Carlos Juan Viera on the mound for Leñadores de Las Tunas

The Cuban Saraperos

The last time I wrote about the Saraperos de Saltillo rotation was prior to the never-to-take place 2020 Liga Mexicana de Béisbol season. They had just signed Lázaro Blanco and combined with Félix Doubront (technically they had Sergio Mitre as well at the time, but the less said about a man accused of raping and murdering a two-year-old the better) they had all the makings of a dynamite starting rotation. Then 2020 never happened and before 2021 could even take place the Saraperos lost Doubront to the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Great news for Doubront and a big blow for the Saraperos.

Luckily for Saraperos fans, the team has not been content to simply sit back and lick their wounds. Rather, they took the loss of Doubront and decided to remake their starting rotation so that it now has a top four that is perhaps the best in the league. They stayed the course with Blanco and then announced that they had signed Blanco’s Cuban compatriots, Carlos Juan Viera and Yudiel Rodríguez to contracts for the 2021 season. Immediately they joined Jonathan Sánchez to become the top four of the Saraperos rotation and have once again allowed the Saraperos to lay claim to possibly having the best rotation in the entire league.

It all begins with Blanco, or as I have come to call him, the Big Hoss. He has been a dominant force in Serie Nacional de Béisbol for years now. The current debate around Blanco isn’t whether or not he’s been the best pitcher in Cuba for the past decade, but if he has done enough to be considered among the best Cuban pitchers of all-time. That gives you a little inkling of what you’re dealing with when it comes to the tall right-hander. He split his 2020-2021 season between SNB’s Alazanes de Granma and Leones de León of Liga de Béisbol Profesional Nacional. He was, as has become usual for him, dominant in both leagues, posting a combined 2.32 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched. Blanco’s season isn’t over yet, he’s guided the Alazanes to the SNB finals with an excellent playoff performance that comes on the heels of an excellent playoff performance in the LBPN.

If Blanco is the established ace of the new Saraperos staff, then Viera will be their young gun. At 32 that may seem like a misnomer, but it really isn’t, Viera has a lively arm, he sits 93-94 miles per hour, which makes him seem younger than he actually is. Viera spent the last few years establishing himself as the Leñadores de Las Tunas ace and then took his wares to Liga Mexicana del Pacífico for part of 2020-2021 where he was mainly used out of the bullpen and was, you guessed it, great in that role. Whereas Blanco is crafty and uses his breaking pitches to set up his fastball, Viera works over batters with a fastball approach. He attacks hitters with his fourseamer and then uses a deceptive sinker/changeup combo to put them away. The approach for Viera has resulted in a 2.93 ERA with a 1.118 WHIP in 136 innings pitched across both leagues.

There’s nothing wrong with being the fourth man in a rotation that has Blanco and Viera as a one-two punch. That’s the position Rodríguez finds himself in. He’s also the elder statesman at 37-years-old and that is easy to discern in his approach. Whereas Blanco and Viera both can get into trouble by working the edges and having high walk totals, Rodríguez pounds the zone. He wasn’t always that way, but in recent years he’s started pitching more than throwing and that has resulted in more contact. Rodríguez isn’t going to blow hitters away, but what he will do is stay around the zone and induce plenty of soft contact that will leave hitters frustrated. His 2020-2021 numbers are classic third/fourth man in the rotation stuff of a 3.57 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 151.1 innings pitched.

The Saraperos are taking a risk by going all-in on their three main Cuban imports. There is always the chance that all three will have tired arms and will see their stuff considerably lessen as well. With Blanco that is the main concern, while with Viera his periodic bouts of wildness bring about worry, and Rodríguez is nearing the age where his effectiveness is always a question mark going into the season. That being said, if all three men perform up to their capabilities the Saraperos will be able to ride their arms all the way to the playoffs and likely be the front runners for a Serie del Rey title. That’s one heck of a rotation to have and my money is on the Saraperos getting exactly that sort of production from their new three-headed Cuban monster.

Lead photo courtesy of István Ojeda Bello – Esquina Caliente

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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