Cuban catching prospect Yenier Bello has cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and can now enter into an agreement with a Major League team, according to an industry source.
Several teams, including the Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays have been linked to the catcher. He is expected to sign before the start of Spring Training.
Bello, 28, who is represented by Bryce Dixon of the Primo Sports Group, left Cuba for Ecuador early in 2013 and later established residency in Mexico. He was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball late last year but was unable to enter a contract with a Major League club until he was cleared by OFAC earlier this week.
The right-handed batter hit .274 with 13 home runs in Cuba’s La Serie Nacional, the country’s top amateur league, in 2011. He hit 75 home runs and drove in 297 runs in his last five seasons in Cuba, primarily with Sancti Spíritus.
Cuban defectors like Bello who want to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States, a process that can take several months, depending on the country of residence. Cuban players must also petition Major League Baseball to become free agents and be unblocked by OFAC before they can enter into a contract with a club. Unblocking can take several weeks.
Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are exempt from the international signing guidelines established by the collective bargaining agreement, effectively making them free agents once they are eligible to sign with a big league club.
Although the Cuban government has said it will allow its players to play in foreign leagues, the new guidelines will not make it easier for Cuban baseball players to play in the United States because of the 51-year-old U.S. embargo on the country.