The Mariners have reportedly made another notable signing to add to their international amateur class, signing 19 year old outfielder Víctor Labrada Rodríguez (commonly referred to as Víctor Labrada) out of Cuba. The deal, per Francys Romero, is for $350,000 and will come out of the Mariners 2019-20 international free agent signing pool. While Labrada has not been heavily covered by stateside scouting, the word is that he is an exceptional speedster who should be capable of playing all three outfield spots.
Can confirm. Twitchy, small-ish free-swinger. 80 runner, plus arm. https://t.co/wqoHE8jQtk— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) November 6, 2019
Labrada played for Cuba’s U-18 National Team which won the Pan-American Games in 2018, knocking a home run in his first plate appearance and hitting well across the entire tournament. He served as captain for the team, and was viewed as one of a number of MLB-caliber prospects from the island over the past couple years.
Labrada’s journey to MLB was complicated in April as the U.S. government canceled a short-lived deal between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation that had set up a system resembling that which MLB has with a few other professional leagues, including the NPB of Japan and KBO of South Korea, wherein players were able to sign with MLB clubs without defecting and sneaking out of the country, often undertaking perilous journeys to flee the island and signing predatory deals with buscones who oversee their trips. In exchange, MLB clubs would pay a “release fee” of 25% the player’s bonus to their Cuban National League team, and the player would also be required to pay Cuban income taxes on some portion of their earnings.
A few days prior to the deal’s cancellation, the Cuban Baseball Federation released a list of 34 eligible players for signing, which reportedly did not include Labrada’s name. The 19 year old apparently left Cuba via Haiti just before the list’s release, established residency in the Dominican Republic, and has spent some portion of that time subsequently endeavoring to secure a contract with a MLB club, which he has successfully done with the Mariners.
Thus far, the only players signed out of Cuba this signing period have been those who were named on the list, prior to the deal’s cancellation, who were grandfathered in as a result. Labrada, then, makes for an uncertain case. His journey is similar to that of many Cuban defectors, but as he is the first to sign since the deal’s nullification, it’s unclear whether he will be treated as a normal signee, penalized in some fashion by MLB or the Cuban Baseball Federation, or, most likely, be the first player to signify the previous standard operating procedure of surreptitious negotiation and defection is back on until otherwise noted.
For baseball purposes, Labrada is a slightly older signee than typical in the international market. Depending on his readiness, he could be a candidate to start next season in Short Season Everett, as he’ll turn 20 in January. Labrada joins an international signing group highlighted by OF George Feliz, RHP Jose Corniell, and SS Andres Mesa.