A top prospect from Cuba has left the island and is poised to shake up the international signing period that starts Wednesday.
Yoan Moncada, 19, a switch-hitting infielder from the Cuban city of Cienfuegos, left the country legally earlier this month and is seeking residency in a country outside of the United States, the first step to becoming eligible for free agency, according to an industry source. Once Moncada establishes residency, the teenager must petition Major League Baseball for free agency and be unblocked by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before he can come into a final agreement with a club.
While many Cuban players are known to leave the island in late-night escapes or defect from the Cuban national team during an international tournament, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Moncada was granted his release from his Serie Nacional Cienfuegos team earlier this year and cleared by Cuba's National Baseball Commission. He was granted a visa and a passport by the Cuban government and left on an airplane.
He is believed to be in the Dominican Republic or Mexico.
Moncada is expected to sign this year and will be subjected to the international signing guidelines because he is under 23 and has not played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons. The 2014-15 international signing period officially starts on Wednesday, but several agreements have been in place for several months. Moncada, who also plays shortstop and third base, starred for Cuba's top team of 15- and 16-year-olds and made a name for himself at the U-16 IBAF World Baseball Championships in Mexico.
He made his debut for Cienfuegos at age 17 and hit .277 during parts of two seasons. He played alongside White Sox slugger Jose Abreu and Dodgers infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena.
Moncada was also teammates with Abreu, Arruebarrena and other notable Cuban players like Yulieski Gourriel, Alfredo Despaigne and Jose Miguel Fernandez on Cuba's national team during the 2013 World Port Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Raisel Iglesias, who recently signed a seven-year, $27 million deal with the Reds, was also one of Moncada's teammates.
Additionally, Moncada was on Cuba's preliminary roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.