Jose Iglesias dazzled fans with his spectacular defensive actions for the Red Sox and Tigers this season.
Now Barbaro Erisbel Arruebarruena, another Cuban shortstop who earns similar glowing reviews about his defense, has left Cuba to try to sign with a major league team, Baseball America has learned.
Since Arruebarruena is 23 and has played in Cuba's top league (Serie Nacional) for six seasons, his bonus will not be subject to the international bonus pools once he receives residency in a third country and is cleared to sign by the U.S. government and Major League Baseball.
Arruebarruena, 23, has been the regular shortstop of the Cuban national team. He played in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where he ranked as the No. 10 WBC prospect not signed with a major league team.
At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Arruebarruena has clean hands, quick actions and good body control. He's a below-average runner, but his quick first step and instincts give him good range. He has a quick transfer and a plus-plus arm with accuracy, which allows him to make throws from deep in the hole and turn 4-6-3 double plays with ease. His awareness in the field is advanced and he's shown the ability to make the barehanded play look routine and make strong throws from different angles. Scouts have called Arruebarruena a magician in the field, and if he can hit enough to be an everyday major league shortstop, he has the potential to win a Gold Glove.
The bat, however, is a major source of concern with Arruebarruena, even more so than with Iglesias and more along the lines of Marlins Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. A righthanded hitter, Arruebarruena has a long swing, struggles with pitch recognition, swings through breaking balls in the strike zone and is prone to chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone. He has a pull-oriented approach and minimal power, so several scouts are skeptical he could hit better than .220 or hit a .300 on-base percentage against major league pitching. His lack of foot speed would also limit his appeal as a potential defensive-oriented backup, since he wouldn't have as much value as a pinch-runner.
"He's a premium defender at a premium position with questions on the bat," said one international scouting director. "If you're built well offensively around the field other than shortstop, you can live with that if you get outstanding defense. But the bat is still the question mark."
Based on his current offensive ability, Arruebarruena would almost certainly have to start in the minor leagues, with Double-A a possibility given his current talent level and age.
In Cuba, Arruebarruena played for Cienfuegos, where he was teammates with White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. This past season (2012-13) in Cuba that was split into two halves by the WBC, Arruebarruena struggled early, batting .275/.324/.366 with two home runs, seven walks and 17 strikeouts in 145 plate appearances in the first half. He hit much better in the second half, batting .317/.415/.495 with four homers, 17 walks and 14 strikeouts in 125 plate appearances.
In 2011-12, Arruebarruena batted .320/.367/.520 with eight home runs, 19 walks and 39 strikeouts in 306 plate appearances. During the 2010-11 season, Arruebarruena hit .280/.314/.484 in 279 at-bats with eight home runs, 11 walks and 57 strikeouts.
Cuban shortstop Alexander Guerrero recently signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the Dodgers, but the Cubans preferred to use Arruebarruena as their regular shortstop on the national team, so scouts have seen plenty of Arruebarruena over the last few years to have a strong handle on his skill set.
In March, he played in Japan in the WBC, where he went 6-for-16 with no extra-base hits, two walks and three strikeouts for a .375/.444/.375 line. When Cuba brought a team to the United States in July for a five-game friendship series against the U.S. college national team, Arruebarruena played terrific defense but looked overmatched at the plate against all types of pitches, both in and out of the strike zone. He played in three games and was often removed for offensive reasons, as he went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts.
"He's a bigger body than you think when you get up next to him," said Team USA coach Jim Schlossnagle, who also coaches Texas Christian. "He made a play up the middle in the last game that I didn't think he was going to get to. When he got to it, most American shortstops field the ball glove side, spin and throw. He kind of threw off balance without spinning and had something on the throw. The first four balls put in play, two of them should have been hits—for sure in Division I college baseball—one in the hole, one in the middle, and those two plays changed the entire course of the first third of the game. He makes really hard plays look really easy."
Arruebarruena, who turns 24 on March 25, played in several other international tournaments as well. Scouts saw him in November 2012 when Cuba's WBC team went to Taiwan and Japan for a pair of friendly series. In July 2012, Arruebarruena was Cuba's starting shortstop at Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands, where he hit .353/.353/.353 by going 6-for-17 with no extra-base hits, no walks and one strikeout. The month before that, Arruebarruena was in Nicaragua for a five-game friendly series.
At the Pan American Games in Mexico in October 2011, Arruebarruena went 8-for-18 with a double, a walk and four strikeouts to hit .445/.474/.500. Earlier that month, Arruebarruena played in the World Cup in Panama, where he didn't fare as well, batting .282/.282/.385 by going 11-for-39 with a home run, a double, no walks and 12 strikeouts. Arruebarruena also played in the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands in July 2011.
International sources said Arruebarruena will be represented by Bart Hernandez and Praver Shapiro Sports Management.