The Chiba Lotte Marine of Nippon Professional Baseball announced that they have signed Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne (via Japanese media outlet Sanspo). Like fellow Cuban stars Yulieski Gourriel and Frederich Cepeda before him, Despaigne has agreed to play in Japan with his country’s permission, under the condition that he returns to Cuba at the conclusion of the NPB season (which concludes prior to the onset of Cuba’s Serie Nacional), writes Baseball America’s Ben Badler.
Despaigne, 28, had been playing in the Mexican League earlier this year (also approved by Cuba), but he was hit with a lifetime ban from the league after it was discovered that he was playing with a fake Dominican passport, leading to speculation about his possible defection. He returned to Cuba after his initial suspension from the league, and Badler speculated at that time that Despaigne may look to play in Japan were he unable to continue competing in Mexico.
In his report on Despaigne signing, Badler likens Despaigne’s body type to that of the late Kirby Puckett during his playing days. The 5’8″, 215-pound Despaigne is “built like a fire hydrant” and possesses 80-grade raw power — more raw power and bat speed than White Sox first baseman and Cuban countryman Jose Abreu, he notes. Abreu, however, has a more balanced swing and is a better overall hitter than Despaigne, whom Badler describes as an all-or-nothing hitter.
Despaigne is a three-time MVP in Serie Nacional, and he currently holds the single-season home run record with 36 (breaking the previous record of 33, set by Abreu and Despaigne’s former teammate, Yoenis Cespedes). His numbers in the Mexican League were outstanding — in parts of two seasons, he slashed .341/.381/.578 with 13 homers in 227 plate appearances. That was nothing out of the ordinary for Despaigne, who batted a ridiculous .326/.483/.695 in his most recent MVP campaign in Serie Nacional, Badler notes.
It’s not known whether or not we will ever see Despaigne in Major League Baseball, but MLB did inform Badler last month that Despaigne’s lifetime ban from the Mexican League won’t have any bearing on his potential free agent stock; MLB does not have an agreement to honor any suspensions from the Mexican League.