Itís not just Japan thatís providing MLB with high quality talent that has experience in top level professional leagues and international tournaments. MLB teams have spent more than $75 million the past two years on signing bonuses and contracts for Cuban defectors, according to Yahoo! Sports. Aroldis Chapman headlines the recent wave of defectors who could make a significant impact in 2011 or in keeper leagues. Hereís our take on the top players worth considering in fantasy leagues.
1. Aroldis Chapman, P, Cincinnati
He and Yu Darvish were perhaps the top pitchers in the world not playing in MLB before Chapman defected in 2009 and signed with the Reds. Chapman made his way to the majors in 2010 with a major league record 105 mph fastball. Itís not clear if heíll be used in the bullpen or as a starter, but heís a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
2. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Toronto
Hechavarria was seen as Cubaís top shortstop prospect before defecting in 2009 and signed a $10 million contract with Toronto. Even though he posted just a .605 OPS in his first exposure to the minors, heíll be just 21 this season and, other than Chapman, may have the most upside of any recent Cuban defector.
3. Reinier Roibal, P, San Francisco
Roibal was a rising star in Cuba and almost made Cubaís 2009 World Baseball Classic team before defecting in 2009. He had a strong rookie league debut after signing with the Giants. Heís one to grab in keeper leagues since heíll be just 22 years old this season.
4. Yunesky Maya, P, Washington
Maya was one of Cubaís top starting pitchers before defecting (He had a 1.23 ERA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic) and could win a job in the Washington starting rotation this spring. His major league debut last season was underwhelming (5.88 ERA in five starts) and heíll turn 30 years old this season, but he could thrive once he gets acclimated to the U.S.
5. Leslie Anderson, 1B, Tampa Bay
Anderson was one of the top players in Cuba (including playing in the 2009 World Baseball Classic) before he defected in 2009. He had an .801 OPS between three levels of the minors last season, which ended at Triple-A. His age (28 this season) limits his upside, but he could be a factor in the majors at first base or DH early in 2011.
6. Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston
He signed an $8 million-plus deal with the Red Sox in July 2009. While heís seen having an outstanding glove and could be Bostonís shortstop of the future, an unimpressive .719 OPS in his minor league debut last season between High-A and Double-A combined with poor plate discipline raised serious questions about his bat.
7. Juan Carlos Linares, OF, Boston
Linares was one of the better outfielders in Cuba and just missed the cut for Cubaís 2009 World Baseball Classic team. He hit just .246 at High-A and Double-A after signing with the Red Sox, but tore up the Arizona Fall League by hitting .397/.423/.662 with three home runs. He could make his major league debut as a reserve outfielder in 2011.
8. Yadel Mujica, SS, (Unsigned)
Mujica was one of the last cuts for Cubaís 2009 World Baseball Classic team and was seen as the next in line to be the national teamís starter at shortstop before he defected. He should sign with a MLB team in 2011.
9. Noel Arguelles, P, Kansas City
Arguelles was seen as a first-round talent after defecting from Cuba and signed a $7 million contract in January, 2010. However, he didnít pitch last season due to a shoulder injury that later required laburm surgery and leaves his top prospect status in doubt.
10. Sergio Espinosa, P, Tampa Bay
Espinosa was a former closer in Cubaís National Series, but he had an unimpressive debut with a 4.83 ERA at Double-A and mediocre strikeout rates and control. Still, heíll be just 25 this season.
11. Yadel Marti, P, Oakland
Marti was Cubaís top starting pitcher in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He signed with Oakland last year and will make his minor league debut in 2011. His upside is limited since heíll turn 32 this season.
12. Yasser Gomez, SS, Atlanta
Gomez was Cubaís center fielder on the gold medal-winning 2000 Olympic team. He hit .323 in 38 games at Double-A, although he had just a .346 SLG. Heís got speed, but will turn 31 this season.