Cuba confirms defection of 2 baseball players during US trip

Yadiel Hernandez
FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2015 file photo, Cuba’s Yadiel Hernandez slides safe at the home plate during a Caribbean Series baseball semifinal game against Venezuela in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cuba is confirming that two baseball players, including Hernandez, have defected while in the United States for a series of friendly games against U.S. collegians. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

HAVANA (AP) — Two Cuban baseball players have defected while in the United States for a series of games against U.S. collegians, the island’s official sports media confirmed.

Third baseman Luis Yander La O left the team in North Carolina, where the Cuban team has been playing tuneups ahead of the Pan American Games in Toronto, according to a Friday report by the sports website Jit — a phonetic rendering of “hit” in Spanish.

An earlier story from Jit said outfielder Yadiel Hernandez also defected. The website did not offer details.

The 25-year-old La O batted .329 in the Cuban league last season for Santiago. Hernandez is a 28-year-old who averaged .355 for Matanzas in 2014-15.

Defections have continued to hit Cuba’s national team despite a decision in late 2013 to raise athletes’ salaries and let them sign lucrative contracts to compete overseas during the offseason.

This year four Cubans have gone on contracts to Canada, and three to Japan.

Cuban baseballers can now seek to be released from their local clubs, with the national federation deciding whether they are needed for the national team.

Infielder Yoan Moncada was granted release last year, left the country and later agreed to a record $31.5 million signing bonus with the Boston Red Sox.

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