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Alex Guerrero’s Odd Debut Raises Cuban Big Leaguers to 178 and Counting









by Peter C. Bjarkman

March 22, 2014

It was a most unlikely debut staged in a most unlikely venue, but with his brief appearance in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s big league season opener between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona D-Backs, former Las Tunas shortstop Alex Guerrero entered the record books as the 178th Cuban native to appear in a major league uniform. The odd debut carried rather exotic overtones since the former Cuban Leaguer became only the second among his countrymen to first taste big league action during a game staged away from North American spoil – this time on the Sidney (Australia) Cricket Grounds recently revamped to host an historic two-game set that introduced big league baseball to fans in the Land Down Under. Yoenis Céspedes also enjoy his own big league debut two seasons back (March 28, 2012) on far-distant Asian soil during a similar “traveling” MLB season opener staged between the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners at Japan’s Tokyo Dome. Céspedes doubled and stuck out twice during his own history-making lid-lifter as Cuban big league number 170.

Guerrero’s own maiden appearance in a Dodger uniform was a rather unorthodox one for a second and more prominent reason since the Cuban managed to achieve “immortality” as an official big leaguer in a game where he never actually entered the field of play, while at the same time earning big league distinction by appearing in an official box score. Having lost the tight battle for a starting second base slot to highly touted prospects Dee Gordon and Justin Turner (opening night starter at the position), Guerrero nonetheless was at least temporarily included in the club’s season-opening roster for the extended Australian road trip. He was called off the bench in the visitor’s ninth frame as an “announced” pinch hitter for LA reliever Brian Wilson, but when Arizona manager Kirk Gibson replaced lefty Oliver Perez with right-hander J.J. Putz, Guerrero was immediately recalled from the on-deck circle and replaced by lefty-swinging Mike Baxter, who promptly flied out to right field. Thus Guerrero’s current big league line shows one game appearance without any visits to the batter’s box, to the base paths, or to the defense infield alignment.

Alex Guerrero might well be headed toward a brief minor league apprenticeship when the Dodgers return stateside for their native-soil opening series with the San Diego Padres a week from this coming Tuesday. But it is almost certain that the Cuban roster of Major Leaguers will quickly expanding again in Chicago on March 31 with the much anticipated debut of slugger José Dariel Abreu, still currently penciled in as the White Sox opening day first baseman. A burgeoning list of recent high profile “defectors” in big league spring training camps suggests that this coming season might witness the biggest Cuban influx of recent decades. Five Cuban natives debuted on the Major League scene in 2010, three in 2011, and four in each of the past two campaigns. This year’s cropped of touted prospects recently inked to eye-popping contracts and thus likely near-future big leaguers is topped by right-hander Miguel Alfredo González (Phillies), flashy shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena (Dodgers), infielder Aledmys Díaz (Cardinals) and hurler Dalier Hinojosa (Red Sox). Also in big league spring training camps this year and still nursing at least slim hopes of big league promotion are outfielder Jorge Soler (Cubs), southpaw hurler Noel Aruelles (Royals), outfielder Adonis García (Yankees), and outfielder Rubi Silva (Cubs).

While the Cuban big league presence is likely to bloom extensively this summer, two recent headliners are now are least temporarily sidelined. It was announced early last week that multiple stress fractures in both legs will keep talented Detroit Tigers glove man José Iglesias out of action for the entire 2014 season. And a tragic accident Wednesday night in Surprise, Arizona, has now postponed 2014 action for Cincinnati flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman for at least several months. Stuck in the face by a line-drive off the bat of Kansas catcher Salvador Perez, Chapman received several facial fractures but fortunately escaped either life-threatening or career-ending injury. After successful surgery on Thursday which included insertion of a steel plate in the pitcher’s forehead, it was announced by the Reds that their ace closer might resume throwing from the mound in as little as six weeks but would not likely see season regularly action with the parent club until early or mid-June.







Peter Bjarkman is author of A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (McFarland, 2007) and is widely recognized as a leading authority on Cuban baseball, past and present. He has reported on Cuban League action and the Cuban national team as senior writer for www.BaseballdeCuba.com during the past six-plus years and is currently writing a book on the history of Cuba’s post-revolution national team.