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Cuban infielder Cesar Prieto defected from his national team Wednesday while it was playing an Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida.
Per Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today, the Cuban Baseball Federation announced Prieto’s defection in a statement:
“His decision, which is contrary to the commitment he made with both his country and team, has generated repudiation among his colleagues and other members of the delegation, who are willing to overcome foreign interests to be faithful to our homeland and the mission with which we traveled to the tournament.”
Prieto has played professional baseball in Cuba since 2017 with Elefantes de Cienfuegos of the Cuban National Series.
The 22-year-old has been on the Cuban national team for the past four years. He has split time between shortstop and second base.
Baseball writer Francys Romero noted Prieto is “the most coveted Cuban prospect” by teams in Major League Baseball.
Per MLB rules, Cuban players under the age of 25 with fewer than six seasons of professional experience can only sign deals under the international bonus pool system.
Prieto must establish residency and petition the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to receive a license that would allow him to play in the country before MLB will declare him a free agent who is eligible to sign with a team.
Reyes noted that Prieto led the Cuban National Series with a .403 batting average during the 2020-21 season for Cienfuegos. He owns a .366/.435/.510 slash line with 12 homers and 99 RBI in 172 games, which includes 15 games in the independent Canadian-American Association.