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Influx of Cuban signees set to help Dodgers

Guerrero excelling in Majors; infielder Olivera, pitcher Fernandez on deck
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- The current Dodgers regime has aggressively pursued Cuban talent to provide Major League-ready replacements for an aging roster and jumpstart a rebuilding farm system.

Encouraged by the initial impact of Yasiel Puig ($42 million contract), the club went all in to outbid for infielders Alex Guerrero ($28 million) and Erisbel Arruebarrena ($25 million).

LOS ANGELES -- The current Dodgers regime has aggressively pursued Cuban talent to provide Major League-ready replacements for an aging roster and jumpstart a rebuilding farm system.

Encouraged by the initial impact of Yasiel Puig ($42 million contract), the club went all in to outbid for infielders Alex Guerrero ($28 million) and Erisbel Arruebarrena ($25 million).

On the horizon are the arrivals of infielder Hector Olivera ($62.5 million) and pitcher Pablo Millan Fernandez ($8 million), whose contracts with the Dodgers were officially announced on Tuesday.

Olivera passed his physical on Monday in Los Angeles and said he expects to begin working out at Camelback Ranch, the club's Spring Training facility, this week. He hopes for a Major League callup in three or four weeks but wants to do what's best for the team.

"This is an extremely proud moment for me, and I'm looking forward to showing everyone the type of player that I am," Olivera said in Spanish to MLB.com. "I'm feeling great and very comfortable in the organization, and now, it's time for me give the best I have, focus on baseball and helping the Dodgers win games. I know I am going to do a good job and continue to put Cuban baseball in a good light like the others who have come before me."

Fernandez is also eager to reward the Dodgers' faith.

"I worked very hard and spent a lot of time in the Dominican Republic preparing for this," Fernandez told MLB.com in Spanish. "I'm going to train and work hard, give it all I can and do all I can to be a successful player. First, I'm going to Arizona, and it's up to the organization to send me where they send me."

Recent political breakthroughs have turned the trickle of often risky defections into an inflow of talented difference-makers, but the Dodgers have learned the hard way that Cuban signings can present a unique set of challenges.

Video: Jesse Sanchez discusses Cuban signings with Russo

"We have to understand that culturally, this is quite a jump, to be in the Cuban environment and then suddenly come to the United States," said Bob Engle, the Dodgers' vice president of international scouting, who signed Guerrero and Arruebarrena. "It's a heck of a transition. Forget the baseball part. I'm just talking about all of the other things involved."

Engle won't take a victory lap with regard to Guerrero. He said the player deserves credit for overcoming the cultural adjustment and proving wrong doubters who wrote him off when he was unable to transfer his tools from shortstop to second base after sitting out a season.

"This was a player who was off for a year," said Engle of Guerrero. "You can't expect someone to come back and hit the ground running and be what we knew he could be. We tend to forget everything they had to go through to get here, things we take for granted. He's been through a lot. It's been frustrating for him."

It seems to have been even more frustrating for Arruebarrena, who has fallen off the radar partly because of attitude issues. An occasional big leaguer last year, he's been sent to extended spring training this year and has already been suspended once, in 2014.

Video: OAK@LAA: Arruebarrena starts smooth double play

"[Arruebarrena is] a different personality, a work in the making," said Engle. "We just have to stick with him, and we will."

Guerrero, though, made the Major League club in a utility role, but his bat has proven so potent -- six homers in 27 games and a 1.051 OPS -- that he has forced his way into a playing rotation. He's been sharing time at third base and left field, the latter at least as long as Carl Crawford is disabled.

When Cuban stars receive huge bonuses to play in the Major Leagues, they are sometimes surprised to find themselves starting out in the Minors. Organizations must manage that disappointment, as well as cultural differences of the game. In Olivera's case, because he's already 30 years old, he may have less patience for Minor League time. His ability to play all the infield positions will probably earn him a roster spot as soon as he's in baseball shape.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. Jesse Sanchez contributed reporting.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Alex Guerrero