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Cubans Diaz, Despaigne show skills at Padres camp

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Infielder Aledmys Diaz and right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne put on their white World Baseball Classic jerseys with "Cuba" written in cursive across the chest, looked at each other in the dugout of Field No. 1 and took another big step forward in their long journey from Cuba to the Major Leagues.

Diaz and Despaigne, wearing their famous uniforms, showcased their skills during a 90-minute open workout in front of more than 50 scouts on a Padres practice field at the Peoria Sports Complex on Thursday morning. Both are hoping to sign with a big league team by the end of the month.

"This was an important day for my career," Diaz, 23, said. "It's every kid's dream to play in the Major Leagues, and I feel like I'm close to fulfilling that dream. I'm really grateful for everyone that came out to see us today."

Diaz kicked off the workout with timed sprints to first base. He later fielded ground balls at shortstop and second base. He took batting practice, then faced former Major League pitcher Michael Wuertz.

Despaigne, 26, threw an assortment of cut fastballs, changeups and sliders during his 35-pitch session. His fastball hovered between 92 mph and 94 mph and topped out at 95.

"I hope I can have half the career that [Orlando Hernandez] had, because he's been my idol since I was a child, but like him, I throw from a lot of different angles," Despaigne said. "I think I was able to do what I wanted to do today, and I'm hopeful the scouts that came are satisfied with what they saw."

Diaz has private workouts scheduled with teams starting this weekend in Florida and expects to sign a Major League contract sometime next week. Despaigne will be featured in an open showcase on Saturday in Port Charlotte, Fla., and is optimistic he'll be in a camp by the beginning of March.

"I thought it was a good turnout, and San Diego did a good job of accommodating us here," said Jaime Torres, who represents both players. "I'm pleased with how they performed. We'd like to have Diaz signed by the end of the month so we can process his work visa and have him participate in Spring Training games. We'll field offers shortly on Despaigne."

Diaz and Despaigne are already well traveled.

Diaz defected in the summer of 2012 during a tournament in the Netherlands and established residency in Mexico. Despaigne defected during a tournament in Europe last summer, established residency in Spain and began working out in Mexico.

Last summer, Major League Baseball declared Diaz ineligible until Feb. 19 of this year after he presented a false birth date in his paperwork. He'd declared that he was born on Jan. 8, 1990, which would have made him exempt from signing under the international guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the date proved to be inaccurate.

The rules regarding Cuban players are complex.

Any defector who wants to do business with an American company must establish residency outside Cuba and the U.S., a process that can take several months, depending on the country of residence. Cuban players must also petition MLB to become free agents and be unblocked by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control before they can enter into a contract. Unblocking can take several weeks.

Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are exempt from the international signing guidelines, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to sign with a big league club.

Last summer the Cuban government instituted a program that allows its athletes to participate in leagues outside the country. Alfredo Despaigne, a three-time MVP in La Serie Nacional and a national team star (no relation to Odrisamer), played in Mexico and returned after 33 games. The new guidelines do not make it easier for Cubans to play in the U.S. because of the American embargo on that country.

"There is a lot of talent in Cuba, and they are finally realizing that their potential can be realized here in the U.S.," Torres said. "Despite the Cuban government giving them permission to play in a lot of different leagues, these guys know there are restrictions that come with it, and more players are making the tough decision to leave Cuba."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.
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