Misael Siverio Mesa was born June 12, 1989, in Placetas, a city of roughly 70,000 in the Villa Clara province of central Cuba. Honing his pitching skills as a youth and adolescent, Siverio eventually made the Villa Clara Naranjas, despite standing only 5'9" and weighing 190 pounds. Why? Siverio pitched with his left arm. Initially appearing as a relief pitcher, the lefty pitched his way into Villa Clara's starting rotation, helping the team reach the finals in the 2009-2010 season and win the championship in 2012-2013.
Back in 2012, the U.S. Collegiate National Team went to Cuba to play a five-game series against the Cuban National Team, the first time in sixteen years that the two teams directly engaged each other in friendly exhibition baseball. According to Antonio Castro, the son of Fidel Castro and the vice president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, the series was "very important for the U.S. team, and for Cuba, it's beyond explanation...It is important for our athletes to have matches at another level of baseball." According to Victor Mesa, former star outfielder and Cuban National Team manager, "The most important thing is to maintain this matchup, both in Cuba and in the United States. I would love to go play there." The 2012 series went off without a hitch, and Mesa got his wish, as the Cuban government and the International Federation of Baseball worked out another series, this time taking place in the U.S. in July 2013.
Misael Siverio was among the players who went to the United States, specifically selected by his coach from Villa Clara, Victor Mesa. Only hours after arriving in Iowa, the left-hander left the hotel he and his team were staying at in Des Moines and defected. How exactly he left—Cuba generally doesn't exactly allow its nationals free reign when traveling abroad—is unclear, but it is not without precedent. Aroldis Chapman did just that, when he defected from Cuba in the Netherlands in 2009. The All-Star closer told teammates and coaches that he was going outside to smoke, got into a car waiting outside, and that was that.
(Note: Among the players who were involved in that exhibition series, five others besides Siverio have since defected: Erisbel Arruebarrena, Yasmani Tomás, Dayron Varona, Irait Chirino, and Raciel Iglecias.)It wasn't an easy decision for Siverio to make:
"Leaving behind your country is not easy, but this was a decision that I gave a lot of thought. I made this decision for my future and for my family. My dream, of course, is to make the major leagues, and starting today I will start doing what I need to do to accomplish that."
Siverio did not have a wife or children, making his decision to leave much easier, but he did leave something precious behind:
"With all of the work I put in to get on the Cuban National Team, I wanted to bring my jersey, so I could have those memories forever, but circumstances did not allow me. Luckily, I spoke to some people with the team, and they're looking after everything I left behind. That, to me, is golden."
According to his manager Victor Mesa, Siverio was "not that great of a pitcher," and he was only with the team because "he's a left-handed pitcher." Mesa considers him, at best, a Double-A or Triple-A talent. "You may see that gentleman who defected working as a laborer one day," he said. Jamie Torres, Siverio's legal advisor at the time, disagreed, saying that his client has the upside of an MLB pitcher. "All you have to do is see the videos, to see the talent he has. In addition, he is left-handed. That will open many doors."
Simply put, Mesa's opinion might be some sour grapes, as the numbers do not back up what he was saying. Generally speaking, Siverio was considered one of the better left-handed pitching talents in Cuba. Still, the lefty isn't exactly holding a grudge. "He helped me get to the National Series and gave me a chance when others didn't, and for that I will always be grateful," he told Jorge Ebro in an interview with El Nuevo Herald:
"For me, as a man, I would have liked to have told him that I was leaving, that I was fighting for my dream to play in the major leagues. But I'm not naive—I don't know how he would have reacted, now that he is in charge of the National Team selection.""
|2008-2009 (48th SNdB)
|2009-2010 (49th SNdB)
|2010-2011 (50th SNdB)
|2011-2012 (51st SNdB)
|2012-2013 (52nd SNdB)
After defecting, Siverio began working with Orlando Chinea, a Cuban exile who once pitched on the same Villa Clara team that Siverio pitched on. Working out in Tampa, Chinea helped refine the left-hander's pitching arsenal, in addition to his confidence. While in Cuba, Siverio mostly threw curveballs, sliders, and changeups. The curve is his main strikeout pitch, a slow, sweeping breaking ball that he has enough confidence in to throw in any and all counts. The slider and changeup were more get-me-over pitches. Working with Chinea, he added a sinker to his repertoire, refined his change to have more movement and more of a speed differential as compared to his fastball, and added some velocity on that fastball. While in Cuba, his heater didn't have much heat to it, generally sitting between 85 and 90 mph. Now, he is regularly hitting the low 90s with it. Over the winter, he kept in game shape by playing in the Mexican Winter League, pitching for the Aguilas de Mexicali. He posted a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 innings, striking out 36 and walking 10.
Growing up, the left-hander has said that he and his friends were avid Playstation players, and if they could never experience Major League Baseball in person, experiencing it digitally was the next best thing. Granted his unblocking license and now an MLB free agent, Siverio hopes to make those digital dreams a reality. After watching him work out and showcase his skills in June, the Yankees and the Rangers have thus far shown interest.
Does He Make Sense For The Mets?
Siverio probably has an uphill battle ahead of him. At 5'9", he is small for a ballplayer, and his height will likely be a hurdle, no pun intended. Though the connection between size, stamina, and injury is tenuous at best, the baseball establishment still very much believes in the mantra that "bigger is better", and the Cuban pitcher will always be viewed with an air of doubt because of his size, regardless of the initial results. Still, as a starter in Cuba for the better part of three years, Siverio has demonstrated that he can, at the very minimum, log a decent amount of work on his arm over the course of a season. Innings thrown in La Serie Nacional are certainly not innings thrown in MLB, but the hundreds of pitches thrown and their effects on the body know not of man-made boundaries and borders; if he was able to log a fair amount of innings in Cuba to no ill effect, he should be able to log a fair amount of innings in the U.S. to no ill effect.
As Jamie Torres made mention of, Siverio is a lefty, and that is automatically going to open doors for him. He probably does not have the stuff to be a major league starter, but as a southpaw, he automatically has a leg up against lefties, as left-handed hitters generally fare worse against fellow left-handers than they do against right-handed pitchers.
Siverio does not possess the talent level that recent defectors such as Aroldis Chapman or Raciel Iglesias have, and his contract will reflect that. With all of the questions surrounding him, if Siverio even receives a guaranteed MLB contract, I will be surprised. More likely, he receives a minor league contract, with an invitation to spring training.
For the Mets, that's well within their price range. With Josh Edgin having had an up-and-down MLB career thus far, and Scott Rice having undergone season-ending elbow surgery, the Cuban lefty could be brought in as a potential left-handed bullpen piece to pitch concurrently with Edgin, or as an insurance policy of sorts if Edgin does not produce.