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Moncada, Robert, ex-All-Star Cespedes playing for Cuba in WBC

Cole Burston / Getty Images Sport / Getty

For the first time, Cuba will have the services of big-leaguers in the World Baseball Classic.

Two active Cuban MLB stars - Chicago White Sox teammates Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert - were named to the country's 30-man WBC roster, the Cuban Baseball Federation announced Wednesday, per The Associated Press. Two other players with MLB time, former All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Chicago Cubs left-hander Roenis Elias, are also on the team, according to Baseball America's Kyle Glaser.

Cuba is also taking three prospects who are currently playing in Triple-A to the tournament: Detroit Tigers infielder Andy Ibanez, Oakland Athletics right-hander Miguel Romero, and Kansas City Royals pitcher Ronald Bolanos. The remainder of its roster is comprised of a mix of amateurs from Cuba's domestic league and professionals playing in Mexico and Japan.

Previously, Cubans in MLB or the minors weren't allowed to represent their country in the WBC because they have to defect from the island to play professionally in the United States. Although the WBC is a professional tournament, Cuba's previous entries have only been comprised of either its most talented amateur players from its domestic league or professionals playing overseas with the government's permission.

Due to the United States' continued sanctions against Cuba, the players employed by American teams all needed special permission from the U.S. government to participate in the tournament. Moncada, Robert, and the prospects will not be allowed to join the national team in Cuba as part of the agreement, the AP reports.

Moncada hit .212/.273/.353 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs for the White Sox last season. The 27-year-old left Cuba with the permission of its government to pursue an MLB career in 2014.

Robert, 25, defected in November 2016 and signed with the White Sox the following May. Although hampered by injuries, the 2020 Gold Glove winner managed to post a .746 OPS with 12 homers in 98 games last year.

Cespedes, now 37, hit 165 homers during his eight-year major-league career but hasn't appeared in the league since 2020. Two years before he defected, Cespedes starred for Cuba in the 2009 WBC, hitting .458 with two homers and five RBIs over six games.

Cuba, which was eliminated in the second round of the 2017 tournament, will open the 2023 WBC on March 8 against the Netherlands in Taichung, Taiwan. The team won't play in the U.S. unless it advances to the semifinals on March 19-20 in Miami.

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