Yasiel Balaguer, 18-Year-Old Cuban Baseball Defector, Trying Out for Seattle Mariners
|Michael E. Miller|
"I was on the Cuban youth national team, but I realized that once I made it to the national team I'd still be a nobody," Balaguer told Riptide last week. "My mother, who came here with me, and I decided that I should come to the best league in the world to help my family."
CORRECTION/UPDATE: An earlier version of this post misidentified the MLB team with which Balaguer was scheduled to try out. A meeting with the Seattle Mariners was rained out.
At over six feet, Balaguer looks and swings a bit like a young Andruw Jones. Like Jones, he's an athletic centerfielder known primarily for his defense. He arrived in Miami in late November after leaving his home near Havana and traveling to Mexico.
As with many Cuban peloteros who make it to the US, there are already wildly differing scouting reports on Balaguer. The Herald has called him "one of the biggest promising stars of Cuban baseball," but Baseball America said he was merely "solid" and boasted "average tools."
Balaguer's agent, Carlos Pérez of Miami Sports Consulting, says he expects Balaguer to sign a deal in the region of $18-20 million this spring.
In addition to the try out scheduled with the Mariners, Balaguer already took hitting and fielding practice for the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
One place Balaguer is unlikely to end up is here in Miami with the Marlins. Pérez says the Marlins haven't taken an interest in Cuban ball players recently, which is surprising given that the new stadium will be smack dab in Little Havana.
"It's incredible," Pérez says. "The Marlins are the only team in the past three years that hasn't taken a single Florida player."
Who knows? Maybe that will finally change with Balaguer.