It may not be long until the next big-name Cuban prospect signs with a major league team.
According to reports from Diario De Cuba and the Havana Times (via MLB Trade Rumors), right-hander Raciel Iglesias has successfully defected from Cuba and is now residing in Mexico, according to CMHS Radio Caibarien's Ibrahim Rojas.
Regarded as one of Cuba's top pitching prospects, Iglesias, 23, originally attempted to defect on Saturday, Sept. 22. But while the Cuba-based website CafeFuerte (via Reuters) claimed that the pitcher had left the island by boat, their report turned out to be erroneous.
Rather, it was later confirmed that Iglesias had actually been detained by Cuban authorities the following Thursday while seeking food and water after hiding in the mountains of Isla de la Juventud for the better part of a week.
However, both Diario De Cuba and the Havana Times are now reporting that Iglesias successfully fled the country by boat on Oct. 9.
Because he's 23 years old and has more than three years of professional experience in Cuba, Iglesias can now sign with a major league team without it counting toward their international bonus pool.
This past season, the right-hander appeared in 15 games (two starts) for Isla de la Juventud of Cuba's Serie Nacional, posting a 1.68 ERA with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 50.2 innings.
Buzz surrounding the right-hander's future in Major League Baseball has steadily increased since his impressive showing for Team Cuba last March in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
In early July, he opened eyes while pitching for the Cuban national team in the World Port Tournament held in the Netherlands. Appearing in three games out of the team's bullpen, Iglesias tallied three saves while allowing only two hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over 3.2 scoreless frames.
Later that month, Iglesias established himself as a legitimate major league prospect when he allowed only one hit with no walks and five strikeouts over five shutout innings during Cuba's five-game, stateside showcase series against the U.S. college national team.
As Ben Badler of Baseball America noted following the series, Iglesias's stuff had improved considerably since his showing in the WBC:
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At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, Iglesias threw 92-95 mph, an increase from the 88-92 mph heater he had in March at the WBC. Igleisas also mixed in a sweepy breaking ball that ranged from 76-81 mph, varying the speed and shape on the pitch to generate a surprising number of swings and misses from Team USA hitters.
With an easy arm action and age on his side, Iglesias should continue to add velocity as he gets stronger. Similarly, both the quality of his breaking ball and overall command stands to improve under the tutelage of a major league pitching coach.
As of now, Iglesias's two-pitch mix has him pegged as a future reliever in the big leagues, just as he's been in Cuba over the last few years.
However, if the organization that ultimately lands Iglesias can maximize his potential and develop him as a starter, then the right-hander could emerge as the biggest steal in this year's class of international free agents.