Cuban outfielder Puig defects
Workout for Major League scouts expected this week
The latest Cuban prospect expected to hit the market just might be the most coveted young outfielder to leave the island in the last 12 months.
Outfielder Yasel Puig, 21, has defected from Cuba and is in the process of establishing residency in Mexico, the first step to becoming eligible for free agency, his agent Jaime Torres said.
A showcase for Major League scouts is tentatively scheduled for later this week in Mexico City.
"As of Monday morning, I submitted information to Major League Baseball and the Players Association that he has taken up residency in Mexico and will shortly establish legal permanent residency in Mexico," Torres said. "We should have documentation of his legal permanent residency in Mexico soon and as soon as I have that, I will submit it to Major League Baseball and I hope and expect that he will be declared a free agent immediately."
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Puig is a known commodity in international circles. He played two seasons for Cienfuegos in the island's top league, Cuban National Series (Serie Nacional), and was a member of the country's national team that finished second in the 2011 World Port Tournament in The Netherlands.
"There has not been a player as proven and as young to come to the States from Cuba," Torres said. "It's one thing to come to the United States at 19 or 20 years old with a few at-bats or some experience on a national level but this guy has years of national experience under his belt."
Puig is not as seasoned as fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, a familiar member of Cuba's National team who signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's in February, but he has more experience on the country's highest level than outfielder Jorge Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs last week.
Soler made a name for himself playing for Cuba's Junior National team and in the country's Junior circuit but saw limited action for Havana in Serie Nacional.
"You have heard the other names because Puig was in Cuba and Soler and Cespedes were out of the country, it's that simple," Torres said. "Before Soler got to the Dominican Republic, very few people knew who he was outside of his Junior experience. Puig played in the Serie Nacional and was projected to be the right fielder for the national team for the upcoming years. Scouts know who Puig is."
Puig hit .276 with five home runs during his first campaign with Cienfuegos in 2008-09 and had a breakout year the next season, hitting .330 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI. He did not play for Cienfuegos during the 2011-12 seasons because he was being disciplined, Torres said.
"He's been planning to leave Cuba for more than a year and I am told he has been caught trying to leave Cuba several times," Torres said. "When he left The Netherlands last year, they suspected he was going to defect and he was suspended. He was reinstated to the reserve team for Cienfuegos, basically Triple-A, and then he was caught trying to leave the country again and suspended from the reserve team again."
Puig's value, in addition to his status, is to be determined.
Once he gains residency in Mexico, Major League Baseball can declare him a free agent, but he still must be legally cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign a contract.
He must also sign with a Major League club before July 2, or he will be subject to new CBA guidelines that will limit spending on international prospects to $2.9 million per team without penalty.
Soler was declared a free agent June 2 and signed with Chicago nine days later. Cespedes signed with Oakland 19 days after he was declared a free agent.
"We should all be on the same page by July 2nd in order to have the clubs evaluate him and sign a contract before the new rule kicks in," Torres said. "Under the CBA, if the player receives documentation that he has established residency in a third country he will be declared a free agent immediately just like Cespedes. Cespedes supposedly established residency and the next day he was declared a free agent. I expect the same thing to happen with Yasel Puig."
It's already been a busy year for Cuban prospects. In addition to the signings of Cespedes and Soler, pitchers Armando Rivero and Omar Luis Rodriguez, along with Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia were also declared free agents at the beginning of the month when Soler became available.
Luis Rodriguez, like Puig, must sign before July 2 or be subjected to the new CBA rules.