Cuban superstar SS Erisbel Arruebarruena defects, looking for MLB contract

Koji Watanabe

Known for his outstanding defensive skills, there are questions as to whether he can hit well enough to stick in the majors.

Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena has defected and established residence in Haiti, reports Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. He is hoping to sign with an MLB team this offseason.

Arruebarruena, the top shortstop in Cuba, was a member of Cienfuegos, the same team for which both Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu played. Because the 23-year-old has played for six seasons in the top Cuban division, he will not be subject to MLB's international bonus pools, leaving him open to signing a big contract as an unrestricted free agent.

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Unlike many Cuban defectors, Arruebarruena is much more heralded for his defense than his offense. Though he is not particularly fast, he has fantastic instincts and a good first step, says Ben Badler of Baseball America.

His arm at shortstop is outstanding, allowing him to make difficult throws across the diamond. Defensively, he has drawn comparisons to fellow Cuban Jose Iglesias, who currently plays with the Tigers.

Arruebarruena is even more of a question mark at the plate than Iglesias, however. He hit .275/.324/.366 in the first half of the most recent Cuban season before earning a .317/.415/.495 line in the second half. He posted an 887 OPS in the 2011-12 season. Scouts say he has a long swing and struggles with breaking balls and pitch recognition. It's possible he may not even be someone who can get on base at a .300 clip in the majors.

He had been suspended from Cienfuegos for all of the 2013-14 baseball season in October. One source said the suspension was due to "serious indiscipline in training" relating to missing a team practice. However, the Havana Times speculates the year-long suspension was due to an attempt to illegally leave the country in September. Pitcher Raciel Iglesias was suspended for a year after being caught in his first attempt to leave Cuba. He, too, has successfully defected and hopes to play in the MLB.

Teams that could figure to be in play for Arruebarruena are the Yankees, Marlins and Dodgers, among others. New York does not have a long-term option at shortstop when Derek Jeter retires while both the Marlins and Dodgers have been active in the Cuban market. Other teams figure to get in the mix when they are better able to scout the defensive wizard.

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