refer to the best Cuban switch hitters of all time. Believe me, without being one of the countries with the biggest numbers, there is plenty of material to choose from.

From the first years there was baseball in Cuba, there was a switch hitter that stood out–considered by many the first such batter on the island nation. His name was José María Teuma. He stood at both sides of the plate for the first time during a game held on January 21, 1882. Teuma played for the clubs Fe and Habana during six seasons, hitting .225. Besides, he could play all nine positions. Later on, in the Cuban professional leagues, there were two other famous switch hitters, but both of them excelled more with the glove than with the bat: Willy Miranda and Chico Ruiz.

With the installment of the National Series (SN, for its Spanish acronyms), other players who were able to hit from both sides of the plate started to emerge. We find Arturo Linares (14 SN, 889 hits and .278 BA), Tony González (9 SN, 490 hits and .231 BA), Anselmo Hernández (9 SN, 368 hits and .264 BA), Ubaldo Álvarez (9 SN, 433 hits and .244 BA), Ángel Almanza (3 SN, 80 hits and.192 BA), Roberto C. Ramírez (6 SN, 343 hits and .305 BA). But there are four players who have stood out the most in Cuban domestic championships, one of them still active.

Luis Ulacia: The Camagüey native has been one of the most lead-off men in the history of the Cuban Baseball National Series. In 21 seasons, he managed 2183 hits, scored 1147 runs, had 281 doubles, 58 triples, 145 homers, drove in 682 runs, stole 355 bases, had a .314 batting average, with a .379 OBP and .433 SLG.

Kendrys Morales: He is the only one to crush pitchers from both sides of the plate in the National Series as well as in Major League Baseball. In Cuba, Morales played just three seasons, but they were enough for him to be remembered as one of the greatest sluggers to ever play in SN. in 677 at bates, he had 49 doubles, four triples and 32 homers. He also drove in 141 runs, scored 123, he hit .350, with a .467 OBP and .485 SLG.

Mario Vega: The Ciego de Ávila second baseman was very consistent in his game. The fact that there were other stellar middle infielders and that kept him from being more valued. However, his numbers in 21 seasons are very good, not only defensively. He had a .300 BA, 1696 hits, 267 doubles and .348 OBP. We should also highlight his contact prowess, as he struck out just 408 times.

Frederich Cepeda: There is no doubt. In the history of the National Series, there has not been a switch hitter with a better pedigree than the Sancti Spíritus native. He is still active today, but before this campaign he had: 23 SN, 1335 runs scored, 2140 indiscutibles, 408 doubles, 54 triples, 328 homeruns, 1251 RBI, .334 BA, .485 OBP, .569 SLG and 1.054 OPS. Cepeda’s OBP is otherworldly, his plate discipline has led him to draw 1834 walks.

Now, talking about the switch-hitting Cubans who have played or still play in MLB: Julio Rojo (7 seasons, 262 hits y .279 BA), Pedro Pagés (2 seasons, 46 hits and .225 BA). I have to point out that both players played in the former Negro Leagues, but those have fortunately been recognized as Major League Baseball. 

Other Cuban-born big leaguers are: Willy Miranda (9 seasons, 423 hits and .221 BA), Pedro Ramos, (yes, he was a pitcher but he was also a switch hitter: 15 seasons, 109 hits and .155 BA), Chico Ruiz (8 seasons, 276 hits and .240 BA), Marty Martínez (7 seasons, 230 hits and .243 BA), Orestes Destrade (4 seasons, 184 hits and .241 BA), Brayan Peña (12 seasons, 468 hits and .259 BA), Adrián Nieto (1 season, 25 hits and .236 BA), Yasmani Grandal (still active, 10 seasons, 777 hits and .240 BA), Yoán Moncada (still active, 6 seasons, 529 hits and .261 BA). But the two best Cubans up to this day in MLB history are:

Kendrys Morales: He had a natural swing and an intimidating power. Kendrys could hit the ball out of the park from both sides of the plate with relative ease. Since his youth, he showed great prowess as a hitter. In 13 MLB seasons, he belted 213 round-trippers and drove in 740 runs, with a slash line of .265/.327/.453. In my opinion, for now, Kendrys Morales is Cuba’s top switch-hitting slugger in the history of MLB.

Tito Fuentes: The great second baseman played 13 campaigns in The Show, with 1491 hits and a slash line of .268/.307/.347. I ranked him second, respecting of course the path that some young Cuban switch-hitters are having in the Majors, like those two that play for the Chicago White Sox (Moncada and Grandal).

It is hard to compare stages and leagues, but I have no choice but to choose a tie for first place between two legends of Cuban baseball: Kendrys Morales and Frederich Cepeda. I find them to be the top best switch hitters in Cuban history. Kendrys played both in Cuba and in America, and proved that his talent was no fluke. Cepeda has also proven to be one of the greatest players in the Cuban Baseball National Series. He still active and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Some will say: Kendrys proved his value in both places, Cepeda didn’t. Up to a certain point, that is true, but it doesn’t mean that the performance of the Sancti Spíritus idol should be diminished by any means. The man is even a storied hitter in World Baseball Classic competitions. They both excelled and they both deserve recognition and admiration. And, bear in mind, the fact that I express my opinion doesn’t mean that I hold the absolute truth of this lore we call baseball. Nobody has it, not even the most knowledgeable scholar.

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