So Far So Good for Alfredo Despaigne in Japan
Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne played his first game in NPB earlier today. He went 1-for-4 with a triple and sacrifice fly, scoring one run and driving in another. He also struck out once.
A lot of eyes are on Despaigne, as he is possibly the best hitter to play in Japan since Hideki Matsui left the Yomiuri Giants for the New York Yankees more than a decade ago. I’m not saying he really is that good, but there is at least a reasonable possibility of it, given that his numbers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional were comparable to Jose Abreu‘s and Yoenis Cespedes‘.
What it comes down to now is how fast Despaigne gets up to speed at the highest level of Japanese baseball. It isn’t an easy transition to make, and NPB teams expect immediate performance well above league average in what is a very good pair of leagues.
Assuming that Despaigne plays well enough, despite his late-season start, to come back in 2015 for a full season, it will be interesting to see what he could do with full seasons in 2015 and 2016, at age 29 and 30 respectively, in NPB’s small ballparks. I certainly think that if he stays healthy and the Cuban government lets him play full seasons in NPB, he could challenge Wladimir Balentien‘s NPB single-season home run record, which Brad Eldred is already making a run at this season.
As a hitter, Despaigne is more like Eldred than Balentien — he probably won’t walk a lot, but he’ll hit some long home runs, at least if he can get up to speed fast enough.
P.S. For what it’s worth, Despaigne played against Michel Abreu, another Cuban slugger who led NPB’s Pacific League in home runs last year but missed all of the first half of the 2014 campaign with back problems. Today’s game was only Abreu’s third game played this season. I wonder if the two had a late dinner together after the game.