(Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
December 5, 2023
The Leones de Yucatán of Liga Mexicana de Beisbol have signed pitchers Cesar Valdez, Paolo Espino, and Odrisamer Despaigne for the 2024 season. All three players have Major League Baseball experience and are right-handed pitchers.
The Leones de Yucatan were crowned champions in 2022 but could not return to the Serie del Rey in 2023, losing to the Pericos de Puebla four games to one in the best-of-seven Zona Sur Championship Series. With the addition of these three pitchers, the organization’s intentions are to be competitive and win the title.
The 2023 Leones de Yucatan pitching staff faltered in the 2023 Zona Sur Championship Series despite several former MLB pitchers on the roster, showcasing the hitting level of the Pericos de Puebla players, including 2023 Serie del Rey MVP Chris Carter.
Pericos de Puebla scored seven runs in game three of the Championship Series and 12 in game four, winning both contests. Before that series, the Leones de Yucatan pitching staff had allowed five or more runs just twice throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs.
With the addition of Valdez, Espino, and Despaigne, the 2024 Leones de Yucatan pitching staff now has three experienced baseball veterans who have played at the highest level. Their ability to eat innings yet be effective on the mound could prove especially important for a team seeking to return to the Serie del Rey after last season’s disappointing finish.
At 38 years old, Valdez is the oldest of the three and has played 18 years of professional baseball since 2006. He spent the 2023 minor league baseball season with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
Valdez played for the Leones de Yucatan from 2018-19 and was on the 2023 Baseball Champions League roster. His career ERA in Major League Baseball is 6.11, but his ERA across all leagues and levels is 3.89.
Valdez throws three pitches but relies on his changeup the most. He threw it 74.9 percent of the time in 2021 out of the bullpen for the Baltimore Orioles. That trend should continue during the 2024 season for the Leones de Yucatan, who could use him as a starter, reliever, or opener.
Similar to Valdez, Espino does not throw hard. That could be an indication of his 5.01 ERA in Major League Baseball. Espino allowed 11 earned runs in four innings for the Washington Nationals during the 2023 season. The sample size is tiny, but the results are hard to ignore.
However, the Panama-born pitcher is playing for the Toros del Este this Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana season and has had much better results on the mound. In 39.2 innings, Espino has a 1.82 ERA and 38 strikeouts. He has allowed just one home run.
Espino’s pitch mix includes a four-seam fastball, sweeper, curveball, and changeup. He used his sweeper 36.6 percent of the time during his four innings this past season with the Nationals, partially because his average fastball velocity is 89 mph. Like Valdez, Espino is a pitcher the Leones de Yucatan can use as a starter or out of the bullpen.
Despaigne last played in Major League Baseball in 2019 for the Chicago White Sox and spent the 2023 LMB season with the Mariachis de Guadalajara. He had one of the best statistical seasons of his professional baseball career with the KT Wiz in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2021, posting a 13-10 record with a 3.39 ERA.
Despaigne has never been a strikeout pitcher, with 37 in 49 innings this winter for the Yaquis de Obregon in Liga Mexicana del Pacifico. Still, he has proven to induce weak contact and limit home runs. He gave up eight dingers in 98 innings last year for Guadalajara and just one thus far for Yaquis de Obregon.
The 36-year-old has been a starting pitcher for every team he has played with in professional baseball and should throw crucial innings for Yucatan next season.
Leones de Yucatan will play their first game of the 2024 LMB season on the road on Thursday, April 12, against the Bravos de Leon at Estadio Domingo Santana in Leon, Guanajuato.