The Orioles plan to scout highly touted Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who had previously been one of Cuba's top players before recently defecting from that country, on Saturday in the Dominican Republic, according to an industry source.
Castillo, 26, played in Cuba’s top professional league, Serie Nacional, for the past five seasons, hitting .319/.383/.516 with 51 homers and 226 RBIs in 360 games over that span.
During the 2010-2011 season, Castillo hit a career-high 22 homers and had 95 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 104 games. The next season, he had a .342/.408/.982 slash line with a career-high 37 doubles to go with 21 homers, 84 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.
The right-handed hitter is listed at 5 feet 9, 185 pounds. His scouting report shows a speedy player with line-drive gap power. He also has experience playing both corner outfield spots, as well as second base and third base.
Major league clubs can sign Castillo as a free agent without it counting against their international signing bonus money -- since he has played professionally in Cuba for five years -- so he will draw heavy interest.
Castillo just recently defected to the Dominican Republic at the end of last year, so he still must establish residency there, be recognized as a free agent by Major League Baseball and be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign with a club. That process could take months.
But he has already reportedly worked out privately for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
During Saturday’s FanFest, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette emphasized that the organization’s international scouting will serve as a key component of sustaining the club’s success.
Recent efforts to sign Cuban players have already begun to pay off. Over the past two years, the club has signed Cuban outfielders Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez.
After his arrival was delayed by visa issues, Urrutia -- who was signed to a $778,500 signing bonus in July 2012 -- quickly moved through the Orioles’ minor league system last year in his first professional season before making his major league debut in the second half of the season.
After a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League and an offseason that saw him add nearly 20 pounds to his lanky frame, the 26-year-old Urrutia will compete for at-bats at designated hitter and in left field in his first major league spring training camp.
The Orioles signed the 25-year-old Alvarez last season, giving him a reported $800,000 bonus, and he hit .342/.374/.570 at three different minor league levels in 22 games last year.
Last week, the Orioles announced their acquisition of first baseman Carlos Diaz, 17, from the Mexico City Red Devils and also their signing of 16-year-old Dominican free-agent third baseman Jomar Reyes.