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In November, Ben Badler of Baseball America reported that shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena had left Cuba with the hope of signing with a major-league team.
Because he's 23 years old and played in Cuba's Serie Nacional for six seasons, Arruebarruena will not be subject to the international bonus pools. MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez also notes that the player has already established residency in Haiti but has not yet been cleared to sign by the United States' Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and MLB.
Regarded as the premier defensive shortstop in the Serie Nacional, Arruebarruena also handled the position for the Cuban national team and played in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Badler has only great things to say about his defensive prowess:
At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Arruebarruena has clean hands, quick actions and good body control. He’s a below-average runner, but his quick first step and instincts give him good range. He has a quick transfer and a plus-plus arm with accuracy, which allows him to make throws from deep in the hole and turn 4-6-3 double plays with ease. His awareness in the field is advanced and he’s shown the ability to make the barehanded play look routine and make strong throws from different angles. Scouts have called Arruebarruena a magician in the field, and if he can hit enough to be an everyday major league shortstop, he has the potential to win a Gold Glove.
While there's no doubt that Arruebarruena's defense will translate in the major leagues, the same can't be said about the 23-year-old's bat, regardless of what his career numbers in Cuba suggest.
Arruebarruena enjoyed a breakout season at the plate in 2011-12, batting .320/.367/.520 with eight home runs and a 39-19 strikeout-to-walk rate in 306 plate appearances.
The right-hander hitter's lack of physical strength is noticeable in the length of his swing and inefficient bat path to the ball. His pitch recognition is also concerning; he struggles to pick up spin out of the pitcher's hand and frequently overcommits his weight to the front side. As a result, Arruebarruena chases too many offerings outside the strike zone and tries to yank the ball to the pull side when he does get something in the zone.
Scouts from several major-league teams attended a showcase in the Dominican Republic in December to get a firsthand look at Arruebarruena.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo spoke with a scout who was on hand:
From his evaluation, it sounds like he will certainly bring some Major League-caliber skills to a team, but he doesn’t see him as a true impact player, like a Cespedes, Puig or Chapman. Here’s his thoughts on what he’s seen of Arruebarruena:
“He’s what you’ve been reading. He’s a very good defensive player. His glove is very close to the big leagues. The bat, you kind of think he’s one of those guys who’ll bat down in the order. He can really play shortstop, if that’s the type of player you’re interested in. He’ll be a quality defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues, but you wonder if he’s going to hit. Some of the others who have come recently – Jose Iglesias, Adeiny Hechavarria — I felt more confident about the bat. We’ll have to hear what the money is. This isn’t like watching Aroldis Chapman or Yeonis Cespedes. You’re not going to hear from 15 teams. You’ll hear from teams that are hurting a little bit at shortstop.”
No organization needs a shortstop more than the New York Mets. So, it didn’t come as a surprise to learn they were one of the teams represented at the Dominican Republic event.