They Will Not Play in Cuba this Year: Cuban Prospects Leaving for Japan

By Aliet Arzola Lima

With their minds set on developing and growing in a league with more quality and tools, Cuban prospects Guillermo García (Granma, OF) and Frank Abel Álvarez (Pinar del Río, P) will leave for Japan this coming week, as all the teams of the circuit make adjustments for the beginning of the upcoming season starting March 25.

Both players will leave for the Land of the Rising Sun on Wednesday, March 9th, after a long period of paperwork concerning their visas. They are the last Cuban players signed by Japanese teams that were still in the country, as stars Liván Moinelo, Raidel Martínez, Yurisbel Gracial, Alfredo Despaigne, and Ariel Martínez–all signed with the support of the Cuban Baseball Federation–have been in the Asian nation for some time already.

García and Álvarez will join the Ni-gun (the Second Team or Farm Team) of the Chunichi Dragons, where Raidel Martínez and Ariel Martínez went through before making their debut for the Ichi-gun (the Nippon Professional Baseball squad). The franchise now has a distinctive Cuban flavor, since coach Omar Linares (who had also played for the team after retiring from Cuban baseball in 2002) and star first baseman Dayán Viciedo are also part of the squad.

Álvarez has seen little action in the last 12 months, just as almost every ballplayer remaining in Cuba. The Pinar del Río righty has spent more time training than playing during this stage, having very little participation with the Cuban National Teams that took part in the 23-U World Championship in Mexico and the Junior Pan Am Games in Cali-Valle.

After those performances, he has focused only on his preparation because the Pinar del Río management decided not to use him in the current National Series. “To bring him here (implies) risking injury and jeopardizing his future,” said provincial commissioner Heriberto Suárez a week before the announcement.

Álvarez last worked in Cuba during the 60th National Series postseason, specifically on February 23rd, 2021 in a game in which he yielded six hits and three runs against the Granma Alazanes in the third game of the semifinals. That day he issued four walks in two and two thirds of an inning, confirming his control woes. In the last installment of the Cuban championship, Álvarez gave up 5.08 walks per nine innings (25 in 44.1 frames), which made his WHIP skyrocket up to 1.58.

Control is without question one of the aspects they are going to work on the most during his time in Japan. Japanese coaches already know what it means to polish a diamond in the rough coming from Cuba, as evidenced by Pinar del Río hurlers Liván Moinelo and Raidel Martínez. Both pitchers also had serious control problems and have managed to improve after a few years in the Asian circuit.

There is also a lot of expectation about the talent of Guillermo García, who will make 100,000 dollars for his season with the Dragons. After his name was mentioned in the 34-player list released by the Cuban Baseball Federation to sign contracts with MLB teams in 2019, the left handed batter started making a splash in the first months of 2021, when he led Granma in the race for the National Title.

His postseason performance was nothing short of extraordinary, driving in 17 runs, scoring 12 and hitting .487. But he left the best for the finals, going 12 for 19 and posting a fearsome slash line of .632/.682/.947, with two homers, five runs and seven RBIs, including the one that proved to be the deciding run for the last play off game. He was recognized as the Most Valuable Player.

García, who joined Álvarez as a member of the 23-U World Championship and the Junior Pan Am Games, did start playing in this 61st National Series. Unlike Frank Abel, the Granma management used their new star from the beginning to take advantage of his offensive power, but the youngster was below his actual capabilities, with only one hit, one run, an RBI and two walks in 23 plate appearances.

His last game in the current Cuban campaign was on Thursday, February 3 when his team lost 0-1 to the Piratas de Isla de la Juventud in Estadio Cristóbal Labra. He pinch hit for Alexqemer Sáchez and flied out.

Although there is a lot of hope with this kid, it would be sensible to go slow and let him develop little by little, without burning stages. In that aspect, being in Japan will be better than being in Cuba, not only for the big difference in quality the two leagues have, but also because of how serious the work they carry out there is.

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