Cuban center fielder Yasiel Balaguer defects with eye on MLB

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Yasiel Balaguer, a 17-year-old center fielder considered one of the top prospects in Cuba, has defected to Nicaragua in order to become a free agent and sign with an MLB team, according to Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald.

Ebro reports that Balaguer is now being represented by the Miami Sports agency and calls him “a natural leadoff batter and an explosive baserunner” who “is an extraordinary defensive player because of his arm.”

Baseball America‘s reports on Balaguer are far less glowing, but he’s definitely viewed as a legitimate prospect.

Jose Iglesias and Noel Arguelles defected from Cuba as teenagers last year, with Iglesias joining the Red Sox for $8.25 million and Arguelles getting $7 million from the Royals.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.