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International Free Agent Profile: Jorge Despaigne

When Jorge Despaigne becomes eligible, should he be a high-priority target for the Mets?

Koji Watanabe

Jorge Despaigne Wilson is a promising young right-handed pitcher formerly of Los Piratas de la Isla de la Juventud. The 23-year-old pitcher, who stands at six feet one inch tall and weighs roughly 200 pounds, recently escaped Cuba, according to Baseball America. Like teammate Raisel Iglesias, Despaigne is likely to try to pitch in the United States.

Despaigne's main weapon is his fastball, a pitch that scouts have recorded in the mid-90s, and unsubstantiated reports put as high as the upper-90s. In addition, he gets good movement on the pitch. In a league where the average fastball velocity is in the mid-to-high-80s, a fastball with the zip that Despaigne has on his is absolutely devastating. While pitchers who throw that hard are much more common in MLB, that kind of velocity is still an asset. He also has a weak changeup and a somewhat unrefined breaking ball in his arsenal. Because of his limited exposure on the international stage, concrete scouting reports are few and far between. Unconfirmed reports of those who have seen him note that his stuff separates him from most other pitchers on the island nation, and that he has a lot of potential that can be harnessed with more coaching and experience.

Despite the plus fastball, Despaigne has some fairly major red flags. Simply put, his mechanics inhibit his ability to repeat his delivery, which has caused some major control problems over his relatively short baseball career. The Cuban right-hander has a roughly 1:1 strikeout-to-walk rate rate for his career, having walked 114 batters to 105 batters struck out. His wildness also manifests itself in many hit batters and wild pitches.

Still, his fielding independent-pitching numbers are not nearly as horrendous as you would think. Despite the Cuban environment generally favoring hitters, Despaigne has demonstrated the uncanny ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. In his rookie season, he allowed six home runs in 57 innings; but since then, he has allowed exactly one in roughly 90 innings over two seasons.

2011-2012 (51st SNdB) 21 12/10 57 4.58 5.46 41 36
2012-2013 (52nd SNdB) 22 11/2 23.2 3.04 3.37 17 15
2013-2014 (53rd SNdB) 23 20/11 70.2 4.33 3.44 56 54

We're still a long way from Despaigne being able to sign with an MLB team. He only recently left Cuba, meaning that the lengthy process has only just begun. He next needs to establish permanent residency in a country other than Cuba and petition the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control for an unblocking license, so that MLB teams can legally do business with the Cuban national without running afoul of U.S. embargo policies. Assuming they do not find any improprieties in the documents he presents to them, their investigation can take a few months, meaning that Despaigne could be ready to showcase his talents over the winter or next spring.

Does He Make Sense For The Mets?

On July 2, 2014, the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA changed. According to the updated CBA, Cuban defectors are only eligible to become free agents once properly vetted by the U.S. Treasury if they are over 23 and have at least five seasons of playing experience in Cuba. At 23 and having played three seasons in Cuba, Jorge Despaigne is not eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. So where does that leave him? Simply put, he is treated like any other international free agent prospect; this means that teams can only sign the Cuban pitcher between July 2 and June 15, and must draw from their respective international bonus pools to do so. Would Despaigne be worth some of those limited international bonus pool funds?

On the one hand, while he certainly represents risk, so do all international prospects. Despaigne, at 23 and already with three years of professional experience, is much more polished than many of the other prospects for whom money in the international bonus pool will be allotted. He is much more developed as a baseball player than other rookies from Latin America and is much closer to realizing his ultimate potential, whatever that may be.

Regardless of his pedestrian numbers, Despaigne possesses a skill as a pitcher that cannot be taught: high fastball velocity. Physical mechanics can be altered. Different pitches and grips can be learned. The ability to throw a fastball in the mid-90s is something that you either have or do not have, and the Cuban right-hander has it. The other issues that have hampered his young career can be worked on and refined with help from a larger body of coaches available in the United States.

On the other hand, Despaigne will likely take up a sizable chunk of the available international bonus pool money that the Mets have. For the amount that Despaigne might sign for, the team could ink any number of younger kids. At this stage in the game, regardless of their age or how far along in their development they are, all international prospects are projections and dreams, and nothing more. From a risk-and-reward point of view, signing a greater number of international prospects might be more prudent, because it gives you more potential lottery tickets in the game.. As I write this, the Mets have signed six international prospects with sizable signing bonuses, for a total of $1,995,000: Kenny Hernandez ($1,000,000), Yoel Romero ($300,000), Edgardo Fermin ($250,000), Jhoander Chourio ($130,000), Daniel Guzman ($140,000), and Tulio Garcia ($175,000). That leaves them with roughly $700,000 left in their international bonus pool for the 2014-2015 signing period. In addition, Ben Badler has reported that the Mets remain front-runners to sign Mexican catcher Juan Uriarte, who would likely receive a sizable portion of that amount.

It is highly unlikely that Despaigne becomes available during the 2014-2015 signing period. That works out well for him, though, as that allows teams to have more money to spend on a sizable signing bonus. As always, this is a fluid situation and updates will likely be forthcoming.