Several current and former baseball players, as well as Joe Torre and other baseball officials, head to Cuba today, for a three-day goodwill tour put together by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
The visiting party will include several Cuban major leaguers including Jose Abreu, Brayan Pena and Alexi Ramirez and Cuban-American Jon Jay. In his story about the tour, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says that Yasiel Puig may also attend, though it is not certain that he would. Also in attendance will be Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Dave Winfield and many others. The party leaves from Miami today. Over the next three days they will conduct children’s baseball clinics and participate in charity events.
Baseball’s last interaction with Cuba came in 1999, when the Orioles and the Cuban National Team played a home-and-home series in Havana and Baltimore. Since then, the primary mode of interaction between Cuba and U.S. baseball has consisted of Cuban players, such as Pena, Abreu and Puig, defecting in order to play in the United States. With the thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations in the past year, however, the door is now opening for a more normalized relationship. It begins with this tour.
Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper played some third base during Monday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Harper had been pestering manager Joe Girardi for the opportunity and the skipper finally gave in.
Girardi told Harper, “No diving. And make sure your arm is loose.” Harper had the opportunity to field one ball, a grounder to his left and he made the play perfectly.
Why put Harper at third base? Girardi said, “I think it’s important the guys have fun. I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, ‘You look good there.'”
Despite the solid showing, don’t expect Harper to show up at third base in a meaningful game anytime soon. That being said, the Phillies’ second and third base situations are still not cemented. Jean Segura will likely open the season at the hot corner with Scott Kingery at second, but things could change between now and Opening Day in 10 days.
Harper, 27, is coming off a solid first season with the Phillies. He hit .260/.372/.510 with 36 doubles, 35 home runs, 114 RBI, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases across 682 plate appearances. Per FanGraphs, Harper’s 4.6 Wins Above Replacement ranked 16th in the National League. For some people, those numbers weren’t nearly good enough, so the expectations remain high as Harper enters year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract.