The Miami Herald's Spanish language edition, El Nuevo Herald, had the story of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Balaguer, a 17-year-old who was a member of the island nation's 2010 18U national team. Balaguer has shown up in Nicaragua after defecting and intends to become a free agent.
This story has played out recently, back in 2008, when lefthander Noel Arguelles and shortstop Jose Iglesias defected while the Cuban 18U squad was in Edmonton. Both of those players signed major league contracts—Arugelles for a reported $7 million with the Royals, Iglesias for $8.25 million with a Red Sox-record $6.25 million bonus.
Balaguer, however, should not command anywhere near what those players received. First, he's an outfielder, not a scarce commodity like a slick-fielding shortstop or hard-throwing lefthander. Second, the scouting reports on Balaguer are just solid, rather than filled with upside like those of Arguelles and Iglesias.
According to two scouting reports obtained by Baseball America, scouts who saw Balaguer in Thunder Bay during the World Junior Championships in August weren't blown away. Instead, they rated Balaguer as a player with average tools across the board with one important below-average tool—his bat.
Both reports characterize Balaguer, who bats and throws righthanded, as physical at about 6-foot, 190 pounds, and the descriptions hint at a lack of projection in his body. Both reports project Balaguer as a corner outfielder due to fringe-average speed, and both characterize his throwing arm as average. Neither offers praise for his hitting ability, with one citing a "long swing" and both reporting difficulty handling velocity.
Now if Jorge Soler shows up in Nicaragua, get excited. Soler, the 18U team's right fielder, has a strapping 6-foot-3, 205-pound body, is 18 and has five-tool potential. The best running time scouts got for Balaguer was 4.4 seconds to first base; Soler, also a right-handed hitter, checked in at 4.26. Soler has bat speed and what one scout called "explosive power" to go with above-average arm strength.
Instead of Soler, though, it's Balaguer who has defected. It will take time for him to establish residency in Nicaragua (a strange place to defect, if the report is accurate, given the leanings of Nicaragua's political leaders toward Cuba) to get "unblocked" and to become eligible to sign. When he does, Balaguer likely will sign with a club in Organized Baseball. But the market on him shouldn't get overheated.
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