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Cuban brothers make their pitch in Orioles camp

Posted March 02, 2005 by mattlawrence in Cuba Culture.
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Exiles, 25 and 20, seek home in O’s organization

By Roch Kubatko
Baltimore Sun
Posted March 2 2005, 3:02 PM EST

FORT LAUDERDALE—The Orioles held another workout Tuesday for Cuban exiles Maels and Jose Rodriguez, brothers who aspire to pitch in the major leagues. They stood about 20 feet apart on practice mounds beyond the back fields, firing baseballs into catchers mitts and creating the sound of small explosions that echoed in the air.

The sessions lasted about 15 minutes and were monitored by team executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, who maintain some interest but won’t give a timetable for making a decision.
Maels, 25, has listed the Orioles as his first choice, given his close relationship with scout Chu Halabi. The brothers, who have no workouts with other teams scheduled, are affiliated with agent Barry Praver, who also represents Sidney Ponson.

“At this point, we’ve had multiple teams inquire about Maels and some also about Jose. They’ve all expressed interest in working out both brothers,” Praver said.

“The goal always is to get both Maels and Jose pitching with an organization. Right now, we’re taking it a step at a time.”

Of the two, Maels brings the most impressive credentials because of his inclusion on Cuba’s 2000 Olympic team. His fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, but a pulled rib cage muscle has affected his mechanics and decreased the velocity and movement on his pitches.

Sal Fasano, in camp as a non-roster player, caught Maels in three of the pitcher’s four workouts here. He offered some instruction yesterday, motioning with his hands when one fastball almost cleared his head. The next one zipped down the middle.

“I thought he threw OK,” Fasano said. “He’s still got a little ways to go. He’s not ready for the majors, but he’s a couple good coaches away from the big leagues.

“I don’t see star quality, but how many are there?”

Fasano estimated Maels’ fastball would have been clocked at 86 to 88 mph on a radar gun. “But it’s still flawed,” he said.

“Physically, he’s healthy, but I think there’s a mental stigma when you’ve had an injury.”

Jose, 20, exhibited much better command during Sunday’s workout, and he blamed yesterday’s wildness on having to work Monday at a grocery store. Nobody questions his arm strength, which was evident again while long tossing with Maels. One of his throws from the outfield almost wiped out a small group of reporters who stood near the practice mounds.

After they were finished, the brothers huddled with former Orioles pitcher Dennis Martinez, who’s in camp as a special instructor. Martinez offered advice in English and Spanish, and they listened intently.

At one point, Martinez stressed the importance of mixing up their pitches and not relying so much on blowing away hitters with their fastballs. That might work at some levels, but not in the majors.

“You throw 100 mph, 200 mph,” he said, “they’re going to crush you.”

Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks stood near the brothers during their workout and also passed along advice in Spanish, at times pacing between them.

“Think about the collective talent they’ve had here at their disposal in terms of instruction. It’s pretty good, and that’s what they need,” Praver said.

“Any pitcher, any player, can benefit from good instruction. And both Maels and Jose certainly seem willing to accept it.”

Fasano learned as much from dealing with Maels. “We made a little adjustment from the last outing and it was like night and day,” he said. “He’s very coachable.”

Maels and Jose defected to El Salvador late in 2003. According to Halabi, Maels made his first attempt to leave Cuba a year earlier before returning to be with his wife - resulting in a one-year suspension from his club team.

“It’s easy to tell they’ve been through a lot,” Praver said. “They’re good people. They deserve better.”

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