Cuba recently announced that they would allow their athletes to sign contracts with sports teams outside of the country, however, the United States is not included. Apparently Cuba made this move in an attempt to curb the defection of so many talented young players; they’re leaving Cuba in large numbers. Baseball players aren’t the only ones leaving either. Top soccer and boxing talent have defected too.
Their baseball players make an average salary of $20 per month, with the ability to earn bonuses if they make the playoffs. With the ability to come to the US and make unlimited amounts of money, it’s no wonder defection is becoming more common. This baseball season we saw Yasiel Puig skyrocket to fame with the Dodgers, Yoenis Cespedes win the Home Run Derby, and Jose Fernandez, potential NL ROY, blank batters with his fastball.
With that being said, I bring you the best talent recently defected from Cuba and on the free agent market…
Jose Abreu: First Base
Jose Abreu defected from Cuba in August and landed in the Dominican Republic. He’s been highly touted as the best hitter in Cuban baseball, and fellow Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes said he’s virtually a complete player, lacking only in speed. Baseball scouts are more guarded in their reviews of him, and they have concerns about his hitting against inside fastballs. He crowds the plate, but is a similar hitter to his countrymen Puig and Cespedes. For my Pirates fans, Rob Biertempfel has compared him to Pedro Alvarez, but with better hitting ability.
There isn’t a ton of quality free agent talent available in first basemen this year. Konerko, Loney, Morales, Morneau, and Youkilis are some of the better ones. Napoli is also a free agent, but the Red Sox are debating on resigning him. The top teams rumored to be in the market for a first baseman are Texas, Boston, San Francisco, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, Washington, and our very own Pittsburgh Pirates.
Abreu cleared the OFAC hurdles, was declared a free agent by MLB, and bidding has begun. Expect him to be signed well in advance of the 2014 season.
*Jose Abreu, 6’2” 250lbs, in the 2012-2013 shortened season he was .382/.535/.735 with 13 HR and 36 RBI (42 games)
Alexander Guerrero: Second Base/Shortstop
Alexander Guerrero was one of the players I highlighted in my piece on Cuban baseball a few months ago. He defected from Cuba and was stuck in the Dominican Republic because of issues with paperwork and OFAC. The people he was with after defection had no way of getting his paperwork completed. In September, he finally cleared all OFAC restrictions and was declared a free agent. Reportedly, he had committed to the Dodgers, but the deal fell through.
Guerrero is a power hitting infielder and was selected as an All-Star twice. His scouting report points out that he has a very strong lower body as well as strong wrists and forearms. The scouts also note his defensive skills: quick hands and “flashy” glove. The top teams interested in him are Boston, San Francisco, Texas, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles. Even though LAD’s first deal fell through, they are still very interested in signing him. You can see in the second picture below he has become much more fit since leaving Cuba.
*Alexander Guerrero, 5’10” 205lbs, in 2012 he hit .290/.402/.576 with 21 HR and 51 RBIs (328 PAs)
Misael Siverio: LHP
Misael Siverio is a left hand pitcher who defected this summer when the Cuban national team was in the USA playing exhibition games. As soon as he reached Des Moines, Iowa, he left the team. He’s 24 years old, 5’9” and 192 lbs. He played for the Villa Clara Cuban team, and this year their season was split into halves, much like MiLB American teams. In the regular season, he pitched a total of 118.4 innings and had a 9-7 record in 20 games. His ERA was 1.905, he struck out 81 and walked 34, while giving up only 4 home runs. His K/9 was 6.15, which is slightly lower than his career average 7.6. Villa Clara made the playoffs every year from 2010-2013.
Odrisamer Despaigne: RHP
Odrisamer Despaigne is a right hand pitcher that defected from Cuba while his team was in an airport in Paris this summer. He’s 6’ and 200 lbs at 26 years old. He pitched for the Industriales, which are considered a Cuban powerhouse in their league. There’s little information on him, except his stats from pitching with the Industriales. For the 2013 season, he was 10-5 in 23 starts, with 143 innings pitched. His ERA was 3.41 with 98 strikeouts and 53 walks. His K/9 was 6.2 and BB/9 was 3.45, while only allowing 6 HRs. It’s noted that he has some control issues.
Dalier Hinojosa: RHP
Dalier Hinojosa is another right hand pitcher that has drawn interest from the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston, and Los Angeles. He throws a fastball in the low 90s, a slider, curve, 2 seam fastball, and a changeup. He has 2 complete games at 27 years old, one of which he struck out 16 of 21 batters faced. Both games weren’t a full 9 innings due to the mercy rule, but one was 7 and one was 5. Still impressive. He’s 6’2” and 210 lbs. His team was Guantanamo in the Cuban league. In 2012 he was 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA, and he K’d 115 batters while walking 35. He gave up 11 HRs but also posted a K/9 of 8.5 and BB/9 of 2.6.
Aledmys Diaz: Shortstop
Aledmys Diaz is the Cuban shortstop who was in hot water with MLB for lying about his age. He is currently restricted from signing until February of 2014. He lied about his age because international players over 23 aren’t restricted by bonus pools when signing. No one is really sure of his age due to inaccuracies in documents with Cuba and Mexico. He’s scouted as a 3 tool player who won’t require a ton of time in the minors. He’s 6’1” and 185 lbs. He’s hit .308/.401/.444 in his Cuban career with Villa Clara.
*Be on the lookout for: Raciel Iglesias
Raciel Iglesias is a right hand pitcher who had unsuccessfully attempted to defect in September. He’s a 5’11” 165 lb guy who can throw a 94-95 mph fastball. He pitched in the WBC earlier this year. His home team is Isla de Juventud. His stats for Juventud appear in Spanish only, but from what I can translate, it looks like he is 8-12 in his 3 year career. His ERA is 3.47 over 223.1 innings pitched, while giving up 11 HRs. Iglesias has K’d 169 while walking 115. I do suspect he will attempt defection until he gets out of Cuba for good.