It worked out once for the Cincinnati Reds, so why not try for an encore?
In January of 2010 the Reds signed a Cuban pitcher, the left-handed fire-thrower Aroldis Chapman. Chapman, who most recently made headlines for getting hit in the face with a line drive during spring training, was projected to be a starter. The Reds signed him to a six-year, $30.25 million contract and while he did not end up being a starter, he has become one of the games’ best closers. The two-time All-Star, who has been rumored to have thrown up to 106 mph, set a new velocity record during his rookie year with his fastball being clocked at 105.1 during a game. Signing Chapman was a gamble that has absolutely paid off for Cincinnati even though he did not end up working out as a starting pitcher.
Now it’s 2014 and the Reds are obviously seeking a similar result by signing another Cuban pitcher to a similar deal. Friday they inked Rasiel Iglesias to a seven-year, $30 million deal that will have the right-handed reliever, who also has the ability to be a starter, with the club through the 2020 season. That’s a large contract for a relief pitcher but Iglesias is pretty well established for a 24-year old.
According to Bleacher Report, he has three years of professional experience playing in Cuba and pitched well in the 2013 Cuban National Series for Isla de la Juventud. During the series he appeared in 15 games, starting two of them, where he posted a 1.68 ERA with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 50.2 innings.
Big league scouts were able to see him while he played for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as well as at last year’s World Port Tournament where he turned heads making three appearances out of the bullpen. He ended up saving all three games, allowing only two hits and no walks in 3.2 innings of work. Scouts were able to watch him play against the U.S. college national team in a stateside series that took place last July and as recently as May 30 Iglesias pitched in a showcase for several major league teams.
In a scouting report Baseball America’s Ben Badler describes the 24-year old,
“Major league scouts (and Baseball America) have been able to see Iglesias pitch in person outside of Cuba twice this year. At the World Baseball Classic in March, Iglesias pitched at 88-92 mph. When Cuba visited the U.S. in July for a five-game friendship series against the U.S. College national team, Iglesias looked more impressive, throwing 92-95 mph while varying the speed and shape of his sweepy 76-81 mph breaking ball to get swings and misses.”
It took Iglesias more than one attempt to defect from Cuba. He tried to make an escape in September 2013 but was arrested and detained. In November of the same year he successfully defected and currently resides in Mexico, though apparently not for much longer. He is expected to join the Reds organization soon and spend little time in the minors. Iglesias could end up being promoted to the Reds’ big league club as soon as the second half of the current season.