Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 4

Cincinnati had great success after signing Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman and five years later they have a similar plan with Raisel Iglesias. Though a much different pitcher, latest reports are that he’s mastered a four-pitch arsenal with mid-90’s heat and could be ready to crack the active roster on opening day.

Next up in this countdown is the biggest wild card, Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias, who Cincinnati signed to a seven year/$27 million deal last June. Some visa problems kept him off the field until the Arizona Fall League where he overpowered opponents, allowing no runs/one hit/three walks in seven innings of relief. Before that he pitched three seasons in the Cuban League, improving each year to a 3.05 ERA across over eighty innings for Isla de la Juventud.

The right-hander Iglesias stands 5’11”/165# and will turn 25 on April 1. That is really all that is known about this prospect for certain. There was pressure on him to sign because of changes in the rules for international signing bonuses. Cincinnati inked him before the change and had they waited he would have needed five years in the Cuban league before affecting their pool.

After that things get blurry. Initial reports were that his fastball topped out in the low-90’s in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but soon after that he increased it to mid-90’s later that summer against the US college national team. He mixes in a breaking pitch but his command makes it dependent up on batters to chase it to be effective. Since signing there are reports that he’s made progress on a slider and is also working on a change-up. There’s been some question on repeatability in his delivery, but it’s not uncommon for Cuban pitchers to adjust their arm to provide more variety on their breaking pitches.

There’s also uncertainty on what role he’ll be in or where he’ll be doing it come opening day. Soon after the signing speculation was that he was a year or two away, but more recent reports say that he’s MLB-ready. From day one comments from the Cincinnati front office communicated intentions to use him in the rotation, however his size and past experience both suggest continued bullpen duty. Looking at the current Reds roster, there’s probably a spot for him in either role if he’s is indeed ready.

Reason to believe he’ll be used as a starter: Though taller pitchers are preferred, history shows that it’s not required. Iglesias has a loose arm motion that suggests durability beyond his size. Also, the Reds are not bashful about converting pitching prospects from the bullpen into the rotation like they did with college closers Tony Cingrani, Michael Lorenzen, Nick Howard, and Dominican prospect Carlos Contreras. Of course the back end of the rotation is wide open for someone after budgetary moves dealt away two from last year’s rotation.

On the other hand, speculation at the time of signing Aroldis Chapman was that he would start and after five years he’s yet to throw the first pitch of any game save four times in the 2012 spring training. Plans that year to convert him never materialized and instead he emerged as a dominant closer. Now that he’s on the back end of his original deal that’s where he’ll stay for the remainder of his contract. Also though they don’t have the same turnover as the rotation, the rest of the Cincinnati bullpen is coming off a disappointing campaign and there could be a vacuum that that pulls Iglesias into relief duty. Besides, if there is some question about his readiness, the bullpen is typically a quicker way to the MLB level and there’s always opportunity to convert him down the road after experience against MLB hitters.

Regardless, Iglesias remains a high-ceiling talent whatever role he lands, hence the $27 million investment. Cincinnati sure made a hit with Chapman, but then again his long frame and triple digit heat hinted freakish talent from the start. Still, though a different pitcher, Iglesias’s tool kit is far from bare. Now that spring training is upon us Cincinnati will soon have to make a decision on immediate plans for their new prospect. If indeed it is at a starter, then he’ll probably commence somewhere in the upper levels of the development system. If instead they give him a shot at shoring up the pen, then it could possibly be as early as opening day.

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