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Braves to sign Cuban catcher Bello

The Braves are finalizing a Minor League deal with Cuban catching prospect Yenier Bello, according to an industry source.

The agreement includes a signing bonus and an invite to Spring Training. The Braves have not confirmed the deal.

Bello, 29, hit .274 with 13 home runs in Cuba’s La Serie Nacional, the country’s top baseball league, in 2011. He hit 75 home runs and drove in 297 runs in his last five seasons in Cuba, primarily with Sancti Spíritus.

The Braves intend on using Evan Gattis as their starting catcher for approximately 105 games this season with Gerald Laird, who is currently day-to-day with a lower back strain, serving as his primary backup. Ryan Doumit can also catch and Christian Bethancourt, 22, who spent the last two seasons at Double-A, appears to be the catcher of the future.

Bello will likely start the season in the Minor Leagues. It’s already been quite a ride for 5-ft-11, 225-pound backstop.

The right-handed hitter was caught attempting to escape from Cuba in 2012, immediately suspended from baseball on the island and then had his passport confiscated. Last spring, he retired from baseball and traveled to Ecuador when his passport was given back to him.

Bello never returned to Cuba and later established residency in Mexico, the first step to being declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. He was cleared by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last month. He is represented by Bryce Dixon of the Primo Sports Group.

Arruebarruena: When will he sign with Dodgers?

Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena is only a few steps away from becoming the newest member of the Dodgers.

According to industry sources, the 23-year old has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball and was cleared by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to enter into a contract with a Major League club after he established residency in Haiti.

The infielder is currently working out in the Dominican Republic and is waiting on a P-1 work Visa before he can finalize what is expected to be a five or six-year deal worth $25 million with Los Angeles. The Dodgers, who also signed Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract this winter, have not confirmed the Arruebarruena signing.

“We signed Alexander and we’re trying to sign another player because it’s tough in the Draft to find those players,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said at the second annual Cactus League Media Day on Tuesday. “You are pretty limited in the Draft as far as good hitters that can play in the middle of the infield. The way we look at it, we have the need for it in our organization and we’ve gone after them the way we have.”

Known for his defense, Arruebarruena is a right-handed hitter and natural shortstop but he can also play second base. He played with Yasiel Puig and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu in Serie Nacional, the island’s top professional league, and was also member of Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic team. The 6-ft, 195-pound infielder played in several international tournaments as member of the island’s national team.

Arruebarruena’s addition could add more intrigue to an already interesting competition for playing time in the infield. On Wednesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he would be open to a platoon at second base because of Guerrero’s slow transition from playing shortstop in Cuba to second base in the United States.

July 2 prospect Yirver Gilbert Lara and Brewers?

There are reports that the Brewers have a deal in place with July 2 infield prospect Yirver Gilbert Lara for $3.2 million. I spoke with Lara’s trainer Jaime Ramos and he said the Brewers, Royals, Yankees and Twins are among the teams competing for his player but he does not have a deal in place.

“I read that (about Milwaukee) but there is nothing concrete and there are still a lot of teams interested in him,” Ramos said from the Dominican Republic. “We still have to go to the United States and visit some teams.  I don’t have 100-percent agreement with anyone. Maybe in March or April, I’ll make a deal.”

Like last year, the amount of money clubs will be allowed to spend on international prospects this year on July 2 will be based largely on their records last season. Last summer, the pools for each team ranged from an estimated $4.9 million (for the lowest winning percentage) to $1.8 million (for the highest winning percentage). Like last year, clubs will be allowed to trade pool money.

Here are the guidelines for signing a prospect: A 16-year-old international player can sign during the period that extends from July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season. Additionally, any prospect that is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.

 

Cuban catcher Bello cleared by OFAC; Ready to sign

There’s a new player on the market.

Cuban catching prospect Yenier Bello has cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and can now enter into an agreement with a Major League team, according to an industry source.

Several teams, including the Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays have been linked to the catcher. He is expected to sign before the start of Spring Training.

Bello, 28, who is represented by Bryce Dixon of the Primo Sports Group, left Cuba for Ecuador early in 2013 and later established residency in Mexico. He was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball late last year but was unable to enter a contract with a Major League club until he was cleared by OFAC earlier this week.

The right-handed batter hit .274 with 13 home runs in Cuba’s La Serie Nacional, the country’s top amateur league, in 2011. He hit 75 home runs and drove in 297 runs in his last five seasons in Cuba, primarily with Sancti Spíritus.

Cuban defectors like Bello who want to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States, a process that can take several months, depending on the country of residence. Cuban players must also petition Major League Baseball to become free agents and be unblocked by OFAC before they can enter into a contract with a club. Unblocking can take several weeks.

Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are exempt from the international signing guidelines established by the collective bargaining agreement, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to sign with a big league club.

Although the Cuban government has said it will allow its players to play in foreign leagues, the new guidelines will not make it easier for Cuban baseball players to play in the United States because of the 51-year-old U.S. embargo on the country.

Jesse Sanchez

Cuba’s Jose Abreu takes steps toward free agency; Showcase on horizon

Cuban slugger Jose Abreu appears to be making progress in his journey to the Major Leagues.

Abreu has established residency in Haiti – the first step to becoming a free agent – and has been unblocked by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), according to an industry source. He has also petitioned for free agency from Major League Baseball and will be eligible to sign with a big league club when he is declared a free agent.

A showcase for Abreu, 26, is tentatively scheduled for the end of the month but there’s a chance he won’t sign until sometime this winter, possibly as late as the Winter Meetings in December, the source said. According to reports, the Giants and Red Sox are among several teams that have already expressed interest.

A known commodity on the international scene, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound slugger hit .360 (9-for-25) with three home runs and nine RBIs in six games in this year’s World Baseball Classic. He’s a former MVP in Cuba, where he had one of the best seasons in league history in 2010-11, hitting .453 with 33 home runs and 93 RBIs in just 66 games.

Abreu is represented by agents Barry Praver, Scott Shapiro and Bart Hernandez.

@JesseSanchezMLB

Guerrero signs with Boras

Cuban infield prospect Alexander Guerrero has signed with Scott Boras Corp. and the agency is now leading negotiations, according to an industry source.

Guerrero, who was formerly represented by Rudy Santin and Manny Paula at MVP Sports Management and Consulting Agency, was closing in a multi-year deal worth $32 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boras is now entertaining offers from all 30 teams.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Guerrero is a veteran of Serie Nacional, the island’s top league, and was an All-Star in 2010 and ’11 with Las Tunas. He defected from Cuba earlier this year, established residency in Haiti and had been training in the Dominican Republic. Guerrero was granted free agency by Major League Baseball in July, but did not secure an unblocking license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which would allow him to sign with a Major League team, until Sept. 6.

Guerrero participated in a series of showcases in front of scouts at the Dodgers’ complex in the Dominican Republic in July, where Los Angeles eventually emerged as the favorite. Known for his powerful bat and speed on the bases, Guerrero felt slighted when he was left off the Cuban team roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic and eventually left the island.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to Phillies

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is going to Philadelphia.

On Friday, the right-handed pitching prospect from Cuba agreed to a six-year deal worth close to $60 million with the Phillies, according to an industry source.

Gonzalez is expected to get a few starts in the Minor Leagues but is close to Major League-ready and could join the team by the end of the season.

Several teams, including the Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Marlins, Red Sox, Rangers, Twins, and Yankees, expressed serious interest in the right-hander and almost every club had representatives at his two showcases last month in Tijuana, Mexico. Scouts have been watching him throw bullpen sessions in Mexico since April.

Because he is at least 23 years old and has played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league, Cuban Gonzalez was not subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It’s already been quite a journey for the 26-year old.

Gonzalez fled Cuba earlier this year, landed in El Salvador and worked out for a month in Mexico City before making his way to Tijuana. He had been throwing full bullpen sessions in front of scouts twice each week for the past few months and took the mound for the Tijuana Toros twice.

Representatives for the 6-foot-3 Gonzalez submitted paperwork to the United States Department of Treasury for the purposes of unblocking him in February and began petitioning MLB for free agency a month later. Gonzalez filed a copy of his residency card from Mexico — the final step to becoming a free agent — to the Commissioner’s Office at the end of May and was cleared by the U.S. government to enter into an agreement with a Major League club last week.

The hard-throwing right-hander has a fastball in the mid-90s, a changeup, fork and a curveball. He made a splash on the international scene at the 2010 University Baseball Championships in Tokyo, and also shined at the Baseball World Cup in ’09 and ’11. He was suspended from Cuba’s national team for most of the past two seasons for trying to leave the island.

He threw his fastball in the mid-90s during his two showcases in Tijuana and touched 97 mph.

 

 

Indians near deal with RHP Leando Linares of Cuba

The Indians are closing in on a deal with Cuban teenage right-hander Leando Linares Gonzalez worth an estimated $1 million, according to an industry source.

Linares, 19, pitched for the Cuban National Team 16-and-under squad in competitions in Chinese Taipei in 2009 and Lagos de Moreno, Mexico in 2010. The 6-ft-3, 205-pound pitcher made a name for himself on the island by starring for Villa Clara in the 16-and-under and 18-and-under divisions in the National Championships in Cuba from 2009 to 2012.

Because he is not at least 23 years old and has not played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league, Linares Gonzalez is subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Indians have signed four players, including shortstop Willy Castro who signed for $850,000, for a total close to $1.4 million since the international signing period began on July 2nd. Cleveland entered the international signing period with a bonus pool of $3,636,900.

 

 

 

Yasiel Puig gives his take on U.S. media.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was asked about Puig’s lack of cooperation with the media  Tuesday afternoon at Chase Field. Puig responded to the criticism in an interview with MLB.com following Tuesday night’s 6-1 victory against the D-backs:

“In Cuba, there wasn’t much press. Here, I have a lot of press on me and it’s not something I really like. Maybe they don’t understand the situation I’m in. I’m not bad, I just don’t like the press and I don’t like the fame. I’m having fun and I want my team to get the attention. There are a lot of guys in the bullpen or in the dugout waiting for their turn to talk. It’s not that I don’t want to give an interview, I just don’t want all the press all over me all of the time.”

Here’s our interview with Puig:

Phenom speaks: Cuban rookie not fond of media glare, but he’s hoping for chance to play for NL

Cuban OF prospect Dariel Alvarez ready to sign

Cuban outfield prospect Dariel Alvarez is ready to sign with a Major League club.

On Thursday, Alvarez, 24, a right-handed hitter who played for Camaguey in Serie Nacional, told MLB.com that he was declared a free agent by the Commissioner’s Office in January and cleared by the U.S. government to enter into a contract with a big league club a month later. He said a change in representation is part of the reason his appearance on the market has been delayed.

“I am ready,” said Alvarez,  who is in Florida on a work visa. “I can sign. Just waiting on the best opportunity.”

On Wednesday, Alvarez starred in an open showcase in front of a group of scouts that included representatives from the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, D-backs, Padres, and Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. The Marlins did not attend the workout.

Alvarez defected from Cuba last summer and later played professionally in Vera Cruz, Mexico. The 6-foot-2, 190 pound can play all three outfield positions and has impressed Major League scouts with his above-average arm.

Because Alvarez is at least 23 years old and has played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league, he is not subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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