The small-market Kansas City Royals are betting big on a free agent they've seen pitch only a handful of times.
Noel Arguelles, a 19-year-old left-hander who last year defected from Cuba, agreed to a five-year, $7 million major league deal with the Royals on Saturday, according to a club source. Arguelles can earn up to $2 million in incentives as well. An official from another team interested in Arguelles said he had been informed a deal was close.
The contract is contingent upon Arguelles passing a physical. He remained in the Dominican Republic on Saturday and was expected to fly to Kansas City this week. The Royals still must clear a spot on their 40-man roster to make room for Arguelles.
Along with shortstop Jose Iglesias, Arguelles left the Cuban junior national team while in Canada last year. Iglesias signed a four-year, $8.2 million deal with Boston and impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Arguelles got into pitching shape, worked out in front of more than 100 people in the Dominican and had at least a half-dozen teams interested in signing him.
Kansas City pursued him hardest and continued its commitment to building a strong player-development program, particularly on the pitching side. The Royals have a half-dozen young arms who project to be major leaguers, including top prospect Mike Montgomery and this year's first-round pick, Aaron Crow.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore spent the first decade of his career with Atlanta, where he watched the Braves dominate the NL East with superior pitching. Kansas City hopes to build around AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke(notes) with a farm system that has been infused with talent after years of skinflint draft budgets.
Arguelles' talent is unquestioned. While his fastball during workouts wasn't at the 94 mph it reached during his national team days, his changeup remains a potential out pitch and his curveball projects above average as well. Control is Arguelles' biggest pitfall.
Scouts who saw his workout believe Arguelles will start the season at Class A. Because he is on a major-league deal, like Crow, his timetable could be accelerated once he acclimates to American baseball.
Aroldis Chapman, the 21-year-old left-hander who throws 100 mph and defected from Cuba in July, remains unsigned. Executives believe he could receive anywhere from $15 million to $30 million this offseason.