And they swooped in under the radar to snag another Cuban exile, left-handed starting pitcher Onelki Garcia. After a two-year odyssey that started with his escape from the island nation, leaving his family behind -- then harried stops in Mexico and Nicaragua and procedural delays to satisfy MLB rules -- Garcia was drafted in the third round last June and paid a $382,000 bonus.
He pitched in two Minor League games for the Dodgers -- one at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, one playoff game for Double-A Chattanooga. He faced 15 batters. He struck out 11. In the playoff game, he followed former first-round pick Chris Reed, who threw three scoreless innings with one strikeout, with three scoreless innings and seven strikeouts.
"In my mind," said Matt Herges, "we got a steal."
Herges, the former Dodgers reliever, was the pitching coach at Rancho Cucamonga and is the pitching coach for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, where Garcia will soon report.
"This kid, coming from Cuba, is on a mission," said Herges. "He throws 94 [mph] from the left side with a slider or whatever he calls it that's a true swing-and-miss pitch. He's got other pitches, but the game I saw him he only needed two. He looks like he knows how to pitch. This is not a kid who doesn't know where the ball's going. He throws with command."
Garcia is 23 and, at 6-3 and 220 pounds, fits the Dodgers' draft profile for power pitchers. The Dodgers hired former Major Leaguer Eddie Oropesa, himself a Cuban defector from two decades ago, to mentor Garcia, as well as Puig.
"I've been through what he's going through," said Oropesa. "I left behind my wife. I didn't see my son until he was 2 1/2. I didn't have any Cubans to talk to. I called Cuba maybe every three or four months. He left behind his family. It's tough for him. He doesn't have a home. He's a quiet kid. We're trying to make it easier. With cell phones and the Internet, it's a little easier for him because he can talk to his family.
"For Garcia, I think the hard part was waiting a year and a half before he could sign. From what I see, he's making the transition really good."
Herges said the AFL will provide Garcia's next test and help management determine just how close he is to being Major League ready. Paco Rodriguez was drafted one round earlier in June and by September was succeeding in the Major Leagues.
"It will be good for him to face these stud prospects and see how he matches up," Herges said. "He's played the international game and that's very competitive and we'll see if it translates to this level."