By Will Kimmey
January 27, 2003
Cuban defectors Maels Rodriguez and Yobal Duenas worked out for representatives of 15 major league teams in San Salvador, El Salvador, but in the words of one scout in attendance, the event was disappointing.
About 20-25 scouts were in attendance at the workout, including representatives from the Dodgers, Mariners, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees.
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old righthander who hit 100 mph against Team USA in the 2000 Olympics and threw a perfect game during Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2002, didn't come within 10 mph of that reading as he worked two innings of a simulated game. He showcased his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, but none of his pitches was better than major league average.
"He was (throwing) 87, and it was hard for him to throw 87," a scout who attended the workout said. "His arm action had some funk in it and he was erratic. The kid is either not in good shape yet or you have to worry for the health of his arm."
There had been reports that overuse in Cuba had led to back and arm problems, but Rodriguez' agent Henry Vilar said in a statement that the workout "clearly dispelled all of the rumors which the Cuban government had circulated following his removal from the national team and subsequent defection, including those that he was suffering from an injured back and shoulder and back problems."
Rodriguez' poor showing led at least three scouts to wonder if he was still injured, out of shape or was possibly tanking the workout.
"Sometimes those guys will want to pick what team they play for and do better in a private workout," another scout at the workout said.
Duenas, a 31-year-old second baseman, showed average raw power, arm strength and speed. "I don't think he can play second base in the big leagues," a scout said. "And my guess is . . . he might be 34-36."
Rodriguez and Duenas defected from Cuba in October, just prior to the 2003 World Cup in Panama. Cuba suspended Duenas from its World Cup roster for reportedly funneling money to the family of Jose Contreras, who signed with the Yankees last offseason. Rodriguez initially indicated he was seeking a salary along the lines of the four-year, $32 million deal Contreras received from the Yankees last winter.
Based on the poor showing, it's possible that Rodriguez could hold a second workout if he was indeed out of shape after not playing baseball in six months. A team might still take a chance on Rodriguez if he acknowledges that he is injured.
"Can somebody sign the guy and have him go get fixed and be better in six months or a year? Sure," a scout said. "But it'd be tough to lay out a lot of money for that chance."