July 03, 2009

A highly regarded Cuban pitching prospect has defected from the national team while playing in a tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands. His next stop could be in the major leagues, possibly with the New York Yankees.

Aroldis Chapman, whose age was reported to be 21 years old, walked out of his hotel room in Rotterdam and did not return, a spokesman for the Dutch baseball team said Friday. Chapman told cubaencuentro.com he was in Europe, but refused to reveal his location.

Chapman, whose fastball reportedly exceeds 100 mph, is widely considered the No. 1 pitching prospect in Cuba. The New York Times reported the Yankees, who have been at the forefront of signing international pitchers, will have discussions about whether they should pursue the left-handed Chapman.

Chapman pitched for Cuba during the World Baseball Classic in March, where he posted a 5.68 ERA in 6 1/3 innings. Reports during that tournament listed Chapman's age as 26.

In an interview with the Times, Yale University professor Roberto González Echevarría, the author of The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, called Chapman "the most promising young pitcher" to leave Cuba since Fidel Castro took over in 1959.

"He throws at a 100 miles per hour, he is more polished than most young pitchers at his age," González Echevarría told the Times. "He is a really hot property, and it will be interesting to see how much teams pay to sign him."

He would be the most prominent Cuban baseball defector since current White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras left in 2002. Arrangements exist for Cubans seeking asylum to enter the United States.

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