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WBC Non-MLB Top 10: #10 Frederich Cepeda

Frederich Cepeda, the former team Cuba and Sancti Spíritus teammate of Yulieski Gurriel, has been one of baseball’s best players during his 20 year career, even if he is not well known outside of his native island.

South Africa v Cuba - World Baseball Classic - Mexico City Day 1 Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Frederich Cepeda is one of the great figures in Cuba’s post-revolutionary baseball history. He has starred both domestically in the Serie Nacional, as well as being of the most productive and clutch offensive threats for team Cuba across the years. The 2017 WBC may represent one of the last big international moments for Cepeda, so if you’ve never gotten a chance to watch him over the years, this might be one of your last chances.

Cepeda broke into the Serie Nacional as a 17-year-old corner outfielder with his local Sancti Spíritus Gallos club in 1997. The Gallos had long been one of the weaker teams in the Serie Nacional, and indeed, during Cepeda’s rookie year, they tied for the worst record in the league. Cepeda, as might be expected from a player so young, likewise struggled, sporting a .127/.200/.145 line in 62 PA. He quickly found his footing, however, and established himself as one of the most promising up and coming young players on the island. Moreover, in addition to a solid swing and above average power, Cepeda displayed a batting eye and discipline at the plate which was almost unparalleled in Cuban baseball, leading the Serie Nacional in BB 8 times including posting an absurd league record 26.6% walk rate in 2005. In 2001, Cepeda was joined on the Sancti Spíritus club by a young Yulieski Gurriel. The two would go on to star for the Gallos for over a decade and lead Sancti Spíritus to some of the most prosperous years in the history of the club.

But as good as Cepeda was in the Serie Nacional, he has always saved his best performances for the national team. Cepeda first broke in with Cuba in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup. Cepeda struggled with the bat, posting only a .179 average, but showed the value of his acute batter’s eye, leading the the tournament with 15 walks in games to finish with an OBP of .477. At the 2004 Olympic games, Cepeda cemented his status as one of stars of Cuban baseball, hitting .455/.514/.727 with 2 HR, and 10 runs scored. Still little known outside of Cuba despite his strong showing, Cepeda was one of the breakout stars of the inaugural WBC. Cepeda batted .385/.500/.731 to pace the silver medalist Cubans in slugging, and finished second to Yoandy Garlobo in average and OBP. Cepeda had a number of big moments for the Cubans, including a 3-run HR to give Cuba a 5-0 lead against Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera and a strong Venezuelan club:

In the gold medal game against Japan, Cepeda had his strongest performance of the tournament. Cepeda went 2-4 with both hits driving in runs. In the 6th inning, he doubled to drive in Yulieski Gurriel. Then, in the 8th inning with Cuba trailing by 3, Cepeda struck a 2 run bomb with Yuli on again to draw Cuba back to within 1.

Cepeda continued his strong showings at the 2008 Olympic games, where he batted .308/.500/.654 with 2 HR (he also walked 10 times), and picked up another silver medal. In the 2009 WBC, Cepeda was even better than in 2006. He batted a robust .500/.538/.958, drove in 10 runs in the 6 games Cuba played, scored 5, and cracked 3 home runs. Although the Cuban team failed to reach the final game in an international tournament for the first time since 1951, Cepeda was nevertheless was named to the tournament All-Star team.

Cepeda continued his top notch performances in the Classic in 2013, where he returned with Cuba and promptly posted another outstanding 474/.615/.895 line, driving in 5, scoring 7.

In 2014, Cuba returned to the Serie del Caribe for the first time since 1959, but finished with a disappointing 1-3 record. The 2015 team, looking for a bit of redemption, was led by a resurgent Frederich Cepeda, who batted .471, hit two doubles, a triple and drove in 7. Of those 7 RBIs, 6 came in the semi-final and final game, as Cepeda helped to spearhead a Cuban comeback from a 4-0 deficit to win 8-4 in the semifinal game against Venezuela. For his efforts, Cepeda was named the tournament’s MVP.

Coming into the 2017 Classic, Cepeda is clearly on the downward arc of his career. He has struggled both at the plate, and with injuries, during his time with the Yomiuri Giants in NPB, and has played only sporadically in the Serie Nacional. It is likely that for Cepeda, the 2017 Classic will be the last hurrah for his outstanding career as in international baseballer. And what a career it has been. Olympic gold and silver medals. A WBC silver. 2 Pan Am golds and a bronze. A Serie del Caribe gold. 2 golds and 2 silvers at the Baseball World Cup. In the WBC alone, Cepeda is the all-time leader (or is tied for the lead) in hits with 31, home runs with 6, doubles with 8, walks with 15, total bases at 46, RBIs with 23, and runs scored with 17.

If you’ve never gotten a chance to watch Cepeda, you might want to put in the effort to catch one of the Cuban games from Tokyo. With the way the MLB has become so well covered and broadcast, there are no more great MLB players which we will never get a chance to see, the way that our parents and grandparents may have felt about players in other leagues or far away cities. But Frederich Cepeda is one of the most talented and accomplished baseball players of the past two decades whom you’ve likely never really gotten a chance to watch. And if prior Classics are any indication, then Cepeda might have saved up one last magical run with the bat to help push his Nacionales into the second round.