Yankees tracking Cuban pitching star who defected in March

Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodriguez at WBC

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The New York Yankees are among several MLB teams that are closely monitoring Cuban pitching star Yariel Rodriguez. The free-agent right-handed pitcher defected from Cuba in March this year and secured a release from the Chunichi Dragons in Nippon Professional Baseball last week.

Reports indicate that fifteen different clubs, including the Pirates, Giants, Reds, Rays, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Twins, Astros, Padres, and Phillies, were present to scout the free agent during his workout on Tuesday, as confirmed by Francys Romero. The Cuban pitcher showcased an impressive performance.

Who is Yariel Rodriguez

The Cuban pitcher played in the Cuban National Series from 2015 to 2020 and showcased his pitching skills in Cuba before embarking on his journey to Japan. RodrĂ­guez also represented Cuba in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

The 26-year-old Cuban had attempted to secure an MLB contract in March of this year, but the Dragons asserted that their contract with him was still in effect. In March 2023, he defected and dedicated his time to training in the Dominican Republic.

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In the 2022 season with the Dragons, the Cuban delivered impressive stats, recording a remarkable 1.15 ERA with 60 strikeouts across 54 2/3 innings of relief pitching. During this time, he managed to keep his opponents from hitting any home runs.

He, who was in the first year of a two-year contract, represented Cuba in the World Baseball Classic in March but did not return after the tournament. The Chunichi Dragons granted Yariel Rodriguez free agency on Friday, as the Cuban right-hander had not played the entire season and left the club without prior notice.

The Cuban defection

International media outlets reported on Rodriguez’s defection from Cuba and his intention to make a move to MLB this year. Nevertheless, Chunichi placed the Cuban on Nippon Professional Baseball’s restricted list, preventing him from signing with MLB.

Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodriguez at WBC
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Rodriguez secured 45 holds in 56 games and attained six wins as a reliever last year, which led to him receiving top recognition among Central League middle relievers.

Yariel Rodriguez played a crucial role for Cuba during the World Baseball Classic. Despite their quarterfinal loss to the United States, the Cuban side had a remarkable run, with Rodriguez’s outstanding performance out of the bullpen being a significant contributor.

Upon their return to Cuba following the tournament, pitcher Ivan Prieto became the first player to defect after the WBC. In March, Yariel Rodriguez followed him. Ivan Prieto chose to remain in the Dominican Republic after the team’s departure, while Yariel Rodriguez’s defection took place at a later time, leading him to the Dominican Republic, one of the world’s major baseball countries.

Yariel Rodriguez’s defection from Cuba is a notable instance of a player leaving their home country to play baseball elsewhere, often considered illegal by Cuban authorities. Historically, this was the primary method for Cuban players to join Major League Baseball. Notable players like Luis Robert and Jose Abreu also had to defect in order to pursue careers in the major leagues.

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