DURHAM, N.C.—Make that two Cuban players who have defected here in North Carolina while traveling with the Cuban national team. Luis Yander La O, a speedy, athletic infielder who ranked as the No. 10 player in Cuba in April, has left the team to pursue a major league contract, Baseball America has learned. Outfielder Yadiel Hernandez had previously left the team on their current trip to play the U.S. college national team over the next week before heading to the Pan American Games in Canada in two weeks.
La O, 23, has played six seasons in Cuba for Santiago De Cuba, so he will be exempt from the international bonus pools. That means La O will eventually be free to sign a major league contract with any team, including teams (like the Red Sox and Yankees) that have gone over their international bonus pools, since the signing restriction penalties only apply to pool-eligible players. La O will have to establish residence in a foreign country and then apply to the commissioner’s office to make him a free agent, a process that will take several months before he will be allowed to sign.
Primarily a third baseman in Cuba, La O spent more time at second base during the second half of this past season (2014-15), with occasional stints at shortstop as well, earning a Serie Nacional gold glove award in the league’s utility player category. A righthanded hitter at 6 feet, 185 pounds, La finished the year batting .327/.404/.401 with two home runs, 35 walks and 15 strikeouts in 340 plate appearances.
Based on his current ability, La O should be ready to play immediately in the upper minors, likely at Triple-A, and while some scouts have reservations about how his bat will translate against major league pitching, he isn’t far from being major league ready.
Including La O, six players who ranked in Baseball America’s Top 20 players still in Cuba in April have left the country. Righthander Norge Ruiz (the No. 8 player), infielder/outfielder Randy Arozarena (No. 9), righthander Yaisel Sierra (No. 13), Hernandez (No. 16) and outfielder Yusnier Diaz (No. 17) have also left the country. Righthander Vladimir Gutierrez, another top young Cuban player, also fled the country this year while traveling to Puerto Rico for the Caribbean Series.
Baseball America subscribers can read a full scouting report and background information below on La O from his writeup in the Top 20 Cuban prospects report: