NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Orioles are confident that their five-month wait for Cuban defector Henry Urrutia, stuck in Haiti unable to play because of visa issues, will end within the next two weeks.
Urrutia, a 25-year-old corner outfielder, has established residency in Haiti and has been awaiting a visa there for since the Orioles signed him to a minor league contract in July. The club paid Urrutia a $778,500 signing bonus.
Fred Ferreira, the Orioles executive director for international recruiting, said that Urrutia recently made huge strides toward obtaining a visa with the help of the United States ambassador to Haiti. Ferreira said he is optimistic Urrutia can obtain a visa within the next two weeks.
That would allow Urrutia to salvage the offseason and play winter ball in the Dominican Republic before reporting to Sarasota, Fla., in the spring.
The Orioles are extremely high on Urrutia. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would like to see him in big league camp come February, Ferreira said.
Ferreira – who has signed 61 players who made it to the majors, including Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez last year – said he's never dealt with such a delay with an international player. But he suspected that a failed attempt to defect from Cuba in 2011 probably played a part.
"We've lost some time with him, but he's very close to ready." Ferreira said. "He's going to fit in really well. Whether he's as good as [Yoenis] Cespedes I don't know, but I was high on Cespedes also and I feel the same way [about Urrutia]."
Urrutia missed time over the past two years because he was suspended after that unsuccessful defection attempt from Cuba, but he hit .350 (394-for-1127) over five seasons with Las Tunas of the Cuban League from 2006-10.
He had his best season in 2010, when he set career highs with a .397 batting average, .461 on-base percentage, .597 slugging percentage, 121 hits, 23 doubles, 12 homers and 76 RBIs. He also represented Cuba in the 2010 world championships
As for Ferreira, he was honored Monday as the Major League Baseball International Scout of the Year. He will also be honored at a banquet Wednesday evening.
Duquette hired Ferreira last year – the two worked together in Montreal, where Ferreira signed Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro – to help bolster the Orioles' international efforts.
Ferreira, who has signed nearly two dozen international players this year, just returned from the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Panama, where he was extremely impressed with Brazil, which has been a recent international target of Ferreira. He's also fueling efforts to scout Europe -- specifically the Netherlands -- and hopes to begin signing players there in the coming weeks.