It took almost 14 months, but the Mets were finally able to get Cuban righthander Alay Soler a visa to come pitch in the United States.
The 26-year-old originally defected from Cuba in November 2003 to
the Dominican Republic, where he received asylum. The following
September, he signed a three-year contract worth $2.8 million major
league contract with the Mets. The Mets hoped Soler would be able to
help their major league club at some point during the 2005 season, but
he was unable to obtain a visa and remained in the Dominican Republic,
pitching at the Mets’ Dominican academy.
“I don’t know what happened, why it took so long,” said Tony
Bernazard, special assistant to Mets general manager Omar Minaya. “Once
the U.S. declined the first set of documents they presented, the
process had to start all over again. He was able to become a Dominican
Republic citizen and get a visa to come to the U.S.”
Soler, the No. 10 prospect in the Mets’ system, first made a name
for himself when he helped Cuba win the 2002 World University Games by
not allowing a run in two starts. In 2003 he led Cuba’s Serie Nacional
with a 2.01 ERA, which drew attention from major league clubs. The
biggest obstacle facing Soler now is his lack of action since his
“He hasn’t pitched competitively in two years. His development is
delayed,” Bernazard said. “He’s been pitching in our academy but that’s
another thing. But the disadvantage he’s in right now could help his
arm in a few years.”
Soler will pitch for Ponce in Puerto Rican League to make up for
some of the competitive innings he has missed over the last two years.
He will be in major league camp in spring training, though it is
unlikely he will make the big leagues to begin the season. He will
likely break camp with high Class A St. Lucie because Double-A
Binghamton’s cool climate would be tough for his first experience.
If he performs as the Mets expect, he could be in New York by the
end of the season and although he has been a starter during his career,
could be used out of the bullpen. He throws the best slider of any Mets