International Free Agent Profile 2014: Odrisamer Despaigne

Koji Watanabe

The Mets need pitching and have shown interest in the Cuban defector. Would the right-handed pitcher make more sense than any of the other free agent options currently available?

The son of Francisco Despaigne, a ten-year veteran pitcher with the Havanna Industriales, Odrisamer Despaigne Orue followed in his father's footsteps—not only did the younger Despaigne prove good enough to play for the Industriales, but he made it as a pitcher. Born April 4, 1987—the same day as Cameron Maybin—the right-handed pitcher defected from his native Cuba in July 2013 while in Paris, waiting for a layover to The Netherlands, where the Cuban National Team was participating in the 2013 World Port Tournament (which Cuba won anyway). Instead of heading to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Despaigne traveled to Barcelona, Spain, where he was reunited with his father. who he hadn't seen in 11 years.

The father-son dynamic is an interesting aspect of the Odrisamer Despaigne story, an added wrinkle that most other Cuban defector stories do not have. In Francisco's decade with the Industriales, the right-hander accumulated a 46-47 record in 293 games with a career 3.70 ERA. Odrisamer played in eight Serie Nacional competitions and holds a 51-39 rcareer ecord in 201 games (not including playoff games, which would run his total appearances to 213) with a career 3.65 ERA. Truly like father, like son.

Like other defectors, leaving his homeland was a hard decision for Odrisamer to make, having to choose between pursuing his dream and remaining with all of his friends and family. "I've won titles [with] Industrial [and] I played World Classic with Cuba and now need new goals, so I left my country to realize the dream of playing against the best in the major leagues" Despaigne said. "It was traumatic to leave my country, my family, and friends, but . . . I'm enjoying this moment, waiting for the dream come true."

In October 2013, Despaigne received all of the papers and documents needed to become a major league free agent, but he has yet to receive his unblocking license from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. He will be holding an official showcase in Mexico in the near future, and is likely to sign with an MLB club afterwards as soon as the Office of Foreign Assets Control clears him.

His Serie Nacional stats are as follows:

Year Age ERA IP K/9 BB/9 H/9 HR/9
2008-2009 22 4.83 100.2 7.1 4.2 10.1 0.7
2009-2010 23 4.30 117.1 8.1 4.2 8.9 0.5
2010-2011 24 4.71 130 6.6 4.3 9.9 0.9
2011-2012 25 2.60 118.1 6.2 2.6 8.4 0.3
2012-2013 26 3.25 143 6.2 3.5 8.9 0.4

In workouts in front of scouts in Madrid, Odrisamer hit the low 90s on the radar guns, maxing out around 94 MPH. Claudio Scerrato, a scout working for the Philadelphia Phillies, noted that the younger Despaigne had good control of his wide array of breaking balls—a curveball, a loopy 12-6 curveball, a slider, and a change-up which was described as major league calliber. In addition, he throws his pitches from multiple arm angles, retaining control over them while doing so. Growing up, the right-hander idolized Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, and as many little boys are wont to do, modeled his game after the former Met. "He had great control and threw from different angles, with a peculiar and very leg up. It was hard to imitate, but I did."" Indeed, scouts have compared the movement of his pitches to El Duque's, as well as his distinct and immediatley recognizable high leg kick in the wind-up. He even has some of the "big game mentality" that El Duque had, averaging 8⅓ innings in his six starts in the 51st Serie Nacional (2011-2012) playoffs.

His ability to control his breaking balls, unfortunately, might be a mall sample size bias on the part of those who saw him work out. In Cuba, the right-hander has a slightly inflated rate of 3.7 walks per nine innings. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, he his walk rate is 3.9. Coupled with his career rate of 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings (6.9 as a full-time starter), the right-hander has a roughly 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against Cuban competition.

Turning 27 next April, Despaigne is listed as an even six-feet tall and weighs around 200 pounds. Given his age, there isn't too much more room for growth, but his size doesn't raise any immediate flags, either. In Cuba, Odrisamer could be called a workhorse—over the past four years, he started no fewer than 20 games and pitched no fewer than 117⅓ innings. His 100 starts and 647⅔ innings pitched since 2010 dwarf newly minted Philly pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who started 38 games and pitched 245 innings during that span, as well as newly minted Red Sox pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, who started 59 games and pitched 396⅔ innings over the same period. In addition, he has been better than Gonzalez and Hinojosa at preventing runs, and while a lot of that had to do with defenses and park factors, pitchers deserve plenty of credit as well. His rates of 8.5 hits per nine innings and 0.5 home runs per nine innings since 2010 are overall superior to those posted by Gonzalez (8.8 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9) and Hinojosa (9.0 H/9 and 1.0 HR/9).

Does He Make Sense For The Mets?

The Mets, along with the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, and Mariners, scouted Despaigne during workouts in Barcelona and are expected to attend his official workouts in Mexico. At the very least, the Mets are doing their due diligence. Whether that means that they are collecting scouting reports to disseminate to players and coaches when they face him on the mound pitching for another team, or to weighing the risks and rewards of inking the right-hander to a deal, I do not know.

Would he be a fit on this Mets team, though? While it's certainly further down on the to-do list that Sandy Alderson compiled, there is a definite need for starting pitching. Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee can all be penciled in to start the season, but after that trio things get hazy. Jenrry Mejia looks to be an early shoo-in for one of two open rotation spots, but there are certainly many questions surrounding his ability to pitch innings and be effective while doing so. After Mejia, the last spot in the 2014 rotation seems completely open. Options range from prospects Jake deGrom and Rafael Montero to free agents notable and unremarkable. Is Odrisamer Despaigne a better bet than any of these other options.

Earlier in the year, Philadelphia signed Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million contract, while the Red Sox signed Hinojosa to a minor league deal with a $4 million bonus. Given what we know about those two and how they compare to Despaigne, the latter will likely cost in the neighborhood of $4 million per season as well. I doubt anyone will sign him for more than three years, but he should garner a guaranteed MLB contract.

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