Zuckerman: Nats To Sign Top Cuban Pitcher

Zuckerman: Nats To Sign Top Cuban Pitcher
July 21, 2010, 2:53 am
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010 10:50pm

By Mark Zuckerman

CINCINNATI -- The Washington Nationals have agreed to terms with top Cuban right-hander Yuneski Maya, pending a physical. Club officials would not confirm the signing, though they also wouldn't deny a report of the signing by ESPNdeportes.com, and general manager Mike Rizzo spoke openly about the abilities of a pitcher who could join the Nationals' rotation within weeks.

Maya, 28, defected from his native Cuba to the Dominican Republic last year and was recently cleared by the U.S. government to sign with a major-league club. He has been working out and pitching in simulated games in the Dominican, scouted by numerous clubs including the Red Sox, Indians, Phillies, Blue Jays, Mets and Yankees.

Rizzo said Maya is polished enough and in good enough condition to pitch in the majors within a matter of weeks.

"We do," Rizzo said. "We think he's capable of pitching in the major leagues very soon. We have to see where he's at. After he signs, he'll have to work his way up into a rotation, I would assume. But all the guys who have seen him, all the scouts who have evaluated him, think he's a rotation-caliber pitcher."

Maya pitched for the Cuban national team in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic, going a combined 1-1 with an 0.87 ERA in six total appearances (one start). During six seasons in the Cuban National Series, he was 48-29 with a 2.51 ERA and won last year's equivalent of the Cy Young award. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound hurler possesses a low-to-mid 90s fastball as well as an assortment of offspeed pitches.

"He's a terrific, young, poised, capable, major-league-caliber pitcher," Rizzo said. "He was the No. 1 pitcher on a very successful Cuban national team. He pitched in front of guys like Aroldis Chapman. ... There's a lot of teams that are on him, and there's a lot of good teams and programs that are on him that are vying for his attention. Some of the most successful organizations would like to sign him and put him directly into their rotation. And we're one of them."

Maya still must obtain a work visa before entering the United States. He then needs to pass a physical before the deal is completed.

One reason the Nationals were able to secure Maya's services: Their signing of 44-year-old Cuban pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez to a minor-league contract last month. Hernandez, Livan's half-brother, has been working out in Viera the last few weeks, and though he's not guaranteed of pitching at Class AAA Syracuse this season, his presence helped the Nationals sign Maya.

Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at zuckerman12@gmail.com.