The "mystery player" that Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten teased on Monday night in Los Angeles just might be Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, who is reportedly close to a deal with the team per Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.
Arruebarruena defected from Cuba in November and established residency in Haiti. He still has to undergo a physical exam to complete the deal, per Rojas.
The shortstop turns 24 in March and played in Cuba for six seasons, meaning he won't be subject to the international spending cap. Now the question is just how much will the Dodgers pay for his services. In the last two years the club has signed fellow Cubans Yasiel Puig (seven years, $42 million) and Alex Guerrero (four years, $28 million).
The Dodgers would need to make a corresponding move to add Arruebarruena to the 40-man roster one it becomes official. Chad Billingsley, who isn't expected back from Tommy John surgery until late May at the earliest, is an easy candidate to be placed on the 60-day disabled list.
Arruebarruena, a right-handed batter, was teammates with Puig with Cienfuegos in Cuba, and hit .293/.366/.422 with six home runs and eight doubles in 270 plate appearances in 2012-2013.
His strength is his defense, as shown in this video from 2012:
However, his offense might not be major league ready, as Ben Badler of Baseball America noted in November:
"He’s a premium defender at a premium position with questions on the bat," said one international scouting director. "If you’re built well offensively around the field other than shortstop, you can live with that if you get outstanding defense. But the bat is still the question mark."
Based on his current offensive ability, Arruebarruena would almost certainly have to start in the minor leagues, with Double-A a possibility given his current talent level and age.
At FanFest at Dodger Stadium on Feb. 1, general manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers were close to adding an international player who would be "in the mix" for playing time either at second base or as a utility infielder. Given that non-roster invitee and fellow defensive whiz Miguel Rojas - who hit .233/.303/.307 at Double-A Chattanooga in 2013 - has also been mentioned several times by Colletti as also in the mix, it's a good bet that once he signs Arruebarruena will see plenty of action in big league camp.