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World Baseball Classic Team Cuba Preview

Team Cuba will feature players with MLB experience on their WBC team. Players who defected can now be part of the national team.

As the 2023 World Baseball Classic gets underway, the tournament will be bigger than ever. It will also feature several firsts. One such notable first is that MLB players who defected from Cuba will now be allowed to be on the Cuban National Team. 

This is huge as the country has recently fallen under the radar on the international stage, but now have the opportunity to turn to star players who currently played on baseball’s biggest stage. Here is a look at where team Cuba stands going into the tournament. 

History in the Tournament; History of Baseball in Cuba

Baseball in this Caribbean island just north of 11 million people dates back to the 1870s, when the first baseball league outside of continental North America was formed in the Cuban Winter League. Several of the Negro League’s stars played in this league during the offseason until the Cuban Revolution prevented professional sports. Nonetheless, baseball thrived at an international level with Cuba’s amateur players, many of which had MLB-Level talent. 

Cuba took home gold in commanding fashion at the first two Olympic games to feature baseball; 1992 in Barcelona and 1996 in Atlanta. Cuba also won Olympic gold in 2004 in Athens and took home silver in the 2000 and 2008 games.

Over the years, however, several of the top players defected from the country to go play in the majors. This took a toll on the national team’s performance. Since they finished in second place at the inaugural WBC tournament in 2006, the team has not made it to the top four in the tournament since. They also failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. In December however, it was announced that Cuban players who had defected could now be part of the national team. This opened the door for several of baseball’s biggest names to represent Cuba in the tournament.


Cuba has three solid names of proven MLB talent in their lineup including Chicago White Sox teammates Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada and former MLB veteran outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Moncada and Robert give the team two good average hitters at the top of the order. Cespedes provides enough of a threat in the middle of the order for Cuba to produce some offense. They also have infielder Andy Ibanez, who has shown signs of power this spring with the Detroit Tigers in addition to proven WBC star outfielder Afredo Despaigne.


This is the team’s biggest weakness given that they only have a select number of arms with very limited MLB experience.  The three pitchers with big league experience are Roenis Elias, Ronald Bolaños, and Onelki Garcia. They also have Miguel Romero who has spent time at the Triple A level. Elias and Bolanos are the projected one and two starters for the team. Garcia and Romero will be in the bullpen joining Raidel Martinez, a proven pitcher in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League. Martinez is projected to be the team’s closer according to FTN Bets. The team will need some breakout starters and solid innings from their bullpen in order to make a tournament run.


The bad news? Cuba did not get MLB stars Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu, Yuli Gurriel, Randy Arozarena, and several others to play for them in the Classic. Thus, they are still recovering from their downfall as an international powerhouse. The good news? With some proven major league talent on their roster and proven international talent, the team is a few breakout performers away from having the tools to make a deep run in the tournament. They also are in a favorable pool with teams Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Italy, and Panama. Of those teams, Cuba has the best odds. With the top two teams in each pool advancing to the quarterfinals, Cuba should at least make it beyond the initial pool play in their path to regaining international relevance.  Getting past Japan or Team USA is another story, though.

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