The next baseball sensation from Cuba could be in a Major League uniform soon.
According to an industry source, the market is taking shape for Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and the right-hander could sign with a club as early as next week.
The Cubs, Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are among the teams that have expressed serious interest in signing the 26-year-old. The Phillies, Blue Jays and Braves are also in the hunt to acquire him.
Scouts believe Gonzalez needs only a few Minor League starts before he pitches in the big leagues and his addition would be similar to acquiring a top pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Gonzalez fled Cuba earlier this year, landed in El Salvador and worked out for a month in Mexico City before making his way to Tijuana. He began throwing full bullpen sessions in front of scouts twice each week this spring and later starred in a series of showcases with the Tijuana Toros.
He was granted free agency last month and secured an unblocking license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which allows him to sign with a Major League team, on Monday.
The hard-throwing right-hander has a fastball in the mid-90s, a changeup, fork and a curveball. He made a splash on the international scene at the 2010 University Baseball Championships in Tokyo, and also shined at the Baseball World Cup in '09 and '11. He was suspended from Cuba's national team for most of the past two seasons for trying to leave the island.
Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league like Gonzalez are not subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It's been quite a summer for players from Cuba.
Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman, who defected from the island in 2009, and Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, who defected in 2008, both pitched in Tuesday's All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. On Monday, Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who defected in 2011, dominated the Chevrolet Home Run Derby and became the first Cuban-born player to win the title.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with Los Angeles last summer after he left Cuba, burst onto the scene last month and has thrust the Dodgers back into the spotlight. Puig, who is batting .391 with eight home runs and 59 hits in 38 games since his debut, is a big reason why the Dodgers have moved from last-place in the division to only 2 1/2 games behind the first-place D-backs in the National League West.
More players from Cuba could be on the way.
Right-handed pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, Gonzalez's teammate on the Cuban national team, was also cleared by OFAC this week and can sign with a Major League team. Several teams have expressed interest in the 27-year-old, but he is not expected to sign until after Gonzalez.
Hinojosa starred for the Guantanamo Indios in the Serie Nacional, the island's top baseball league, but is largely known for throwing a seven-inning perfect game against Sri Lanka in the World University Championships in August 2010, and a five-inning perfect game against Hong Kong at the International Cup less than three months later. A veteran on the international stage, Hinojosa was named to Cuba's preliminary roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Also, Cuban defector Odrisamer Despaigne, 26, a right-handed pitcher, had an open workout in Barcelona, Spain, almost two weeks ago and is in the process of petitioning for free agency. Cuban right-handed pitcher Leandro Linares, 19, was also cleared by OFAC and is free to sign with big league club. He falls under the new international signing guidelines because of his age and experience.
This week, 24-year old left-handed pitcher Misael Silverio from Villa Clara, defected from the Cuban national team before a series against the United States in Iowa and is exploring his options.