Born in on April Fool's Day in 1990, Raicel Iglesias is a right-handed pitcher who, until recently, played for Isla de la Juventud during the annual Serie Nacional and the Cuban National Team during international competitions. As his team began preparing for the 53rd Serie Nacional de Cuba, Iglesias failed to report to camp. According to Cuban exile website networks, the 23-year-old pitcher left his country by boat on Saturday, September 21st, and will be seeking asylum and permanent residency in a nearby Caribbean country, in the hopes of playing baseball in America.
Standing in at 5'11" and 165 pounds, the Cuban has primarily been used as a reliever in his young baseball career. According to Yasel Porto, among the premier baseball observers in Cuba, "Raicel Iglesias is a good prospect, perhaps the best of all [Cuban pitchers] under 23 years old".
52nd Serie Nacional
51st Serie Nacional
50th Serie Nacional
Iglesias sports a fastball that sits in the low 90s. According to Jim Schlossnagle, a coach on Team USA that has seen the right-hander, "he's a guy that, as he gets bigger and stronger, could be in the mid-to-upper 90s." His bread-and-butter pitch is his slider, a breaking ball that seems to be a real plus pitch. He can adjust the speed and break of the pitch to make it faster or slower, tighter or more sweeping; in effect, this gives the youngster multiple off-speed offerings even though they are all sliders.
While there is promise, there is also a lot of room for improvement. Outside of the 52nd Serie Nacional, Iglesias hadn't really seen all that much success. More than anything, his career had been marked by a degree of wildness that regularly saw him among the tournament leaders in walks allowed. Part of this is likely the lack of institutionalized development on the part of Cuban baseball. There are no farm systems where players face other aspiring prospects while their flaws are hammered out. A player who has the skill, mettle, and desire to play baseball is thrown into the fire, so to speak, if his manager believes he can at least tread water.
All of this leads me to believe that, if signed by a Major League Baseball team, he would be assigned to one of their MiLB affiliates instead of immediately breaking camp with the team. Raicel participated in the 2013 WBC as a member of the Cuban National Team. During the competition, he appeared in five games, earning the save in one, pitching a total of 4.2 innings. He posted a 3.86 ERA, striking out six, walking three, and hitting a batter.
While this performance against some of the best competition the world has to offer wasn't necessarily bad, it wasn't necessarily good, either. Contrast to his performance during a mid August friendship tournament against the U.S. Collegiate National Team, where he threw five scoreless innings in three relief appearances, striking out five, walking none, and allowing only one hit. Or his performance in the World Port Tournament, where he threw 3.2 scoreless innings in three relief appearances, striking out seven, walking none, and allowing only two hits. Against stiffer competition, Iglesias is mildly efficient but nothing special. Against lesser competition, Iglesias' natural talent is on display. By honing that talent further, the young right-hander might be able to shine against better competition as well.
Does He Make Sense For The Mets?
For the first time in a long time, the Mets' bullpen isn't a glaring team weakness. Until his season ended prematurely with injury, Bobby Parnell was showing no problems handling closer duties. LaTroy Hawkins, a free agent who might be re-signed for the 2014, has done an admirable job as Parnell's replacement. In the shadows is recently acquired flamethrower Vic Black, who has all the talent in the world to be a high-leverage reliever. A wild card in the equation is Jeurys Famila, who in short spurts over the last few seasons, flashed an enormous amount of promise in between periods of ineffectiveness and injury.
Any additions to the bullpen would have to represent sure-fire upgrades, as the peripheral bullpen pieces surrounding those above-mentioned stalwarts can already easily be found in-house. As mentioned, Raicel Iglesias does not represent an upgrade at the current time, so in the short term, signing the Cuban pitcher would not have much of an impact on the team, assuming he doesn't pull a Puig and show immediately display an extreme amount unforeseen ability.
He, of course, would have potential over the long term. While he might not theoretically be able to help the big league team in 2014, or 2015, he might be able to for 2016 and beyond. This brings up questions that I cannot answer, as there are no real answers, but have to be considered: Are the Mets in a position to pay a minor leaguer a few million dollars, or is that money better spent on a player at the MLB level? Given the number of pitching prospects that are likely to debut in the coming years that will be consigned to the bullpen for various reasons, do the Mets want to purchase a relief prospect?
The youngster isn't likely to receive the massive monetary amounts that other recent Cuban defectors have received, but because of his relatively young age, I wouldn't be surprised if Raicel did get a relatively long-term contract. Aroldis Chapman, a bit younger than Iglesias is, signed a five year contract with the Cincinnati Reds, with a player option for a sixth year. Danys Baez, 22 when he signed with the Cleveland Indians, signed a four-year deal with the team in 1999. I would expect Iglesias' contract to be somewhere in that window.