One of Cuba's top pitchers defected in an undisclosed country so he can begin playing professionally in the United States, a Cuban exile leader said Friday.
Maels Rodriguez and another player, Yobal Duenas, were reported missing by Cuban authorities Saturday.
The Miami Herald speculated that the pair might be in El Salvador.
"They're safe," said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. He declined further comment.
If the players seek political asylum or residency outside the United States, they most likely will be declared free agents by Major League Baseball and be able to sign with any team.
The players' Miami-based agent, Henry Vilar, did not return telephone messages Friday.
Rodriguez, a 24-year-old right-hander, is one of Cuba's top pitchers and his fastball is said to regularly top 100 mph.
"I want to play the best baseball, and that's in the United States," Rodriguez said. "It's a difficult step because you know how things are in Cuba. So when Yobal and I made this decision, it was the most important one in our careers."
Rodriguez set the single-season strikeout record in Cuba with 263 in 178 1/3 innings three years ago. This season, he was 8-3 in 113 innings with 117 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.11. Cuban officials left him off the Pan American Games and Olympic qualifying teams, blaming arm and back injuries for the loss of 15 mph off his fastball.
"I'm going to demonstrate that I can still throw 100," Rodriguez said Thursday on Miami Spanish-language radio station WQBA-AM. "These are things that they invent to cut a little off the careers of some athletes."
Duenas, a second baseman, is a former Cuban stolen base champion. At 31, he is on the down side of a career in which he debuted with the Cuban national league at 17.
Should be on the Yankees within minutes.