Cuban defector Leonys Martin has finalized a $15.5 million, five-year contract with the Texas Rangers, and the speedy center fielder could be in their lineup before the end of this season.
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Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said there is no immediate timetable for Martin, who was signed Wednesday to have a future impact. But Daniels acknowledged that it was possible that the 23-year-old outfielder could move quickly through the system to the majors depending on his progress and the team’s needs.
”We had a lot of looks at this guy. There is a lot of strong sentiment that he can be an impact player for us over time,” Daniels said. ”We think he has a chance to be a relatively quick mover. … We’re not looking for him to do that, but it would not surprise us if he puts himself in that position. But again, we didn’t sign him to make an impact this year.”
The contract, the second-largest for a Cuban defector, includes a $5 million signing bonus and salaries of $500,000 this year, $1.25 million in 2012, $2.25 million in 2013, $2.75 million in 2014 and $3.75 million in 2015.
Hard-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman got a $30.25 million, six-year deal from Cincinnati Reds in January 2010.
Martin initially will stay at the team’s extended spring training in Surprise, Ariz., where he had already been working out this week waiting for the deal to be completed.
Daniels said Martin is ”in great shape” but hasn’t seen a lot of live pitching since defecting from Cuba last summer and then going to Mexico. Martin, who throws right-handed and bats left-handed, will take live batting practice and play in some extended spring training games before being assigned to one of the Rangers’ affiliates.
”Hopefully at some point this month, but we don’t have an exact date set for that,” said Daniels, who didn’t indicate where the 6-foot-1 outfielder will go after leaving Arizona.
Martin, who played for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, took a physical for the Rangers several weeks ago, but the deal has been held up while the team waited for State Department approval.
Daniels said the visa application process took a little longer than anticipated because Martin fell into a different immigration category than other international players in the organization.
Martin defected after playing for Cuba’s national team in Japan at the FISU World University Championships last July and August. He hit .450 (9 for 20) with two doubles, 14 runs and eight walks in that tournament.
Mike Daly, director of international scouting for the Rangers, said it was his understanding that Martin returned to Cuba after that tournament before defecting.
Rangers scouts saw Martin when he was a part-time player in the 2009 WBC, then when he was playing in Japan last summer and at an open workout in Mexico in November. Jose Fernandez, who has a Cuban background and recently went to work for the Rangers, had worked previously with Martin.
Daly described Martin as a plus-defensive center fielder who can throw and run, a line-drive hitter and good base runner.
”He is an instinctive player,” Daly said.
Martin had a .314 batting average over the past five seasons for Villa Clara in the Cuban League. In 82 games last season, he hit .326 with 23 doubles, 10 home runs and 48 RBIs.
Before Josh Hamilton broke his arm diving into home plate three weeks ago and went on the disabled list, the Rangers had already moved the AL MVP to left field and made Julio Borbon their primary center fielder. Borbon went into Wednesday night’s game at Seattle hitting .262, having raised his average 83 points by hitting .409 (9 of 22) over the previous 10 games.
”Julio is our starting center fielder. We need him to help our club right now,” Daniels said. ”As we go forward, it’s healthy competition. I think Julio’s got an opportunity to lay claim to the job for a long, long time. … But as we go forward, we’re better if we’ve got options and depth.”
Right-hander Ramon Aguero was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Martin.
Texas has 10 days to trade, release or sent Aguero outright to the minor leagues. The Rangers obtained Aguero from Pittsburgh on a waiver claim April 8, and he was a combined 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in five appearances for Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Frisco.