Star Cuban infielder Fernandez defects
Heralded Cuban baseball star Jose Miguel Fernandez has started his journey to the Major Leagues.
According to industry sources, Fernandez, 27, left Cuba earlier this week and was in transit when the first reports of his departure surfaced via Baseball America. The infielder made his way to Haiti, and he will begin to seek residency there -- the first step to become eligible to sign with a Major League club. Fernandez is expected to train in the Dominican Republic and is seeking representation.
The left-handed-hitting Fernandez played seven seasons for Matanzas in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top league, and was a member of the country's national team. He also hit .524 with three doubles and six RBIs for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. However, rust could be an issue. Fernandez was suspended for attempting to defect late last year, and he did not play in 2015. However, Fernandez is still considered a Major League-ready second baseman because of his overall skill set.
Because of his age and experience, Fernandez will not be subject to the international signing guidelines, and he could sign as an unrestricted free agent when Major League Baseball declares him eligible to sign, though it's unclear when that will be.
The process to become eligible usually takes several months. It's also worth noting that more than 100 players from Cuba have left the island in the past year, and many of those players have filed paperwork to be vetted by Major League Baseball while using Haiti as a primary residence. Those numbers could grow in the future, given the recent news that Ecuador -- once a popular landing spot for Cuban baseball prospects looking to leave Cuba on an airplane -- now requires a visa to enter the country.
Yoan Moncada, the Red Sox's No. 1 prospect, left Cuba for Ecuador last year to avoid leaving in a late-night escape or having to defect from the team during an international tournament. Moncada was the most noteworthy player to use Ecuador as an initial landing spot, and he later established residency in Guatemala.