Five baseball players who defected from Cuba last fall will forgo free agency and declare for this year’™s first-year player draft as U.S. residents, their agent Michael Maulini said. At least one has a chance to be selected in the top three rounds.
Shortstop Yuniel Escobar Almenares, 21, is considered a top talent as a good-fielding shortstop who also has a potent bat.
“Escobar is real good. He’s got a lot of tools and he’s a physical guy, about 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. He’s a strong kid,” said an AL scout who has seen the Cubans play on several occasions. “He has strong hands and plenty of arm strength. The bat’s got present ability; he has strong hands and wrists and can swing it.”
A career .270 hitter in three seasons in Cuba, Escobar batted .321 in his last full year there.
The other Cubans who have declared for the draft are outfielder Yoel Perez Mendieta and pitchers Rafael Galbizo Figueroa, Jose Angel Cordero and Waltary Agusti.
Cordero, a righthander, has been throwing 92-93 mph during the workouts. He reportedly has touched 95 in the past.
The five have declared for the draft in part to avoid the visa and paperwork problems that have left the last two high-profile Cuban defectors, outfielder Kendry Morales and righthander Alay Soler, stuck in the Dominican Republic.
A sixth player who defected with the group, righthander Yamel Guevara, is sidelined, as he is believed to have arm problems. Guevara, also 21 when he left Cuba, was 17-2 in the Cuban league after going 1-0, 2.06 in his last season.
The five newest defectors have been working out at spring training camps in Florida to give scouts a good look at their abilities.
“It’s been so easy to see them; you can just go over to Braddock and watch them work out, practice or play every day,” the scout said. “They’re all good enough to play pro ball, and they want to play. The other thing is, they don’t need visas; that’s huge. There is an unblocking process they have to go through, but they do not need visas and should be able to play this year.”