Leonel Cespedes Suarez
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0" Weight 190 lb.
- School Broward College
Cespedes was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to France at age 13 where he joined the Toulouse Tigers in the French Division 1 at age 16. In 2010, his first season, Cespedes was used primarily as a relief pitcher, a role he showed he was ready for. In 52 1/3 IP, he went 2-6 with a 26 strikeouts and a 5.33 ERA. He tied for third in losses in the regular season (1-6, 6.88). In 2011, Cespedes, at age 17 was invited to participate at the MLB European Academy as both a pitcher and position player. In 2011, he was 0-3 with a 12.15 ERA for Toulouse, with 18 walks and 28 hits in 20 innings. He hit .196/.250/.286. In 2012, he moved to the Templiers de Sénart, where at first he was a position player, with veterans Mathieu Brelle-Andrade and Samuel Meurant handling most of the pitching duties. However, when young Pierre Brelle-Andrade, slated to be the main option out of the bullpen, floundered with control problems, Cespedes was used on the mound increasingly often and proved to be excellent, earning the attention of the national team coaches. In particular, he showed an outstanding curveball and very good control. For the 2012 season, Cespedes logged 63 IP, a 4-4 record, with 46 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA (regular season+challenge de France+Euro Cup+playoffs).
In September of 2012, Cespedes was selected to play in the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers following the European Championships (Cespedes was still in the process of acquiring his French citizenship). In the tournament, Cespedes pitched very well in relief versus South Africa, tossing four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out six. Relieving Thomas Meley in the 6th with a 2-2 tie, he blanked the opposition through the 9th, but did not get any offensive support, at which point the game was suspended by rain for 24 hours. He was replaced by Pierrick Lemestre to open the 10th when play resumed the next day and France wound up losing, 5-2. He was France's top pitcher in the tournament.
The following season, Cespedes improved both at the plate and on the mound. In 29 games as a position player, he hit .258 (24-for-93) with 16 runs scored, 12 RBI and 6 stolen bases. On the mound, Cespedes shined again for Sénart, going 5-4 with a 2.34 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 77 IP. He was even named best pitcher in the French Series as his Senart team fell to the Rouen Huskies.
In 2014, Cespedes switched clubs, going back to where he started, Toulouse. He hit .349/.402/.470 for the 2014 Toulouse Tigers in the regular season, with 10 steals in 11 tries, and a 5-3, 1.58 record on the mound. He tied Jonathan Haras and Jorge Hereaud for 8th in the league with 8 doubles, tied for 7th in steals, was 5th in ERA, tied Jason Daniels for 3rd with 58 strikeouts and tied for 6th in wins. Counting the postseason and other events, he hit .362 (34-for-94) with 13 runs scored, 14 RBI, and 11 steals in 11 tries. On the mound, he was equally as impressive, going 5-5 with a 2.11 ERA and 63 strikeouts against only 18 walks in 76 1/3 IP. In the 2014 European Championship, held that September, Cespedes logged 11 innings, giving up 9 earned runs while walking 5 and striking out 13. He was dominant in a win over Sweden (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 9 K) but was knocked around by the champion Dutch national team. His 13 whiffs tied Martin Schneider and Carlos Richetti for 8th in the event.
In 2015, Cespedes was once again back with Sénart after spending the first few months of the year attending Broward College (2-2 record in 49 2/3 IP with 36 K, 4.89 ERA) in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Once back in France after finishing the college season, Cespedes affirmed his status as one of the best players in France. For the 2015 regular season, he was he was 5-1 with 1 save and a 1.57 ERA. He tied for 8th in wins and was 4th in ERA (between Owen Ozanich and Yoann Vaugelade). Including the postseason and other events, went 7-2 with 52 K, a 1.10 WHIP, 1.40 ERA in 77 1/3 IP. In the 2015 European Cup, he was dominant, blanking Draci Brno for 8 innings (3 H, 5 BB, 8 K) before Lemestre closed out the win. He also struck out 8 against KNTU Elizavetgrad, allowing 6 hits, one walk and 3 runs (2 earned). He led the European Cup in wins, innings and strikeouts (three ahead of former minor leaguer Luke Sommer) and was second in ERA (.20 behind Schneider) and opponent average (.180). In July of 2015, Cespedes traveled to Korea with the French University team for the Gwangju Universiades, where he pitched 7 innings, allowing one run versus China. Following the end of the season in France, Cespedes played in the Asia Winter League for Team Europe. After surrendering three runs his first outing, Cespedes found his groove, and finished third on the team in ERA (4.50, 4 ER in 8 IP out of the bullpen), behind Lars Huijer and Owen Ozanich.
Following the Winter League in Taiwan, Cespedes returned to his native Cuba in order to best prepare for the 2017 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers which would be held in March 2016 in Panama. Cespedes again found himself in the limelight for France in the Qualifiers, getting their lone win, the first win in French history in the WBC. Facing 2013 World Baseball Classic veterans Spain, he held them to one run and five hits, walking none, striking out two in 4 2/3 IP, before Keino Perez relieved him due to pitch count limitations. For his WBC career, Cespedes had yet to allow a run in 8 2/3 innings pitched.
In 2016, Cespedes spent the rest of the season training with the Havana Industriales in order to prepare for the 2016 European Championship held in Hoofddorp, Netherlands. With France, Cespedes again excelled, going 2-0 with wins over Croatia and Sweden, allowing just one run in 14 IP (0.64 ERA) with 4 BB and 15 K (second-most in the tournament, 3 behind Denis Leonov). As an outfielder, Cespedes showed his skills as a true two-way player, batting .267 (4-for-15) with three runs scored and three steals against the top pitching in Europe. He tied for 4th in the event in steals (one behind Alex Liddi, Felix Brown and Roger Bernadina, two of whom were former major leaguers), ranked 5th in ERA, was 7th in opponent average (.160, between Bo-William Gilligan and Lowuin Sacramento), tied Leonov and Junior Oberto for third in innings pitched and tied for second in wins (one behind major league vet Rhiner Cruz).
In 2017, Cespedes moved to the French powerhouse Rouen Huskies. He batted .315 (35-for-111) in French play, clubbing 5 homers to go with 24 RBI and 13 stolen bases in what was his breakout offensive season, at age 23 at the time. In June's European Cup, Cespedes went 3-for-10 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI. On the mound, in French play, Leo went 1-0 with a 2.82 ERA in 22.1 IP, striking out 22. In the European Cup, he won his lone start, giving up 2 earned over 5 innings, striking out 7 vs. Regensburg. Cespedes hit a key home run in the 2017 French Finals to help the Huskies beat rival Sénart in a thrilling seven-game series. Following the end of the French Series, he announced he would spend the majority of 2018 training in the Dominican Republic rather than opt to play another regular season in France. In June 2018, Cespedes did make the trip to Rotterdam to bolster Rouen's roster, where he hit .353 (6-for-17) with 4 runs scored, 3 RBI and 3 stolen bases, leading the Huskies to a fourth-place finish the in tournament.
In November 2018, Cespedes again shined for France when he picked up 2 saves in France's 7-game series against the South African national team, when not playing outfield and batting in the middle of the French lineup.
For his career in the French Division I (through 2018), Cespedes has already put up impressive numbers both at the plate and on the mound. On the mound he has a 25-24 record in 395.2 IP, allowing 378 hits, 143 ER (3.25 ERA) while walking 171 and striking out 303. At the plate, in 171 games, he has hit .279 (138-for-495) with 105 runs scored, 5 home runs, 76 RBI and 53 stolen bases.
In March 2019, it was announced that Cespedes would play the 2019 season in Italy, where he will lace up the spikes for the Redipuglia Rangers.