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12/04/13 - MLB.com - Next wave of Cuban players on deck 

PHOENIX -- Sometime in February, new White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu
will walk through the doors of Camelback Ranch, the club's Spring Training
complex in Arizona, with confidence, a little swagger and the eyes of two
nations upon him.

He'll put on his new black workout gear and a helmet, pick up a bat and
stroll to the batting cages just like the rest of his Chicago teammates.
But unlike most of the men in black and white, this Cuban slugger will
follow a path to that can be traced back to island greats like Minnie
Minoso, Tony Perez and most recently by Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig,
Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes and Abreu's new teammates Dayan Viciedo and
Alexei Ramirez.

Abreu, a Most Valuable Player while in Cuba, could be the next best thing
to come from the island, but only one thing is certain: More players are
coming. There are more Cuban prospects expected to become free agents
sometime this winter and there's a chance some of them will show up on a
big league field in the near future.

Expect the emerging Cuban talent market to be a topic of discussion at next
week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

"Cuban players for many years have been talented," Dodgers general manager
Ned Colletti said. "You have 30 teams, everyone needs more players and the
reach is beyond the borders of the U.S., so you have players from Cuba,
Dominican, Mexico, Venezuela, Asia and Italy. It all comes down to finding
as many good players as you can. That's the bottom line."

Colletti knows of what he speaks. The Dodgers signed Puig to a seven-year,
$42 million deal last year and the rookie helped thrust the team back into
postseason contention last summer. Los Angeles also signed Cuban second
baseman Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal in October and
he is expected to contribute in 2014. As for Abreu, he signed a six-year,
$68 million deal, also in October.

"I think there is a combination of factors driving clubs' interest in Cuban
players at this time," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said.  "First,
clubs have seen the impact that Cuban players can have fairly quickly at
the Major League level. Whether it was Puig or Cespedes over the last
couple of seasons, Alexei and Dayan over the past several for us, or guys
like [Jose] Contreras, El Duque [Orlando Hernandez] or others over the past
decade, I believe clubs see an avenue for talent procurement that could
reap significant rewards relatively quickly.

"Secondly, the appeal of certain Cuban players is increased due to these
free agents being available to the signing club at a younger age than
domestic free agents, and without Draft-pick compensation attached to them.
Lastly, for the ones that qualify, several of these players are available
outside the spending limits of the international caps, which allows certain
clubs the chance to flex their financial might in the amateur arena."

The list of Cuban players to make a mark in the big leagues in the past few
years also includes names like Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman, Texas
outfielder Leonys Martin, current free agent Kendrys Morales, Miami's
Adeiny Hechavarria and Jose Fernandez, Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar, Baltimore
outfielder Henry Urrutia and Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias.

In all, there were 17 players from Cuba who played in the Major Leagues in
2013. There should be more in 2014.

In addition to Abreu, right-handed pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez signed
with the Phillies, teenage right-hander Leando Linares signed with the
Indians and outfield prospect Dariel Alvarez signed with Orioles this year.
Right-hander Dalier Hinojosa signed a Minor League deal worth $4.25 million
with the Red Sox in October.

"There is risk involved in any free-agent signing, but, yes, it is slightly
heightened when dealing with an international free agent," Hahn said. "When
your evaluations are limited to international competition or workouts or
video, clubs are forced to make scouting assessments that involve more
projection than the ones our scouts are asked to make in the States.
Fortunately, between video and international play, our scouts are able in
some instances to have evaluated the player over a number of years and
against different levels of competition, which improves the caliber of the
information they are using to draw their conclusions. However, the task is
still a difficult one."

The latest crop of Cuban prospects includes shortstop Erisbel
Arruebarruena, 23; catcher Yenier Bello, 28; and right-handed pitcher
Raciel Iglesias, 23. They are all on their way to becoming free agents.
Other Cuban prospects expected to land on the free-agent market in the near
future are first baseman Jozzen Cuesta, 25; catcher Josue Franco, 25;
right-hander Rogelio Armenteros, 18; and 25-year old outfielders Rusney
Castillo and Dayron Varona.

The road to free agency is a complex one.

Any Cuban defector who wants to do business with an American company must
first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States, a process
that can take several months, depending on the country of residence. Cuban
players must also petition Major League Baseball to become free agents and
be unblocked by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets
Control before they can enter into a contract with a club. Unblocking can
take several weeks.

Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban
professional league for three or more seasons are exempt from the
international signing guidelines established by the collective bargaining
agreement, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to
sign with a big league club.

Although the Cuban government has said it will allow its players to play in
foreign leagues, the new guidelines will not make it easier for Cuban
baseball players to play in the United States because of the 51-year-old
U.S. embargo on the country.

"If these players are anything like the wave before them, they will have a
lot of success in the big leagues," said Bryce Dixon, who represents Bello.
"I feel like if they were treated like any other country, they would have
been out here playing and almost be on par with the Dominicans in terms of
talent. Teams are realizing they are worth the investment and are going for

Original Source / Fuente Original:


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