Walt Jocketty just announced (Sheldon) that the Cincinnati Reds have signed 24-year-old Raisel Iglesias, a right-handed relief pitcher from Cuba. The contract is for seven years, through the 2020 season and will pay Iglesias $30 million. Iglesias is considered a shining prospect by his home country.

If he makes it to the Reds bullpen, at 5’11″, 165 pounds, Iglesias will be difficult to confuse with relievers Logan Ondrusek, Jonathan Broxton and Jumbo Diaz. Compare Iglesias in size to Mike Leake (5’10”; 190 pounds) and Johnny Cueto (5’11”; 215 pounds).

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Iglesias will also have a couple teammates who speak his language. Aroldis Chapman and Brayan Peña are fellow Cubans on the 25-man roster. Iglesias joins the growing list of players from the Communist island who are finding their way into major league organizations. Jose Abreu (White Sox), Yeonis Cespedes (Athletics) and Yasiel Puig (Dodgers) are prominent recent examples.

Record in Cuba

Iglesias was primarily a relief pitcher, playing in the top Cuban league. He throws two pitches a 92-95 mph fastball and a variable, sweeping breaking ball in the 76-81 mph range that he uses for swing-and-miss strikeouts.

In the first half of his 2012-13 season, Iglesias made two starts in 15 appearances with a glittering 1.68 ERA. Over 53 2/3 innings, he had 50 strikeouts and 20 walks. That’s the good news.

However, in the second half of the season, Iglesias didn’t pitch as well, with a 5.59 ERA and 24/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 relief appearances. (Full stats in Cuba). As with most young pitchers, control could be an issue early. During the 2011-12 season, Iglesias walked 54 batters in 76 2/3 innings.

International Performances

Scouts have had three opportunities to see Iglesias pitch outside of Cuba in the past two years.

The first was his impressive performance for the Cuban team in the World Baseball Classic last March. Iglesias appeared in five of Cuba’s six games, earning the team’s only save. He recorded six strikeouts in 4.2 innings. He gave up three walks and three hits. Aroldis Chapman pitched (as a starter) for the Cuban team in the 2009 WBC.

Next, Iglesias was a member of the Cuban team that visited the United States last July for a five-game friendship series against the U.S. college national team. Iglesias pitched well, allowing only one hit and no walks, with five strikeouts in five strikeout innings. Here’s a video from Baseball America of Iglesias pitching in that series.

Jim Schlossnagle, the head coach of the U.S. team, said of Iglesias, “He’s lean, has a ridiculously loose arm and pounded the strike zone. He was the guy where you’re like ‘Let’s find a way to get a lead before they get to this guy.’” Schlossnagle was named National Coach of the Year in 2010 while managing TCU, a team he just took to the college World Series.

Finally, Iglesias worked out for major league teams in Haiti on May 30. The Reds were one of the teams (Rosecrans) in attendance. One other major league team that was interested in Iglesias was the Boston Red Sox according to a report by Peter Gammons.

Defection

More than 200 baseball players have defected from Cuba since 1991. The sleazy and often dangerous process is the byproduct of the ongoing adversarial relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba was implemented by the Eisenhower administration in 1960 and is still law. It prohibits transactions involving Cuban nationals until the defectors establish permanent residence outside of Cuba. Major League Baseball has a similar rule. If a Cuban player comes directly to the U.S. he is subject to the rules of the amateur draft that limit salaries and signing bonuses.

Because of those policies, cigars aren’t the only commodities smuggled out of Cuba. It’s an open secret that human traffickers track down baseball players who are willing to defect, enable their escape and sell them to third party sports agents. As you’d guess, this creates an incredibly dangerous situation for the young defectors. Players won’t talk about the smuggling networks after the fact for fear of reprisal against other players, friends or relatives.

Aroldis Chapman escaped from the Cuban national team when they were traveling in the Netherlands and he quickly became a resident of the European micro-nation of Andorra. Months later he signed with the Reds for $30 million.

In the case of Raisel Iglesias, he first attempted to defect in September of 2013 but was arrested by the police after being forced out of hiding due to dehydration from spending a week in the mountains. Iglesias was given a one-year suspension from baseball. But he attempted another escape a little more than a month later and this time successfully made it to Mexico where he now resides.

Clearance by the United States Office of Foreign Asset Control is the final step in the process before the player can sign.

Future with the Reds

How should the Reds use Raisel Iglesias?

Many scouts feel Iglesias could help a major league team in a pennant race this year as a relief pitcher, perhaps after a month in AAA. It goes without saying that the Reds could use an effective arm in the bullpen.

The other course would be for the Reds to send him to Double-A and begin teaching him to develop a third pitch and turn him into a starter. With another weapon to go along with his fastball and breaking ball, signing Iglesias could be an even bigger coup for the Reds’ front office. Walt Jocketty said today that he thought Iglesias could be a starter.

Or the Reds could use Iglesais in his familiar bullpen role this year and begin training him as a starter next season. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

In either case, the consensus view is that Iglesias will likely experience rapid improvement after receiving instruction by MLB pitching coaches. “As he gets bigger and stronger, he could be in the mid-to-upper 90s,” said Schlossnagle.

 

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

Join the conversation! 34 Comments

  1. Great, another cuban to misuse. Maybe they learned from their mistake.

  2. Just in support of your comment about how awful the defection process can be, here’s a great piece on Yasiel Puig’s defection from Cuba that was published in April. Amazing read, and scary stuff. http://www.lamag.com/features/2014/04/13/escape-from-cuba-yasiel-puigs-untold-journey-to-the-dodgers

  3. Well, if he’s going to benefit from having Cuban teammates, he’ll have to be on the major league roster for now, no? And everybody knows we need the help. That’s a lotta dough for a minor leaguer.

    My feeling is, with Price now at the helm, we can expect that if the kid should be a starter next year, he will be.

    • Aroldis didn’t go straight to the majors either. Him going to AA/AAA isn’t indicative of him being “a minor leaguer”.

  4. If he is turned into a starter I would be shocked. It’d also be kind of funny if he was a reliever turned starter while Chapman has been the opposite. There really doesn’t seem to be a ton of info on him outside of what was posted here.

    • (and to John below:) Excellent writeup by Steve and Redleg Nation. Even posters on the Reds MLB site are referencing this article as the place to go.

  5. First of all, GREAT article. I was looking for more context on this guy when I got the breaking news notification on my phone. (Will he be here now? What’s his story? etc.) The Enquirer didn’t have it. RLN did. I’m not surprised, but that’s a lot to put together quickly.

    Second, I’d put him in the bullpen this year. This is a critical needs approach. Pieces are starting to come into place, but the bullpen is still a glaring weakness. Seven years, $30 million still seems a substantial commitment (again) for just a bullpen arm. So I really hope they’re thinking about transitioning him.

    But right now, the Reds have… dare I say… some momentum heading into the halfway put. Put him in AAA for two weeks and get him up here.

  6. Hopefully they plan on making him a starter. That’s a lot of money to continue pouring into the bullpen with a lot of starters becoming free agents in the near future.

    • I agree, but it’s hard to know how to value these guys.

      If you think about him as a really good relief prospect in AAA, then there’s no way that the Reds would ever end up paying him $30mil over their 6 years of team control. Look at Sam LeCure. He put up three really nice seasons for the Reds and it got him a 2-year, $3mil deal after playing for league minimum.

      But if you think about him like an elite free agent reliever, then those guys often get $10mil per year, or close to it. So paying $4mil per year for him is actually a bargain.

    • get him to the Bats asap..they need the help!!

  7. “Iglesias will also have a couple teammates who speak his language. Aroldis Chapman and Brayan Peña are fellow Cubans on the 25-man roster. Iglesias joins the growing list of players from the Communist island who are finding their way into major league organizations.”

    Just one thing… I don’t think they’re speaking Cubanese. 🙂
    There’s plenty of guys on the roster not from Cuba who also “speak his language.”

    • Yeah, while there are differences in dialect, I was using that phrase metaphorically, referring more generally to making him feel at home on the team.

      • It was also just a joke.

      • It is a good point no need to justify, it would be like an American going to play baseball or soccer in eastern Europe and thinking that the American should be happy cause there is another guy from Canada or South Africa on the team

    • It’s not just language, it’s culture. Dominican culture is not Cuban culture.

      Have you ever been to an English speaking country which is not America? If you have you’d know what SM meant.

      • Yeah, I’ve lived abroad in several countries — mostly none English-speaking ones and traveled broadly. So yeah, I think I get it… but thanks for the tutorial.

        That said, my language of choice is Russian, but a quick Google reveals that there’s the “Caribbean dialect” of Spanish, which I’m still pretty sure covers Cuba and most of the other Spanish-speaking nationalities on the team.

        So maybe first recognize it’s just a joke. But second, come back a little stronger.

        • I am a Border Patrol Agent and work with a lot of guys from Puerto Rico. There is a lot of miscommunication between them and people from Mexico and Central America due to dialect differences (especially those from Central America since they speak something of a hybrid between Spanish and native Aztec languages). I am not a native Spanish speaker, so I learned the proper Castillian (Spain) Spanish and I also find it difficult to speak to people from the islands, especially Cubans because they have been isolated since the 60’s and have developed such a strong dialect it is barely even Spanish.

  8. He’s strictly a two-pitch pitcher right now, mostly fastball. The Reds are saying they think he can be a starter – that may be, and I certainly hope they try it eventually. But that seems like a bit of a project. If Iglesias is going to help the Reds in ’14 it will be in the bullpen. As I wrote in the post, my guess is this year in the pen, then see if he can start next year. What could go wrong with that?

    • Ugh…Even if this was a move to solidify the pen long term…Ugh…This organization is flush with starting pitchers right now. Have to wonder if this is the writing on the wall for Cueto.

      • It might be, but WJ correctly says (I paraphrase) that you can’t have too much starting pitching in your system. The most fragile and valuable commodity. I did read that he has a change and and another breaking pitch, both being worked on.

    • Maybe they are looking for some insurance with Simon. He hasn’t started in years and he wasn’t, I think, the long term plan for the season. Do we really think Simon can make it 200+ innings? Cingranni should have been that insurance but that seems to be falling apart as well.

  9. Hola y bienvenidos senor Raisel.

    • Agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments.

      BTW on a Windows computer, ALT+0241 should get you ‘ñ’ as in señor. However the text entry engine on this site is very cranky so best to use the character mapper and paste it in, Other OSes no doubt have similar facilities.

  10. 7 ears at 30 million, not overaly bad…

  11. I see no reason that he cannot be in the pen this year. If he is at AAA, he can still develop a third pitch. Maybe have him start at AAA or AA to get some innings in, and work on the third pitch at the same time. It is not like we can overwork him halfway into the season.
    Starting would be like we condition Chapman and Simon in Spring Training.

    Then if we need to call him up and he is worthy, he helps pull the rope.

    If not, he is pitching every 5th day in the minors for the future.

    I have no issue spending $30 mil for this. Chapman is a bargain today….

  12. Peter Bjarkman (http://www.bjarkman.com/) was just on the WLW. Bjarkman has seen Iglesias more than anyone else. He thinks he’s much more of a “pitcher” than a thrower, as Chapman was when he arrived. He believes he’s the best pitching prospect coming out of Cuba. But he cautions that he’s never been anything but a reliever.

    For what it’s worth, he pretty high on the kid. He’s not physically ready to start, but he seems to have the mentality.

    Jocketty hopes to see him pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

    Don’t think there’s any chance he pitches in Cincinnati this year.

  13. If anything at all I think this shows the Reds hands for 2015. If you look at all the starting pitching that we have at AA Pensacola, from what I have read most prospects at the AA level in this generation are nearly majorly league ready and we have them working on one or two specifics to take them over the hump. One of the specifics could be a simple as a log jam at AAA and the major league level.
    I see this as a tell tale sign that the Reds intend to be trading and not resigning Cueto and Latos. Simon is a huge unknown and I think that he is essentially increasing his trade and team value with each and every outing. Leake I think we will sign long term when the time is right. He is the best #5 starting pitcher in baseball and to be honest his fastball is closing in on Gred Maddux territory. So yeah I think Leake out of all those other pitchers is going to have a low injury kind of a career and be a steadfast dependable arm for years to come.
    Let us say that the Reds trade in the off season Cueto, Latos, and Simon. or if we wait till near the end of the trading deadline in 2015. The Reds could rake in a bounty of hard hitters and we would still have a major league staff with the likes of Stephenson, Lively, and possibly Chapman joining Bailey and Leake in the rotation.

    • I don’t disagree that this is their plan, and I love Mike Leake, but I think it’s a bit much to say his fastball is closing in on Greg Maddux’s fastball. He’ll never get the all the calls that Maddux got, and some days, he just doesn’t have the pinpoint control. Don’t get me wrong, some days, he’s brilliant with his control, but Maddux was on a different level. Look up those stats. Pretty impressive.

  14. Walt Jocketty collects relief pitchers like soccer moms collected beanie babies in the 90s. “This things are going to be worth a ton someday!”

  15. His wind-up looks like a RH version of Chapman’s.

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About Steve Mancuso

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

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