NPB: Despaigne and Gracial to return to SoftBank in July

After being stuck in Cuba during the worldwide pandemic, these two Cuban ballplayers will finally return to Japan to take part in the NPB season.

NPB stars Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne thought they were going to Cuba for treatment for their various ailments, but then COVID-19 hit the world and they remained stuck in Cuba despite being fully recovered from their injuries.

But today a Cuban television station TeleRebelde announced that the power-hitting duo will travel back to Japan on the 17th of July to reincorporate themselves with the SoftBank Hawks. This is part of phase one of Cuba reopening its borders to the world.

When they reach the land of the rising sun the two stars will have to be in quarantine for two weeks and might not see action with the ball club at least until the beginning of August. This will extend the lack of artillery in the lineup for the three-time Japanese league defending champions during that time. Missing these two key cogs in their lineup has SoftBank to a dismal 6-7-1 start.

Despaigne who hit a career-high 36 long balls last season, could eclipse the all-time home run record by a Cuban of 160 round-trippers set by Orestes Destrade. With Wladimir Balentien providing protection for the native of Granma, Cuba expects Despaigne to set the record sometime this season.

By his own account, Gracial had a stellar season by his own right. The power-hitting utilityman hit .319 with 26 dingers and 68 runs batted in during the regular season, this earned him a Japanese League all-star birth.

The native of Matanzas, Cuba was also immaculate in the Japanese Series in helping SoftBank earn a three-peat by hitting .375 with three homers and six runs batted en route to MVP honors.

With the addition of these two bats to supplement Yuki Yanagita and Balentien’s lumber in SoftBank’s lineup, expect the Hawks to be a serious contender for their fourth straight league title even though they’ve started slow this season.