Cuba’s New “Wood Bat” Career Home Run Leader


JCPedrosoLT1.jpgNot only was the last-minute WBC roster addition of slugging Las Tunas first baseman Joan Carlos Pedroso something of a surprise, but this entire National Series season has so far witnessed a remarkable resurrection for one of Cuba’s most invisible stars of the past decade. Pedroso seemed well established as the tenured Team Cuba first sacker at the time of the first World Baseball Classic; one of the best defensive glove men in the entire league, Pedroso was also at the peak of his rather awesome slugging game. He bashed a record 28 homers during the 2003 season, then followed by nearly matching his own standard (falling only one short in 2005). But Pedroso seemed to suffer psychological breakdowns at the plate once off native soil and failed to produce much of any offense at all in either the 2005 World Cup or the first MLB Classic (where he batted a tame .111). Little has been heard from Pedroso since, especially on the international scene, where he was has not appeared since that first WBC batting meltdown. Back home the 29-year-old muscle man has nonetheless continued to pound league pitching at a more than respectable rate. Last season’s onslaught included 22 homers, a .342 batting ledger, 63 RBI and a potent .634 slugging mark. And so far during National Series 48 Pedroso has been locked in see-saw five-way battle for the league home run lead with Yosvany Peraza, Rolando Meriño, Alfredo Despaigne and Yoennis Céspedes.

 

The biggest moment by far in Pedroso’s quiet resurrection came this past week (Wednesday, February 4) when the giant right-handed swinger crushed homer number 14 of the current season off a fastball delivered by Ciego de Avila’s Valeri García. Not just another tape-measure shot among many, this historic blast made the Las Tunas stalwart the first Cuban slugger to reach the 200 home run plateau in domestic league action while using only wooden bats. Though his lifetime total of 206 dingers now leaves him in only 30th overall in league history,  those ranked ahead of him achieved all but a tiny fraction of their numbers with aluminum “lumber” well before MLB-type wood was reintroduced (at the time of the Baltimore Orioles exhibition series) in May 1999. Omar Linares, for example, drilled only 25 of his 404 dingers after wooden bats reemerged on the scene.

 

No other Cuban Leaguer has in fact come close to the 200 plateau swinging with strictly wooden bats. Of the 29 sluggers ranking ahead of Pedroso on the lifetime ledger, 25 played nearly their entire careers in an aluminum bat era (1976-1999), and all but Kindelán, Linares, Pierre, Macias, Pacheco, Lazo, Manríque and Scull had already retired before the 1999 switchover in hitting tools. Sluggers playing exclusively in the recent aluminum-free decade who challenge Pedroso in the career home run derby include Frederich Cepeda (162), Yosvany Peraza (152), Eriel Sánchez (147), Yulieski Gourriel (143), Alexander Malleta (122), Yoelvis Fiss (119), Yoennis Céspedes (111), Afredo Despaigne (84), and Alexei Bell (80). Both only 22 years of age, Granma teammates Despaigne and Céspedes obviously are best positioned to overhaul Pedroso and almost everyone else on Cuba’s career list before their promising careers are spent. Closest challenger to Pedroso’s 200-homer milestone is Santiago’s 19-season veteran Rolando Meriño who currently boasts 165 career dingers, but only 122 of Meriño long balls have come in the post-aluminum era.

 

Cuba‘s Top 30 Lifetime Home Run Leaders

 

1- Orestes Kindelán (Santiago de Cuba) 486

2- Lázaro Junco (Matanzas) 405

3- Omar Linares (Pinar del Río) 404

4- Antonio Muñoz (Azucareros) 370

4- Romelio Martínez (Habana Province) 370

6- Luis Casanova (Pinar del Río) 312

7- Gabriel Pierre (Santiago de Cuba) 306

8- Julio Fernández (Matanzas) 302

9- Oscar Macias (Habana Province) 286

9- Pedro José Rodríguez (Cienfuegos) 286

11- Antonio Pacheco (Santiago de Cuba) 284

12- Fernando Sánchez (Matanzas) 280

13- Victor Mesa (Villa Clara) 273

14- Mario Leonel Moa (Camagüey) 272

15- Lázaro Madera (Pinar del Río) 264

16- Victor Bejerano (Granma) 248

17- Lourdes Gourriel (Sancti Spíritus) 247

18- Alejo O’Reilly (Matanzas) 240

19- Daniel Lazo (Pinar del Río) 223

20- Juan Millan (Habana Province) 222

21- Pedro Medina (Habana) 221

21- Ermidelio Urrutia (Las Tunas) 221

23- Juan Manríque (Matanzas) 219

24- Reinaldo Fernández (Camagüey) 212

24- Agustin Lescaille (Guantánamo) 212

26- Fausto Alvarez (Santiago de Cuba) 210

27- Antonio Scull (Industriales) 208

28- Agustin Marquetti (Habana) 207

28- Oscar Machado (Villa Clara) 207

30- Joan Carlos Pedroso (Las Tunas) 206 (200 with wooden bats, most ever)

 

Pedroso first appeared on the Cuban and international baseball scenes in the late 1990s, when he formed a noteworthy national junior team slugging tandem with current Pinar star Yosvany Peraza. One irony of Joan Carlos’s recent seasons is that he has been largely written off as a fading veteran at the same time that Peraza (the same age) has seem to appear out of nowhere as one of the shining “new faces” among Cuba’s top heavy hitters. In recent years Pedroso has also been somewhat diminished by playing in the shadow of teammate Osmani Urrutia. Urrutia, batting one slot ahead of Pedroso and thus benefiting from the big first baseman’s presence behind him in the order, reeled off six batting crowns in seven seasons and surged to the top of the career batting average list. Last season Santiago’s Alexei Bell surged to the forefront as the first Cuban Leaguer ever to rack up 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in a single National Series campaign; Bell’s obliteration of Pedroso’s 2003 one-year record also represented a further erosion of Joan Carlos’s earlier lofty stature. But the biggest blow to a once promising future came with the decision in late 2006 to hand Pedroso’s national team slot over to Industriales southpaw-swinger Alex Malleta. It was a move by the Cuban Federation which seemingly slammed the door on a once-so-promising career in the international tournament spotlight.

 

Joan Carlos Pedroso’s Year-by-Year Record

 

2009 National Series 48 – 15 HR, .355 BA, 43 RBI, .675 SLG (partial season)

2008 NS 47 Postseason – 0 HR, .083 BA, 0 RBI, .0.83 SLG

2008 National Series 47 – 22 HR, .342 BA, 63 RBI, .634 SLG

2007 NS 46 Postseason – 1 HR, .412 BA, 3 RBI, .647 SLG

2007 National Series 46 – 18 HR, .293 BA, 67 RBI, .531 SLG

2006 National Series 45 – 22 HR, .353 BA, 72 RBI, .680 SLG

2005 Super League IV – 14 HR, .319 BA, 36 RBI, .780 SLG

2005 National Series 44 – 27 HR, .317 BA, 68 RBI, .651 SLG

2004 Super League III – 1 HR, .200 BA, 5 RBI, .333 SLG

2004 National Series 43 – 15 HR, .345 BA, 56 RBI, .600 SLG

2003 Super League II – 4 HR, .286 BA, 13 RBI, .540 SLG

2003 National Series 42 – 28* HR, .310 BA, 77 RBI, .645 SLG (*Series Record)

2002 Super League I – 2 HR, .231 BA, 11 RBI, .369 SLG

2002 National Series 41 – 17 HR, .327 BA, 55 RBI, .548 SLG

2001 National Series 40 – 10 HR, .335 BA, 40 RBI, .527 SLG

2000 National Series 39 – 4 HR, .275 BA, 39 RBI, .377 SLG

1999 National Series 38 – 5# HR, .281 BA, 41 RBI, .383 SLG (# aluminum)

1998 National Series 37 – 1# HR, .308 BA, 10 RBI, .462 SLG (# aluminum)

 

Pedroso’s remarkable 2009 revival seems to signal that some veteran faces might yet still play major roles in Cuba’s upcoming WBC fortunes. Despaigne, Céspedes, Peraza, and Héctor Olivera should provide weapons not seen last time around by enemy big leaguers. But don’t be too sure that when the chips are down in Mexico City or San Diego it won’t be the likes of the more-seasoned Pedroso, Cepeda, Enríquez, or Lazo who might well carry the bulk of the load.

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