Cuban baseballer who lived here gets a contract in Japan

No matter where he has played, Michel Abreu has always found success at the end of his bat.

The Nippon Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional League in Japan recently tripled Abreu’s salary when they signed him to a one-year extension for 60 million yen, or roughly $600,000. The former Cuban defector lived in Costa Rica for a short while trying to establish residency in the United States.

Among his 2013 highlights included a home run off of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who landed a mega-deal $155 million contract with the New York Yankees this offseason. The power-swinging Abreu led the Pacific League in home runs with 31.

While he lived in San José, Abreu was one of the most sought-after major league prospects. The Boston Red Sox offered him a six-figure contract in 2005, but it was later voided because Abreu could not become a U.S. resident in time for the upcoming season.

The first baseman finally made it to U.S. soil after the New York Mets offered him a spot in the minor leagues, where he played for a farm team in Binghamton and led the league in batting in 2006.

Thanks to his impressive play with the Ham Fighters, many other Japanese baseball organizations have started to take chances on other Cuban and Latin American players. One such player, Barbaro Canizares, agreed to a deal with the Softbank Hawks this offseason. Though they are now league-rivals Abreu and Canizares were close friends and training partners while they both lived in San José.

Abreu finished near the top of the Pacific League with a .284 batting average, 95 runs batted in and a .506 slugging percentage.

In the offseason he lives in Tampa Bay, Fla. with his wife and two children. Opening day for the Nippon Professional League is March 28.

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