Cuba not only lost two out of three Olympic qualifying games and their bid for Tokyo in Florida they lost three key pieces of their baseball program. César Prieto was first as he jumped into a waiting car upon arrival in Miami. Veteran ace hurler Lazaro Blanco announced that he would not be returning to Cuba and has non-baseball plans for a new life in Florida. Another player was due to return to Japan but will not return to Softbank or Cuba as Andy Rodríguez Top Reliever Leaves Cuba.
The loss of Blanco hurts the Granma Alazanes and their hopes of repeating as Champions in the 61st Cuban National Series. Lazaro Blanco was scheduled to join Saltilllo of the Mexican professional league but Blanco will not play in Mexico in 2021. Blanco has been the best hurler for Cuba over the past many years, but might feel he has nothing left to prove in his baseball journey. Prieto and Rodríguez however will both garner much attention from Major League teams. They are both closer to the beginning of their baseball careers.
Andy Rodríguez has very quickly become the top closer in the Cuban National Series. The young righty for Industriales will turn 23 this coming August. Despite the fact he was developing in the Japanese professional system he feels his future is in American Pro baseball. His performance in the 60th National Series gives a great glimpse into his strengths and weaknesses. First Cuban bullpen usage often resembles 1980’s baseball. Rodríguez was used in many different situations as the closer. He wasn’t used exclusively starting the 9th inning with a clean slate. He was used for multiple inning appearances and non-save situations. Overall he was employed as a late inning relief weapon.
2020 saw him post a solid 2.25 ERA in 48 IP. He struck out an impressive by Cuban standard 50 batters . He only gave up 39 hits but struggled with control at points as his 29 walks illustrates. The young hurler sits in the low to mid 90s with his fastball. He also has a strong slider as his secondary offering. Cuba has been slower in adopting newer pitching training methods. The hope is that American methods can easily add velocity to his 93 MPH offering. Also that subtle tweaks might add to his precision.
Cuban pitchers have lagged their batting counterparts in Major League performance over the past decade. However many of these arms were considered bigger projects. Rodríguez heads to the United States as perhaps the most seasoned Cuban National Series thrower with the most upside in quite some time.
The youngster had started 2021 in the Softbank Hawks minor league system. He along with Livan Moinelo and Raidel Martinez all appeared for Cuba in the recent Olympic Qualifier. They represent the most talented young arms in the Cuban system. Rodríguez’s story now more closely resembles Oscar Colas. Leaving a potentially lucrative Japanese opportunity to try his hand in the best baseball league in the world. Speculation over Moinelo and Martinez’s futures or whether they would be inspired to make a similar jump likely moves to the forefront as well.
Andy Rodríguez Top Reliever Leaves Cuba potentially in time for the 2022 International signing period. Also while teams might have money left in their budgets. He will have to establish residency in a third country and be granted free agency status first. The signing period begins January 15th, 2022. Teams typically start with a $6 million dollar budget but those dollars are often quickly alotted and well before the official period. The San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds are two teams that have been more active in signing Cuban arms over the past few years. It will be interesting to see how his market plays out though.