Cuban phenom Lazaro Armenteros could be the next big thing, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes. In fact, the 16-year-old could be the best amateur player to sign in 2016.
Armenteros, who has been given the soccer-type one-name moniker of Lazarito, possesses “a rare combination of dazzling speed, raw power and outfield arm strength” and profiles as a very strong corner outfielder. One veteran international scout who marveled at his mix of speed and power even said that he has something that is reminiscent of Willie Mays and Bo Jackson. Two more scouting directors confirmed to Nightengale that Armenteros has superstar potential.
Lazarito is so good that he already has a Japanese team willing to pay him $15MM to play in Nippon Professional Baseball, Nightengale hears. Still, his main focus is signing with an MLB team. On January 8th, Armenteros will show his stuff in a showcase for MLB teams in San Cristóbal. In the meantime, MLB is expected to rule by the end of January whether he’s eligible to sign now, or must wait until the next signing period that begins July 2.
Armenteros attempted to defect Cuba multiple times, as MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez wrote back in September. He first tried to fly into Ecuador, only to be sent back on a return flight. He then traveled to Russia with the hopes of being able to fly from Moscow to Haiti, but he was once again sent away. However, Lazarito made a savvy move and purchased a ticket to Haiti during a layover in Germany. After spending some time in Haiti, the 16-year-old athlete made his way over to the Dominican Republic, where he works out six days a week in a remote beach town.
In the midst of all that craziness, Armenteros missed the May 15 cutoff date to officially register for the international signing period. Now, MLB must decide whether to grant him an exemption. There is precedent for that, so it is certainly possible that he will be given the green light.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that Armenteros has not been seen playing organized baseball since the summer of 2014. Thanks to sanctions from the Cuban government, the Jan. 8 showcase will be his first time in front of MLB scouts in about 18 months. Agent Charles Hairston says that 150 to 200 scouts will be on hand for the audition, even though they’re not supposed to be there.
“Technically, it’s illegal for teams to see him now,” Hairston says, “but every team I’ve talked to has confirmed they will be there. Everyone is very much aware of him.”