Andy Ibanez, the youngest player on Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic roster, has left Cuba and will pursue a contract with a major league team, Baseball America has learned.
Ibanez, who Baseball America last month ranked as the No. 8 prospect still in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, is a 21-year-old second baseman who scouts have followed for several years. Since Ibanez has just three seasons of experience in Serie Nacional, he will be subject to the bonus pools, so he won’t be afforded the same unrestricted free agency that recent top Cuban defectors Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo had.
At 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, Ibanez doesn’t have one standout tool but he’s an athletic player who won a Gold Glove during his rookie year in 2011-12 and has posted solid offensive numbers given his age, including a .267/.377/.435 line with more walks (33) than strikeouts (28) in 280 plate appearances this past season for Isla De La Juventud. Given his current talent level, Ibanez, who turns 22 in April, would likely start his career either in high Class A or Double-A.
Ibanez was one of the more promising young players in Cuba, representing his country at the 16U World Championship in Taiwan in 2009 and the 18U World Championship in Canada in 2010, when he was teammates with Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler. Scouts also got to see Ibanez play in the WBC last year in March, although those looks were mostly limited to infield and batting practice, with Ibanez getting only one at-bat. Later that summer at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands, however, Ibanez went 9-for-15 (all singles) including a 3-for-5 performance in Cuba’s championship game victory.
Ibanez wasn’t listed on Isla De La Juventud’s 2014-15 roster and hasn’t played for the team this season, which began on September 21, so it’s believed he left Cuba before then. He joins second baseman Hector Olivera, the No. 6 player in Cuba, is a fellow Cuban second baseman and Top 10 Cuban player who has left the island. Another second baseman, Jose Fernandez, who ranked as the No. 3 player in Cuba, is also missing.
Given that Ibanez will be subject to the bonus pools, his timing to obtain residence in a third country as well as a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States and be declared a free agent by MLB could have an impact on where he signs.
The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have already gone well beyond their 2014-15 international bonus pools, which means they’re going to pay a 100 percent tax on the overage and won’t be able to sign any player subject to the bonus pools for the next two signing periods. With the 2014-15 signing period ending on June 15, those three teams would seem to have an advantage if Ibanez can get cleared to sign before then, given that they won’t have to make a decision about whether to go over their pool and pay the maximum penalties to sign him. If Ibanez doesn’t get declared a free agent until after June 15, however, those three teams won’t be able to sign him.