Updates to Active National and Independent Leagues List

This year, as with last, we have offered a master list of most national and major independent baseball leagues around the world, with the majority all delaying their 2021 seasons. This weekend marks the last major checkpoint, as most leagues that had announced a start date planned to begin by June 6 at the latest.

As of today, 50 of the 72 leagues we surveyed (see chart below) are now active, which amounts to 69 percent. Europe continues to be the most affected, with 10 of its leagues—including six national leagues—yet to announce plans for their 2021 seasons, while the Americas and Asia have mostly long since resumed. In fact, one of Europe’s top leagues, France’s Division I, has still to start its season, with its postponed date of June 5 pushed back another week. The same goes for Belgium, another European country with an established circuit, which also begins June 12. Only two other announced start dates remain globally: Puerto Rico (June 27) and the Empire League in the U.S., which normally has a summer start date.

Joining the list of active leagues this weekend were the national leagues of Finland, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland, plus Great Britain’s three-tiered Northern League (see our primer on the complex British baseball scene here [link]). The Pecos League, an independent circuit in the U.S., celebrated opening day this past Wednesday (June 2).

The penultimate weekend in May (22-23) was also a big one for Opening Day around the world. The full 33-team Serie A in Italy finally took the field, with a partial commencement a fortnight prior. Joining the Italians were Estonia, Women’s Baseball UK (the national women’s baseball league in Great Britain), and Russia. The Atlantic League and United Shore League, U.S. indy circuits, played their first games of 2021 a few days later.

The full list of leagues surveyed is available here [link].

Continent Leagues N/A* Active Pct.
Africa 4 4 0 N/A
Americas 16 1 12 80%
Asia 11 1 7 70%
Europe 41 0 31 73%

*No spring season. Percentage is of leagues normally active in the spring and/or summer.

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Americas Olympic Baseball Qualifier Preview and Rosters

The final continental qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics begins one week from today in Florida. Eight teams will compete for a single guaranteed berth to Japan, while the second- and third-place teams will head to Mexico shortly thereafter for the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament. Those two teams will face Australia, the Netherlands, and Taiwan for the final place in the Olympiad.

The Americas Olympic Baseball Qualifier is split into eight groups. Group A features the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and the United States. Meanwhile, Group B has Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela. The top two teams in each round move to the Super Round, in which each of the teams plays those from the other pool. The relevant pool result from Round 1 also carries over for a third result in the round. No Championship game is set.

Seven key prospects stand out on the rosters: Cesar Prieto, Simeon Woods Richardson, Julio Rodríguez, Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran, and Matthew Liberatore. Well-known internationals and big leaguers expected in Florida include Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne, José Bautista, Ervin Santana, Matt Kemp, David Robertson, Matt Wieters, Anibal Sánchez, Robinson Chiriños, Homer Bailey, and John Axford.

The schedule is below, with rosters for each of the eight teams, divided by group, following.

Exhibitions
May 25, 4 p.m., West Palm Beach: USA Canada
May 26, 1 p.m., Lawnwood Complex (Ft. Pierce): Dominican Republic 4 Venezuela 2
May 26, 7 p.m., Vero Beach: USA Canada
May 26, 7 p.m., Lawnwood Complex (Ft. Pierce): Cuba 9   Dominican Republic 4
May 27, 7 p.m., Vero Beach: USA Venezuela
May 28, 1 p.m., Lawnwood Complex (Ft. Pierce): Dominican Republic Venezuela

 

 

Group A
Dominican Republic
Key veterans: José Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio
Key prospects: Jeison Guzman, Luis Liberato, Julio Rodriguez

Nicaragua
Key veterans: Isaac Benard, Dwight Britton, Ofilio Castro, Wuillians Vasquez
Key prospects: Dilmer Mejía, Ismael Munguia

Puerto Rico
Key veterans: Iván De Jesús, Osvaldo Martínez, Rey Navarro, Jesmuel Valentín
Key prospects: None.

United States (Preliminary)
Key veterans: Homer Bailey, Logan Forsythe, Todd Frazier, Anthony Gose, Edwin Jackson (also eligible for Germany), Jon Jay, Matt Kemp, David Robertson, Matt Wieters
Key prospects: Jonathan Bowlan, Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, Matthew Liberatore, Joe Ryan, Simeon Woods Richardson

Group B
Canada
Key veterans: John Axford, Scott Richmond
Key prospects: Trevor Brigden, Brendan McGuigan, J.D. Osborne

Colombia
Key veterans: Sugar Ray Marimon
Key prospects: Jerry Downs, Jeter Downs

Cuba [Preview]
Key veterans: Yosvani Alarcon, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne, Yadir Drake
Key prospects: Cesar Prieto

Venezuela
Key veterans: Robinson Chiriños, Andrés Machado, Hernán Pérez, Jose Rondón, Anibal Sánchez
Key prospects: Jhonathan Díaz

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WBSC Final Qualifier for Tokyo 2020 Moved from Taiwan to Mexico


Press release and photo by WBSC.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) has announced that the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier to the Olympic Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020 has been moved from Taichung (TPE) to Mexico.

The decision was forced by new restrictions the local authorities imposed in Taiwan due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. In particular, travellers without resident visas will not be allowed to enter the island until Friday, 18 June, and the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier was due to start at the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on 16 June.

Following consultations with medical and governmental authorities and the host Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA) and the Chinese (Taipei) Professional Baseball League (CPBL), the WBSC Executive Board, in its meeting via video conference on Wednesday, confirmed the decision to move the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier from Taichung to Mexico.

The WBSC and entire international baseball community wish to thank our great hosts in Mexico for ‘stepping up to the plate’ to stage this important tournament and welcome the teams on such short notice,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari. “I would especially like to recognise the efforts of Director General of the National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport (Comision Nacional de Cultura Fisica y Deporte-CONADE) Ana Guevara and Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is also a WBSC Global Ambassador, in staging this important Olympic qualifier. Mexico has already qualified for Tokyo 2020 in baseball and softball, so they are doing this as a great baseball-loving nation and as a service to our sport — and in honour of the Olympic Games and global baseball family.

We also wish to thank the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association and authorities in Taiwan for doing everything possible to stage the event there. Taiwan remains one of the elite international baseball hosts in the world, and we will return there at the next possible opportunity.

The dates and venues of the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier in Mexico will be confirmed very soon.

Three teams have already earned their right to participate in the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier: World No. 4 Chinese Taipei, No. 6 Australia and No. 9 the Netherlands. The other two participants will be the runner-up and the third-place finisher of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier, held from 31 May to 5 June in Florida.

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Explaining the Structure of British Baseball

Following baseball in Great Britain can be a rather confusing endeavor, with a myriad of different organisations and leagues. This primer aims to make clear what the various entities are and how they correspond to each other. It avoids any discussion of the local politics to focus simply on the layout of the sport in the U.K.

British Baseball Organisations
Four organisations play broader roles in British baseball. They fit into several different categories and currently only two have any affiliation to each other. There are several other much smaller organisations in addition. The next section discusses Baseball Scotland and Baseball Ireland in Northern Ireland.

BaseballSoftballUK
One could easily be confused about which organisation actually administrates British baseball. BaseballSoftballUK, also founded in 2007, is the “development agency” for the sport, as well as slowpitch and fastpitch softball, which means its job—from a baseball perspective—is to grow the game at the grassroots level, increase participation, and development talent. It is funded by the British government through U.K. Sport.

It does not operate any adult or youth baseball leagues, but it does run BSUK Universities, which organises play in four-to-five leagues for the roughly two dozen university baseball clubs (slightly more in slowpitch softball). It also supports various tournaments, including the Battle for Britain Baseball Tournament every year in late May (also founded by Carter).

British Baseball Federation
As stated earlier, the BBF is the NGB for baseball in Britain and, as such, is responsible for the WBSC-sanctioned leagues and the national team, Great Britain Baseball. Its league structure is divided into four levels, with NBL at the top. The remaining tiers follow the structure of MLB’s minor leagues: Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A. It also provides operational support for UK Little League, which is otherwise a separate organisation. The BBF is self-funded.

British Baseball League
The BBL is also known as the Northern League and was founded in 2017 as a result of all but one northern team leaving the BBF. Containing two of the three historic hotbeds of British baseball—Hull and Liverpool—the teams had competed in “northern conferences” for decades, including at the National Premier League level from 1992-2008. The following three seasons saw all northern teams at the Triple-A level, while Double-A was instituted in 2012. It maintained the same divisions from 2017.

Since the independence of its 12 clubs, the BBL has added six more teams and an additional tier, Single-A, which began play in 2018. Only two teams have been lost. One of those folded into another, while Nottingham, the only club south of Yorkshire, returned to the BBF and a Midlands league after 2018.

The league also helped launch at least two university teams, including two-time national champions Durham University. The BBL recently founded the British Baseball Council, which aims to support and unite all clubs, regardless of affiliation.

Women’s Baseball UK
The newest entrant to the scene, Women’s Baseball UK (WBUK) was founded in 2018 to get more women playing baseball and to support those that do. Its first two years included a women’s baseball championship and two women’s university all-star games, but the organisation took a major step forward last year. WBUK was ‘incorporated under the British Baseball Federation umbrella as the UK’s official representative for women’s baseball’[1]. Since then, a women’s national team has been announced and begun practicing, 10 teams have been founded, and tomorrow, the BBF WBUK League opens.

Independent Leagues
There are, however, more organisations than just these four (and their subsidiaries) and there have been very few seasons in the UK in which there was only one governing body. There are three additional unaffiliated regional leagues that are currently active, all founded in the last three years: the East of England Baseball League (EEBL), Westcountry Baseball League (WBL), and West Midlands Baseball League (WMBL).

A fourth unaffiliated circuit, the East Midlands Baseball League (EMBL), may have just been a one-year response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though it is possible it will return as a three-team circuit. There was also talk of a Southern Marucci Baseball League to enter in 2021 at an NBL or Triple-A equivalent level, though this did not come to fruition.

All three active leagues consider themselves Single-A and, beginning with the Northern League, one new circuit has appeared every year but one since 2017. The Westcountry League is 2021’s entrant and is the first to denote an affiliation to the BBL’s British Baseball Council specifically. There are 20 squads in the three active leagues, which when combined with the 16 BBL clubs make for three dozen indies.

The Organization of Baseball in Britain

For decades, the top level of play has been the National Baseball League (NBL), though it includes only teams from England. It is nominally mixed gender, but has traditionally been contested only by men, while women are more common at other levels. This circuit is run by the British Baseball Federation (BBF), the National Governing Body (NGB) for the sport, as recognised by the WBSC. Its English nature is not an organisational rule, but due to the local context in the three other countries of the U.K.

Wales
There were no teams in Wales between 1951-2016 (possibly even since 1939), when Swansea University Green Sox began play. The following year, Cardiff Merlins and Cardiff University Cubs were founded. The two university sides play in BSUK Universities, now part of British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), the equivalent to the NCAA or NAIA in the U.S. Also worth noting is the amazing work of RBI Wales, which has worked with Welsh children since 2012.

An entirely separate sport, Welsh Baseball, has been played since the start of the 20th century, including an annual Wales-England match, which the former have dominated. Although the sport has lost 90 percent of its teams and players, it is still contested in South Wales.

Northern Ireland
Although it was a Kentish baseball legend that helped galvanize the sport in Northern Ireland (Jon Carter), Belfast clubs have always been more closely connected with Baseball Ireland. Although the Belfast club of the 1990s played games in England, the two current squads in Northern Ireland’s capital have always been part of the Irish circuit. The annual Ulster Baseball Tournament regularly features clubs from all levels of England and Scottish baseball.

Scotland
This brings us to the most northerly of the four constituent parts of the U.K. The first known game in Scotland was 1870, and there was a league in 1891, won by the first university side to exist in Britain, Edinburgh University. Little more is known until USAF presence between 1956-61 led to friendlies and then a league. Another period of silence greets the historian until 1986, when the current Edinburgh Diamond Devils (then Royals) formed, the Edinburgh Reivers commencing a year later and joining the BBF.

From 1989, Scottish clubs competed in various BBF leagues at different levels, with 1993 the only year in which teams north of Hadrian’s Wall competed in the National Premier League (now NBL). The two clubs that year both folded mid-season as the six-to-seven hundred mile round trips just to Nottingham must have been quite draining (and expensive). Given this, in 1994 the BBF created a Scotland Region that played at the equivalent of today’s Triple-A level through the 1998 season.

The Diamond Devils worked their way through a series of promotions (as with European football), playing in the Premier League North in 2000 and from 2002-06 while other clubs played in lower tier northern divisions. In 2007, the clubs reverted to a Scottish league, declaring independence and founding Baseball Scotland. Since then, Scottish adult teams—of which there are now eight—have played only in the Scottish National League, while two universities compete in BSUK Universities.

Scotland has a long history of competing as a national team as well, with the first game in 1934 a win over England. From at least 1990-2002, there was a yearly Scotland-England game, with England taking six-straight from 1990-95 before the Blue-and-White claimed four wins between 1996-2001 (with several results missing). Its national team is not recognised by the Confederation of European Baseball (CEB) or WBSC.

Making Sense of the British Baseball Landscape
The shift in clubs has dwindled since the Northern League and the WMBL separated. For 2021, three BBF clubs became independent (joining the WMBL) and five joined the BBF (all from the SWBL, now a BBF league). Furthermore, several clubs have teams affiliated to both the BBF and an independent league.

Although seven new leagues in the past five years—counting the BBL’s three levels separately and ignoring the South West Baseball League (SWBL), independent from 2012-19—suggests serious splintering, this is not the interesting part of the story. While it is the case that 59 percent[2] of British clubs and exactly half of the non-university sides are not members of the NGB, it appears from the expansion of leagues and changes in teams that a different factor is, instead, causing a dramatic growth in the number of clubs, rather than a shift from the BBF to other leagues, though this certainly has happened.

This factor is what we might call the regional approach, which includes harder-to-measure factors like local club outreach, BSUK grassroots development, BSUK and BBL investment in university programmes, and the London Series. Take the Northern League, for example. In 2017, there was a single team in Sheffield. For 2021, six teams from the Steel City will take the field. Elsewhere, the London Mets and Herts organisations seem to be always expanding. And, university baseball has also exploded—and been a leader in women’s baseball—in the past six years. From 2011-13, there was an average of five teams at HEIs, but has averaged just under 24 in the past four seasons.

Most of this growth has come at the lower levels, which are aimed at beginners and casual players and reinforces the idea of regional growth regardless of affiliation. Bristol has recently added a fourth team to the club and Cambridge a third, both additions at the Single-A level, plus each will field a WBUK nine. New clubs also popped up over the winter in Harwich (Essex), Wellington (Somerset), and Croydon (London Legends).

This year, the BBF Double-A and Single-A South and South East divisions will feature six clubs fielding at least two teams: Bracknell, Brighton, Guildford (three), Richmond, South Coast, and Tonbridge (not counting Kent Buccaneers, which will field Triple-A and Single-A sides).

Where does this leave the casually interested fan, or even someone with a desire to grasp the full picture? In short, with a lot of options. You could pick a team name that appeals to you, and with the following options and some more traditional ones, there are plenty of choices: Birmingham Metalheads, Bristol Brunels, Cambridge Valkyries, Cardiff Merlins, Guildford Gold Cats, Lancashire Legends, London Minotaurs, Newcastle Nighthawks, Northampton Centurions, Sheffield Bladerunners, Wellington Khaki Sox.

You could follow baseball in a certain region, with all the leagues broken down by geography. Or, you can choose between one of three national teams to support. Either way, baseball started in the U.K.[3] and there is more baseball being played now than at any other time since World War II[4]. Stay up-to-date with our fortnightly summaries available at mister-baseball.com and be sure to follow us on Twitter, where we cover British baseball with regular frequency.

By: Gabriel Fidler. The author was employed by BaseballSoftballUK to assist with the London Series and GB Softball Olympic run in 2019. He has, at times, done work for GB Baseball and the BBL and co-founded Durham University’s national champion team, for whom he hit over .400.

[1] ‘About us,’ WBUK, wbuk.co.uk.
[2] 79 of 134 clubs; 54 percent (65 of 120 clubs) in England.
[3] The first recorded game of baseball was on 12 September 1749, in Ashley Park, Walton-on-Thames. HRH Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was a participant.
[4] More than a thousand hours going over historic documents and the hundreds of pages of archives we created have us feeling confident in this statement!

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Cepeda, Despaigne, Prieto Highlight Cuba Olympic, Caribbean Rosters

Cuba has released rosters for two early summer competitions, the third Caribbean Cup and the Americas Olympic Baseball Qualification Tournament. The Copa del Caribe is set for May 8-15 after a postponement from a scheduled start this past weekend and the final roster has been announced (below). From May 31-June 5, a full Cuban team is likely to travel to Florida for a shot at an Olympic berth, with several of its top stars in NPB listed on the preliminary roster.  Both squads are notable in that they feature the veteran talent for which Cuba is known, but each contains several highly regarded players in their early 20s. We break down the rosters, which include several of the most famous Cuban béisboleros ever and one of the top international prospects.

Cuba’s Murderers’ Row Returns

The big three still remain: Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne, and Yosvani Alarcón. Undoubtedly one of international baseball’s greatest pure hitters of all time, Cepeda drew a mind-boggling 98 walks (against only 21 strikeouts) in 320 plate appearances in the 60th Cuban National Series, which concluded recently. He hit .369/.563/.607 in his age-40 season, raising his career line to .325/.474/.556 over 24 seasons. Cepeda has, of course, been a driving force in Cuba’s success since the last millennium.

Unlike Cepeda, Despaigne has spent a fair portion of his career in Japan, hitting .261/.350/.498 in parts of eight NPB seasons. Combined with his absurd CNS numbers, he has a .313/.408/.582 mark in 18 seasons. He returned for another year with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks this spring and is in a race with Cepeda (who has three more safeties to his name) for hit No. 2000. Despaigne currently has more than 1,900 professional hits and over 400 homers.

Alarcón has been behind the plate for many of Cuba’s victories in the past 15 years and, like Cepeda, has mostly remained in Cuba. The Lenadores de Las Tunas star had a normal season by his standards this year, slashing .328/.375/.507, virtually identical to his career line through 16 seasons.

Erisbel Arruebarrena is a final name that will sound quite familiar after the Dodgers signed “The Flea” following an exhilarating 2013 World Baseball Classic performance. He is the only player on either roster with MLB experience, albeit only 41 at bats in 2014. Arruebarrena is one of a number of high profile defectors to return to the CNS and thrive.

Yurisbel Garcia, who has also played on the grass for NPB’s Hawks the past four seasons, also returns to the roster, as does Yadir Drake. Garcia is a .302/.353/.520 hitter in Japan, similar to his overall numbers in 13 professional seasons. Drake has plied his trade in Cuba, the U.S. minor leagues, Mexico, Venezuela, and Japan, hitting .307 as a rightfielder with discipline since the Dodgers granted him his release.

Prospects to Watchcepeda
There are several names you may not know, but should. César Prieto is arguably the top prospect in Cuba and, indeed, one of the most exciting young Cubanos in recent memory.  This year, he shattered the CNS record by hitting in 45 consecutive games, which ties Wee Willie Keeler for the second-longest of any top league worldwide. In fact, in the last 99 seasons, only Prieto and Joe DiMaggio have streaks of 40 or more games in any top league. Even including the minors, only 13 other hitters have reached that number, while the previous Cuban mark of 37 came with a metal bat [link].

Prieto led in hitting this season at .403, the only player to top the four-hundred plateau. He had 31 walks and only 11 strikeouts in 360 plate appearances, and had 27 percent more hits (128) than the second-place finisher (101). After hitting .370/.443/.520 in his first 157 CNS games, the middle infielder—only 21 years old—became one of the rare Cubans to sign with the Mexican League, inking a contract with the Tabasco Olmecas for the 2021 season [link].

Loidel Chapellí Jr. was the 59th CNS Rookie of the Year after hitting .288/.390/.366 in 2019-20, adding the award to his 2016 WBSC Baseball Player of the Year nod, his 2016 U15 Baseball World Cup MVP award, and his 2017 U18 World Cup appearance [link]. Only 19, the leftfielder upped his numbers to .317/.442/.496 this year.

It is rare to strike out more than a batter per inning in the Serie Nacional, but Yunior Tur Pozo claimed the CNS 60 Reliever of the Year at age 22 after punching out 45 in 38.1 frames with a 2.11 ERA. After not permitting even an unearned run in 22 innings in 2019-20, his career 1.51 run prevention mark and 10.7 K/9 are eye-popping.

Chapelli has signed to play in Panamá’s professional league this year, along with heralded Camagüey teammate Yosimar Cousín, who it was believed would be named to one of the rosters. Prieto, Tur, and Geyser Cepeda (see below) will also play in the Central American country.

Mid-Career Veterans to Remember
Although past the prospect age, Rafael Viñales is young enough that he could still develop into a national team star. The catcher-first baseman was second in the league in average (.387), home runs (19), and slugging percentage (.659). Viñales has a .517 slugging percentage in this last five CNS campaigns.

Those power numbers were second only to Lisbán Correa, who returned to Cuba after defecting and has taken his game to another level. This year, he became the first defector to win National Series MVP after a monster season in which he led the league in roundtrippers (28) and slashed .320/.457/.692, slightly behind his .408/.539/.708 mark in only 18 games the year before. He has also signed in Mexico for 2021.

Frank Madán threw the 60th no-hitter in 60 seasons of the Cuban National Series on Dec. 29, one of five shutouts in the 2020-21 campaign. The burly right-hander (listed at 5-10, 248 at age 29) was named Pitcher of the Year after going 13-5 with a league-leading 109 strikeouts in 141.2 innings.

Other pitchers that could make a start include Yoennis (“Yoanni”) Yera, who looked good in five starts in the Mexican Winter League (2.93 ERA and 4.17 K/BB in 27.2IP), Carlos Viera, and Yoen Socarrás.

Olympic Qualifier Pre-Selection
Catchers (4): Yosvani Alarcón (LTU), Luis Gomez (CMG), Ariel Martinez (MTZ), Rafael Viñales (LTU).
Infielders (14): Erisbel Arruebarrena (MTZ), Guillermo Avilés (GRA), Alexander Ayala (CMG), Humberto Bravo (CMG), Lisbán Correa (IND), Jeferson Delgado (MTZ), Dayán García (ART), Raúl González (CAV), Yurisbel Gracial (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), Yordan Manduley (HOL), Yadil Mujica (MTZ), César Prieto (CFG), Yordanis Samon (CMG), Luis Sánchez (GTM)*.
Outfielders (7): Frederich Cepeda (SSP), Alfredo Despaigne (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), Yadir Drake (Leónes de Yucatán), Yhosvani Peñalver (IND), Raico Santos (GRA), Roel Santos (GRA), Loidel Chapellí Jr. (CMG).
Pitchers (14): Lázaro Blanco (GRA), Bryan Chi (IND), Carlos Font (SCU), Pavel Hernández (IND), Frank Madan (CMG), Raidel Martínez (PRI), Liván Moinelo (PRI), Andy Rodriguez (IND), Yariel Rodriguez (Chunichi Dragons and CMG), Yudier Rodriguez (LTU), Yuen Socarrás (SSP), Yunior Tur (SCU), Carlos Viera (LTU), Yoanni Yera (MTZ).
Technical Corps: Manager: Armando Ferrer (MTZ); Carlos Martí (GRA), Ricardo Eizmendiz (CNB), José Hernández (CAV), Alexander Ramos (IJV), Raicel Sánchez (PRI), Jesús Salgado (MTZ).
*Late addition.

Caribbean Cup Final Roster
There are a handful of fairly interesting players on the roster for the Caribbean Cup and the squad is a representative “Cuba B” team, as it has sent to so many tournaments. It is scheduled to face Dominican Republic, Curaçao, Panamá, and then Puerto Rico in the “Elite Group”.

Geyser Cepeda is the top prospect on this list, as he hit above .350 for the second year in-a-row. Cousin of the more famous Cepeda, the 23-year old plays centre and combines great plate discipline (51 walks and 15 strikeouts in 317 PA in 2020-21) with speed and increasing power (.504 slugging in the 60th CNS).

Pablo Luis Guillén is a moderately intriguing right-handed pitching prospect. Debuting at 18, the now 22-year-old has a 2.73 ERA as a starter across five professional seasons, including three starts in the 2020-21 Venezuelan Winter League. Marlon Vega earned Rookie of the Year honours for Mayabeque with a 4.36 ERA and 8.0 K/9 in relief, though he did walk 6.6 per nine.

Luis Mateo had a breakout season this winter, slashing .361/.438/.469 as a 24-year old and was tabbed as the league’s All-Star SS and “Best All-Around SS”. He had 37 walks and only 18 strikeouts in 325 plate appearances and is a .313 career hitter in 278 games. Yasniel González and Dennis Laza both had very good campaigns for Mayabeque and joined Geyser Cepeda as All-Stars and “Best All-Around” outfielders. González (age 29) hit .338/.481/.565 as the Huracánes’ rightfielder, while the 35-year old Laza manned the opposite corner and slashed .321/.450/.571.

Manager: Pablo Civil
Catchers (3): Iván Prieto González (GRA), Andrys Pérez García (MTZ), Osvaldo Vázquez (CAV)*.
Infielders (7): Osvaldo Abreu (GRA)*, Juan Carlos Arencibia (PRI), Guillermo Garcia (GRA), Luis Vicente Mateo (CFG), Daniel Pérez Pérez (CFG), Pavel Quesada Pedroso (CFG), Santiago Torres Baena (SCU).
Outfielders (4): Geyser Cepeda Lima (SSP), Yasniel González Vega (MAY), Yoelkis Guibert Stevens (SCU), Dennis Laza Spencer (MAY).
Pitchers (10): Frank Alvarez Díaz (PRI), Naykel Cruz Saldívar (MTZ), Dariel Fernández Baz (PRI), Cesar Garcia (GRA)*, Yander Guevara (CAV)*, Pablo Luis Guillén (VCL), Yankiel Mauri Gutiérrez (SSP), Yadián Martínez (MAY), Reinier Rivero Estrada (MTZ), Marlon Vega Travieso (MAY).
*Not on preliminary roster.

Cut from Preliminary Roster
Catchers (2):
Rafael Viñales Álvarez (LTU), Yosvani Alarcón Tardío (LTU).
Infielders (7): Guillermo Avilés Difurnó (GRA), Lisbán Correa Sánchez (IND), Dayán García Ortega (ART), Andrés Hernández Díaz (IND), Yordan Manduley Escalona (HOL), Yadil Mujica Díaz (MTZ)César Prieto Echevarría (CFG).
Outfielders (3):
Yadir Drake Domínguez (MTZ), Raico Santos Almeida (GRA), Roel Santos Martínez (GRA).
Pitchers (7):
Lázaro Blanco Matos (GRA), Bryan Chi Montoya (IND), Carlos Font Mustelier (SCU), Frank Madan Montejo (CMG), Yunior Tur Pozo (SCU), Carlos Juan Viera Álvarez (LTU), Yoanni Yera Montalvo (MTZ).

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Start Dates for 2021 National and Independent Leagues

With another year of baseball affected by COVID-19, many leagues around the world have delayed the start of the 2021 season. In fact, of the 72 leagues surveyed here—most of them national leagues—only 13 were active on April 1, the traditional start date for the baseball season in the northern hemisphere, and just 24 by May 2. It is not until June 6 that most leagues will have begun play, when 50 will have started their seasons (and another doing so the following weekend).

Asia is the continent that is least affected, while several notable circuits in the Americas (the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol and MLB’s minor league teams) and Europe (Italy’s leagues, the Netherlands’ Hoofdlkasse, and French hardball) are all delayed, the latter indefinitely. Eleven other leagues—all but one a national league—had yet to even comment on the possibility of a campaign this summer as of April 8 and six remained uncommitted on May 15. We will continue to update this list as more information becomes available.

Updated: April 15, April 28, May 1, May 15, May 27,  June 6.

Africa
No spring league: 4/4
The only known leagues—Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda—do not play at this time of year.

Americas
Active as of April 1: 6/16
Active as of April 25: 6/16
Active as of June 6: 12/16
No spring league: 1/16
Cuba: No delay to 2020-21 National Series
Curaçao: TBD
El Salvador: February 10
Mexico (LMB): May 20
Nicaragua (Germán Pomares): February 19
Puerto Rico: June 27
USA (Atlantic League, MLB Partner): May 28
USA (American Association): May 18
USA (Empire League): After June 10
USA (MLB): Apr. 1
USA (MLB minor leagues): May 4
USA (NAIA): No delay.
USA (NCAA): No delay.
USA (Pecos League): June 2
USA (United Shore League): May 28
No reports on a 2021 season: USA (Pacific Association)
No spring season: Panamá.

Asia
Active as of April 1: 6/11
Active as of April 25: 7/11
Active as of June 6: 7/11
No spring league: 1/11

Japan (NPB): March 26
Japan (Shikoku Island League Plus): March 27
Laos (men): Jan. 16
Laos (women): Jan. 16
Philippines (UAAP*): Cancelled
South Korea (KBO): April 6 (delayed a day due to rain)
Taiwan (CPBL): March 13
Vietnam: Jan. 8-11 (National Championship)
No reports on a 2021 championship: Pakistan, Sri Lanka
No spring season: Thailand (no national league, youth leagues over winter)
*University Athletic Association of the Philippines. The Philippine Baseball League is defunct again.

Europe
Active as of April 1: 2/41
Active as of April 25: 11/41
Active as of June 6: 31/41

Austria: April 9
Belgium: June 12
Bulgaria: May 8
Croatia: April 9
Czech Republic (Extraliga): April 9
Denmark: May 1
Estonia: May 24
European Super League: TBD
Finland: June 2
France: June 12
Germany: April 1 (South), May 9 (North)
Great Britain (BBF, all leagues): May 2 (except South West: May 16)
Great Britain (East of England): May 9
Great Britain (Herts Spring League): April 24-25
Great Britain (Northern League): June 6
Great Britain (West Country): May 16
Great Britain (West Midlands): May 16
Great Britain (Women’s Baseball UK): May 22
Hungary: March 21
Italy: May 8 (Group C only), May 22 (full Serie A)
Lithuania: April 17
Netherlands: April 30
Norway: June 6 (was April 24)
Poland: April 25 (was April 2, then April 18)
Russia: May 24
Scotland: June 6
Serbia: April 11
Slovakia: May 15
Slovenia: April 24
Spain: April 10
Sweden: June 5 (was early May)
Switzerland: June 5 (was April 10)
Ukraine: May 8
No reports on a 2021 season: Belarus, Euro Inter League, Great Britain (BSUK Universities; East Midlands, may have folded), Ireland, Latvia, Moldova, Romania.

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BREAKING: Germany’s Wittman Commits to West Texas A&M

Another European player has signed with an American university for the 2022 season, the third announced in the past week. Paul Wittmann is one of five German-raised players due to play in the U.S. next spring, and the fourth European baseballer to commit for 2022. Wittman, a product of the Regensburg Baseball Academy, will join West Texas A&M University, a NCAA Division II institution.

Last year, Wittman was MVP in the Under-18 Bavarian Championship and was part of the national title-winning Werner von Siemens Gymnasium team. He has appeared on multiple German national teams, most recently starting at catcher and right field in the 2018 U18 European Championship. Germany was 3-3 at the event and Wittman hit .273/.500/.545 with five walks in 19 plate appearances. Wittman, listed as “Paoul” at the time, threw out 1-of-4 runners from behind the plate.

A year earlier, Wittman was young enough to compete in the Under-15 Euros, where he slashed .400/.571/.500 with four walks and no strikeouts in 15 plate appearances as the team’s leadoff hitter. Germany defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in the final, though Wittman did not play.

Other 2022 commits inclide Lucas Khemache (France), Mathias LaCombe (France), and Jesse Velders (Netherlands). In total, 151 players eligible for European teams are already known for next season, very close to this year’s mark of 164. Of those, 87 were developped in Europe, comparable to the 93 for the 2021 season.

Graphic copyright Sportinternat Regensburg.

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Updates on Europeans at U.S. Universities

Below are updates on selected players from the list of 164 European and European-eligible players at North American universities. Included are a national statistical leader, two Italian Serie A players, and a Honkbal Hoofdklasse pitcher, among others.

Great Britain’s Richard Brereton transferred to Duke University for the 2021 season, a big step up from NCAA Division III baseball, even with highly regarded Emory University. Brereton has appeared in four games, all on the hill, striking out seven in 4.1 innings, but surrendering five runs, including two round-trippers.

Tommaso Giarola made his IBL debut in 2020 with Parma and returned this year for his second season with Frontier College. The experience has paid off for the Bobcats, for whom Giarola is mashing at a .377/.500/.672 clip in 19 games, with more walks (11) than strikeouts (10).

Dave Janssen is No. 1 in the entirety of NJCAA Division I in on-base percentage (.710), checking in at second in batting average (.591) and No. 11 in slugging (.955). Unofficially, he is fifth in the nation in K% (striking out in 3.2% of PA). He leads both ICCAC Div. I and II universities in batting average, OBP, and K% and is No. 2 in SLG. The Indian Hills CC backstop also has five stolen bases and has scored 12R in 8G.

Meanwhile, Drew Janssen (no relation and Belgian rather than Dutch) has whiffed 25 in 19 innings for Frontier, posting a 4.26 ERA. Last year, that mark was at 2.81 and accompanied by 39 K in 25.2 frames.

Leo Jiminian leads Clarendon College in AB (63, tied) and has hit .302/.366/.460 in 17 games. Fellow Frenchmen Pierre-Emmanuel Planes (3-for-11) and Lilian Amoros (4.50 ERA, 14IP) have seen action as well, while the Netherlands’ Leandro Anasagasti is 1-for-8.

Already a veteran of four IBL Serie A seasons, Giulio Monello is in his third season with Odessa Junior College and has already committed to the University of New Mexico for 2022. The Italian catcher is off to a slow start, hitting .245/.327/.388 after a red-hot 2020.

Daniel Monti is in the midst of his second-straight strong campaign for Odessa, with a .340/.375/.528 line in 16 games that mirrors his .333/.400/.500 output in 17 contests in 2020.

Tijmen Takke (pictured above) is No. 6 in the ACCAC in doubles (7) and slashing .310/.437/.483 in his second season for Phoenix College. On March 16, he went 3-for-4 and was a triple short of the cycle. Last year, the 1B hit .338/.422/.571 and slugged four of the teams seven home runs.

Luke ter Beek has a 2.63 ERA and a 12-to-1 K/BB ratio in 13.2 innings for Arizona Western College, one of the prime destinations for European players. The Matadors boast two other Dutch players, Delano Selassa and Jeandro Tromp, plus France’s José Paula, and Czech Republic’s Ondřej Furko.

Picture of Takke at the 2019 MLB Elite Tournament copyright Extra Innings. Graphic courtesy of the ICCAC. 

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Red Sox’ Rincónes Now on JuCo Route

Just after the 2017-18 international signing period began, we broke the news that the Red Sox had signed a new Aruban shortshop, Brandon Rincones [link]. Mike Andrews of SoxProspects reported in November that Rincónes had been released in January 2020, in a move that had not been reported. We can now confirm that the Aruban’s baseball career has not ended, though, as Rincónes is playing this year for Odessa Junior College in Texas.

Rincónes suited up for 73 games over the 2018-19 seasons for Boston’s Dominican Summer League team, slasshing .247/.350/.288. His plate discipline was a strength, with 30 BB and 32 K in 266 plate appearances. Rincónes played mostly 2B, where he posted a .975 fielding percentage (though minor league fielding stats are notoriously unreliable).

Although his batting line appears fairly unexciting, in the light-slugging DSL, Rincónes posted a 95 wRC+, meaning he created only five percent fewer runs than the average player over those two seasons. Considering he was quite unlucky (.289 BABIP; 29% less than league average .314), it would appear Rinónes was roughly an average player, no mean feat.

You may be wondering how a former professional athlete could be allowed to play university baseball. According to the NJCAA 2019-20 Eligibility Pamphlet [link], Section 4 – Amateur Status of NJCAA Student-Athletes, Article A4:

An athlete loses amateur status and shall be deemed permanently ineligible for competition in an NJCAA certified sport if any of the following criteria applies once the athlete reaches their 19th birthday or once they enroll in college as a full-time student, whichever comes first

The nine clauses of Article A4 are primarily concerned with what an athlete might do while already enrolled in a JuCo, but Clause I specifies, “Competes professionally or contracts to compete professionally in a sport regardless of its format“.

Rincónes was born on Oct. 1, 2000, meaning he last competed in a professional game 39 days before his nineteenth birthday. As a result, Rincónes was, in fact, eligible for JuCo competition, without any loophole or special consideration, making the Netherlands-eligible infielder a great signing for Odessa.

Odessa has recruited heavily in Europe and the Caribbean in the last five years and currently features a second Aruban, Lenin Ashby, plus two Italians, Giulio Monello and Daniel Monti, and the Netherlands’ Dylan Farley. In theory, the team’s starting lineup could have find European national teamer, though the Aruban duo have never suited up for a Dutch youth team.

Rincónes is off to a slow start for the Wranglers through 12 games, slashing .171/.237/.286, though he ripped his first home run outside of Aruba on Mar. 9 and had a three-hit game on Feb. 5. He has appeared regularly at DH, otherwise playing 3B and a little SS, positions he played on a few occasions as a pro. He received the weekend of Mar. 21-22 off.

Photo of Rincones is copyright Baseball Aruba.

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WBSC Olympic Qualifiers Set for June in Florida, Taiwan


Press release by World Baseball Softball Confederation. It has been edited only to provide the correct name for Taiwan. 

PULLY, Switzerland; 16 March 2021 — The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) today announced the timing and locations of the two remaining baseball qualifiers for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games. The WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier is expected to be held in early June (exact dates/venues to be confirmed) in Florida, with the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier to follow from 16-20 June in Taichung.

The groups, format and game order of the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier will remain as previously announced, with eight nations competing over 16 games for a place in the six-team Tokyo Olympic baseball event.

“Today’s confirmation regarding these qualifiers should cause great anticipation and excitement amongst both the Olympic and baseball worlds,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari. “I would like to express the WBSC’s deepest gratitude to our hosts in Florida and Taichung, who will be providing us with the necessary settings in which to stage these important international competitions in a safe and successful manner. Good luck to all the teams and athletes on the Road to the Tokyo Olympics. It’s time to play ball.”

WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier – Florida, USA
Group A: No. 2 USA, No. 10 Dominican Republic, No. 11 Puerto Rico, No. 15 Nicaragua.
Group B: No. 8 Cuba, No. 9 Venezuela, No. 13 Canada, No. 14 Colombia.

After group play concludes, the top two finishers from each group will advance to the Super Round, where they will each play two games. Head-to-head contests among these teams from the opening round will carry over into the Super Round standings.

The team with the best Super Round record will be declared the winner and become the fifth National Team to advance to the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament, joining world No. 1 Japan, No. 3 Korea, No. 5 Mexico and No. 18 Israel. The second- and the third-place teams will qualify for the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier.

WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier – Taichung and Douliu, Taiwan
The WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier — which will award the sixth and final berth to the Tokyo Olympic baseball event – is scheduled from 16 to 20 June at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium and Douliou Baseball Stadium in Douliu City.

The participating teams are world No. 4 Taiwan, No. 6 Australia, No. 9 Netherlands, No. 22 China and the second- and the third-place teams from the WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier.

The format, groups, and schedule of the final qualifier will be announced in a future communication.

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