Dodgers sign Cuban defector Erisbel Arruebarrena
PHOENIX — Told the Dodgers signed free-agent shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to a five-year, $25-million contract, Yasiel Puig was flooded with memories of his childhood in Cuba.
Puig and Arruebarrena met as 9-year-olds in Cienfuegos. They played together on various youth teams. Eventually, they became standouts on the Elefantes, their hometown club in Cuba’s top baseball league.
“He was a good friend of mine,” Puig said Saturday. “We were always together.”
They were frequently at each other’s houses. Their fathers were friends.
Puig said he hasn’t spoken to Arruebarrena since he signed with the Dodgers. Arruebarrena, 23, is in the Dominican Republic, waiting to receive a visa that would allow him to enter the United States. Arruebarrena, who played in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, defected from Cuba to Haiti in November.
Puig said the Dodgers will be taking in a slick-fielding shortstop with a strong arm. Puig’s scouting report was similar to the one offered by General Manager Ned Colletti, who described Arruebarrena’s offense as “a work in progress.”
Arruebarrena was a .276 hitter over six seasons in the Cuban league. Over the 70 games he played in the 2012-13 season, he hit .293 with six home runs and 32 runs batted in.
“Now that he’s here, he can train here and work with these coaches,” Puig said. “They’ll be able to help him. He’ll do well.”
Colletti didn’t know when Arruebarrena would be able to report to spring training.
Colletti wouldn’t rule out Arruebarrena playing in the major leagues this season.
The addition of Arruebarrena indicates that if Hanley Ramirez remains with the Dodgers beyond this season, he will probably do so as a third baseman and not a shortstop. Ramirez’s contract expires at the end of the 2014 season.
“He’s open-minded to a change in position at some point in time,” Colletti said of Ramirez.
Arruebarrena is the third Cuban amateur free-agent the Dodgers have signed in the last two years. They signed Puig to a seven-year, $42-million contract in 2012 and Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28-million deal last year.
Puig was excited not only about the increased Cuban presence in the Dodgers clubhouse, but also of how he and Arruebarrena could be reunited soon with former Cienfuegos teammate Jose Abreu.
Abreu signed a six-year, $68-million contract over the off-season with the Chicago White Sox, who share a spring-training complex with the Dodgers.
“I hope we all play well,” Puig said.
The Dodgers have scheduled their first intrasquad game for Sunday.
The teams, named “Team Wills” and “Team Koufax,” were drafted by Matt Kemp and Zack Greinke, respectively.
With the first overall pick, Kemp selected Hanley Ramirez. Kemp also chose Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. Greinke’s selections included Puig, Guerrero and Carl Crawford.
The game will start at 11:30 a.m. local time. Admission is free.
Arruebarrena’s name was incorrectly spelled in previous reports. There was confusion over his name because it was spelled “Arruebarruena” on the back of his jersey in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. … Infielder Justin Sellers was designated for assignment to clear a place on the 40-man roster for Arruebarrena. Sellers, 25, was the Dodgers’ opening-day shortstop last season. … Paul Maholm threw what was described by Manager Don Mattingly as a pain-free bullpen session. Maholm has been nursing a sore elbow. … Onelki Garcia is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday, his first since he underwent surgery over the off-season to remove bone chips in his elbow.
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