Most defectors tend to be older -- think Jose Contreras or Orlando Hernandez -- but younger players have been streaming across the border recently. You can now add 17-year-old Yasiel Balaguer to that list, who recently defected to Nicaragua.
"The number of young players who decide to come and try out for the Majors seems to keep growing by the day,'' agent Carlos Pérez said. "They realize that the age factor is of major importance.''At such an early age, Balaguer could be coveted especially if the Miami Herald is correct in what its heard of Balaguer's talent.
The center fielder is a "natural leadoff batter and an explosive baserunner, is an extraordinary defensive player because of his arm, and displays offensive power," Jorge Ebro writes.
However, John Manuel of Baseball America says that BA's own reports on Balaguer "are modest."
Balaguer played on the Cuban team that played in the World Junior Baseball Championship in Canada this past summer. One of his teammates was supposed to be Marcos Barrios, but he skipped the tournament in order to defect. He is currently working through the process to declare international free agency.
The two are following in the footsteps of other players who defected from Cuba while in Canada in 2008 -- Jose Iglesias and Noel Argüelles. The 20- and 19-year-old, respectively, signed multimillion deals with baseball teams.
"All these cases are very similar,'' Pérez said. "The bottom line is that when it comes to the Major Leagues, for Cuban baseball players time is golden.''
-- Evan Brunell
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