Cuban righthander Raisel Iglesias has signed a seven-year major league contract with the Reds, the team announced Friday. The deal is for $27 million, according to MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Since Igelsias is 24 and has three seasons of experience in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, his signing is exempt from the international bonus pools.
At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, Iglesias was primarily used as a reliever while pitching for Isla De La Juventud and the Cuban national team. Several scouts project Iglesias as a bullpen arm, but the Reds plan to begin his development in the minors as a starter and believe he can reach the big leagues in that role. While Cuba is thin on major league-caliber pitching prospects, Iglesias was one of the country’s better young pitchers. Iglesias threw 88-92 mph at the World Baseball Classic in March 2013, but later that summer when Cuba played the U.S. college national team, he was sitting at 92-95 mph out of the bullpen. Iglesias throws a sweepy but effective 76-81 mph breaking ball that can be a swing-and-miss pitch at times, with erratic but improving control, and with the athleticism that bodes well for his ability to make adjustments.
He doesn’t repeat his mechanics, which affects his command, though part of that is by design, as Iglesias (like many other Cuban pitchers) intentionally moves around his arm slot and manipulates the shape and speed of his breaking ball. Since leaving the island, he also showed the Reds some feel for a changeup. Iglesias probably isn’t ready to go straight to the majors, but given his present talent level, Double-A would make sense once he’s in game condition.
“He’s a big arm,” said one scout who saw Iglesias recently. “He’s a bullpen guy for me. I don’t see how he’s going to start, but he’s a seventh, eighth-inning kind of guy. He’s up to 95 with a pretty good slider and he’s starting to throw the changeup now with fair feel for it, but I don’t see the command or ability to repeat (his delivery) to start. He has a great arm. I think he’s two years away (from the majors).”
Still, the Reds have been one of the most open-minded organizations in baseball in terms of looking at young bullpen arms as potential starters, and Iglesias could fit into that mold for them.
Tony Cingrani was a reliever his final season at Rice when the Reds drafted him in the third round in 2011. The Reds immediately made him a starter and he breezed through the minors, spending the past two seasons in Cincinnati’s starting rotation. Michael Lorenzen was an outfielder and closer at Cal State Fullerton when the Reds drafted him in the supplemental first round in 2013, and the Reds have developed him as a starter in Double-A this season. The Reds intend to use their 2014 first-round pick, Virginia closer Nick Howard, as a starter once he signs.
There’s also righthander Carlos Contreras, who the Reds signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 and who had a breakout year as a closer at low Class A Dayton in 2012. The Reds converted him to a starter the following season, though he’s back to relieving after making three starts for Double-A Pensacola early in the year.
Iglesias pitched well both against the U.S. college national team and earlier that same month at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands. His final season in Cuba was his best, as he posted a 1.68 ERA and a 50-20 SO-BB mark over 53 2/3 innings between 13 relief appearances and two starts in 2012-13. Before that he had problems throwing strikes, with more walks (54) than strikeouts (53) and a 3.29 ERA in 76 2/3 innings in 2011-12.
“I think he’s a guy that, as he gets bigger and stronger, could be in the mid-to-upper 90s,” Team USA and Texas Christian coach Jim Schlossnagle said last year after Iglesias faced the college national team. “He’s lean, has a ridiculously loose arm and pounded the strike zone. I was glad they didn’t pitch him more. He was the guy where you’re like, ‘Let’s find a way to get a lead before they get to this guy.’ ”
Since Iglesias had pitched just three seasons in Cuba, he needed to sign quickly. The rules for Cuban players being exempt from the international bonus pools changes on July 2, when players must be at least 23 and have at least five seasons (rather than the current three) in a foreign professional league to be exempt. Those rules essentially kicked into effect on June 16, which is the beginning of the “closed period” until July 2 when no international players (even those exempt from the pools) are allowed to sign first-year contracts. However, MLB granted Iglesias and three other Cuban players a special exemption to sign during the closed period.
Iglesias is represented by Bart Hernandez and Praver Shapiro Sports Management, a power player in the Cuban market that has represented Jose Abreu, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Jorge Soler, Leonys Martin and Adeiny Hechavarria, among others.