Sierra among Cuban players aiming for Majors
Promising right-hander, others waiting to be declared free agents
There's a Cuban pitcher throwing 90-mph fastballs almost 4,000 miles away, just off the coast of Africa, and he's making his way toward the United States.
Right-hander Carlos Sierra, 20, is pitching in the Canary Islands for the Tenerife Marlins in the Division de Honor de Beisbol, the top baseball league in Spain. He could be starring in a showcase in Florida by the middle of next month.
In addition to his fastball -- thrown at three different angles -- Sierra also throws a slider, a curve, and a circle-change. He played three seasons for Sancti Spíritus in Cuba's Serie Nacional and for the island's 16-and-under and 18-and-under national teams, but his biggest pitch won't come for a few more weeks.
Because of his age and experience, Sierra will be subject to the international signing guidelines when he becomes eligible to sign, either during the current international signing period or the next period that starts on July 2. He is still waiting to be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball.
Unlike many Cuban players who must defect the island in order to establish residency outside of Cuba and the United States, the first step in becoming eligible to sign with a Major League team, Sierra was granted Spanish citizenship due to his grandfather's roots. He left Cuba legally, flying from Havana to Madrid in February.
Sierra isn't the only player from Cuba that will be seeking a contract in the coming months.
There's also Yadier Alvarez, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound right-handed pitcher from Matanzas. Alvarez, 18, didn't have any professional experience in Cuba's top league, but he remains one of the most popular players on the Cuban market.
The pitcher is subject to the international signing guidelines, but it appears he won't be able to sign with a Major League team until the next signing period because he did not register in time to be eligible during the current period. Alvarez's representatives are seeking a waiver that would allow him to sign, but it's unclear if he will be granted the exception or when he will be declared a free agent.
What's certain is that Alvarez established residency in Haiti during the first week of March, and he petitioned Major League Baseball for free agency a week later.
Alvarez is raw and could use some polish, particularly with his command, but he has a fastball that touches 98 mph with a plus slider and an above-average changeup.
Second baseman Andy Ibanez, 21, who is also subject to international signing guidelines, is eligible to sign and currently working out in Florida. He is on track for a showcase in the Miami area sometime this month.
It's unclear if Ibanez will sign during the current signing period or wait until the next one. Many scouts think Ibanez is a Minor League season or two away from contributing on the Major League level.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound infielder starred for the island's 16-and-under and 18-and-under national teams, and later for Isla De La Juventud in Serie Nacional. Ibanez was also the youngest player on Cuba's 2013 World Baseball Classic roster.
Right-handed pitcher Jorge Hernandez, 24, who has been working out in the Dominican Republic for the last several months, is also eligible to sign.
Hernandez, who left Cuba for Haiti in November 2013, throws fastballs in the low to mid-90s mph at multiple angles with a slider and curveball. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound hurler has already worked out for several teams and has a showcase scheduled for Sunday at Tampa Bay's facility in the Dominican Republic.
Overall, Hernandez went 31-16 with a 4.10 ERA with 205 strikeouts and 185 walks in six seasons for Cienfuegos in Serie Nacional play. He also traveled with the Cuban national team in 2012 and '13.
Add Alejandro Ortiz, 25, to the list of Cuban players eligible to sign. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Ortiz saw action in the middle of the infield and in the outfield for Isla de la Juventud during his five seasons in Serie Nacional, but some scouts view him as a center fielder because of his speed and arm strength. Ortiz has a showcase on April 16 at a facility in the Dominican Republic to be determined.
Ortiz's best season came in 2013 when he hit .327 with nine doubles and eight triples in 74 games.
Other Cuban players to watch:
Ariel Miranda, left-handed pitcher
Vladimir Gutierrez, right-handed pitcher
Jorge Despaigne, right-handed pitcher
Guillermo Heredia, center fielder
Angel Miguel Fernandez, infielder
Diosdany Castillo, right-handed pitcher
Yasmany Hernandez, left-handed pitcher
Yolian Cerse, second base
Lazaro Alonso, first base
Pedro Luis Marquez, outfielder