Cincinnati's signing of Cuban right-hander Raciel Iglesias on Friday got me thinking about another Cuban in the news lately, Odrisamer Despaigne of the San Diego Padres. If you remember, he made his major league debut against the San Francisco Giants last week, throwing seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits and zero walks, though he struck out just one guy. Despaigne makes his second big league start today against Arizona.
Despaigne is older than Iglesias, already 27 with eight years of Serie Nacional experience under his belt before he left Cuba. He showcased for big league clubs this past February, but nobody bit on him at the time, with his stuff described as "average". His best attributes were control and a diverse arsenal of junkball pitches.
Eventually the Padres signed him for $1,000,000 in early May. He made two starts for Double-A San Antonio after signing, fanning 12 in 7.2 innings but walking five and allowing four hits, but just one run. Moved up to Triple-A El Paso on May 27th, he made five Pacific Coast League starts, resulting in an ugly 7.61 ERA, giving up 36 hits and 20 runs in 23.2 innings with 29/13 K/BB.
That's not the kind of performance that screams "major league success upcoming" but small sample size and all, and he did post a 13/2 K/BB in his last 10 innings of work before his promotion. At age 27 his skills are what they are, so Double-A and Triple-A were more a matter of getting him back into pitching shape and adjusted to North America than typical developmental considerations.
His fastest pitch against the Giants was 93 MPH, with his sinker averaging 91. His secondary pitches ranged from 64 MPH into the mid-80s: curves, changes, some sliders, all from different arm angles. It's interesting that this worked much better in the majors than it did in the Pacific Coast League, though he was probably working some rust off in the minors. Certainly his control has been much better in his last three outings compared to earlier in the year, so I wouldn't dismiss him just because of the initial rough starts for El Paso.
Here's some video from his first start back at San Antonio, which gives you some idea about his style.
He takes the mound again today against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be interesting to see if they get a better read on him than the Giants did. I don't know if Despaigne will have consistent long-term success once the league gets a look at him, but he has some unusual tricks up his sleeve and could well have a useful run as a fifth starter or long reliever.