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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nearly three weeks after signing a five-year, $25 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena secured a visa and was able to travel from Haiti to the team's spring training complex in Arizona.
Arruebarrena, 23, spent Thursday morning meeting many of his new teammates and being reunited with Yasiel Puig, who he has known since he was 9 years old. The two grew up near each other in Cienfuegos, Cuba.
"It has been years since I've seen him and it was a little emotional saying 'hello' for the first time," Arruebarrena said through an interpreter.
With Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, the Dodgers will send Arruebarrena to Triple-A Albuquerque at least to start their season, which begins March 22 in Australia. Arruebarrena said he thinks he will be ready to play in the major leagues at some point in 2014. His double-play partner in Albuquerque very well might be the previous Cuban player signed by the Dodgers, Alex Guerrero.
During Arruebarrena's introductory news conference, former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda walked over and chatted with him in Spanish. Also, Dodgers coach Manny Mota approached him and told him to wear the No. 11 with pride. Before Arruebarrena, the Dodgers rarely assigned Mota's number since the great pinch hitter retired in 1982.
Arruebarrena has a reputation for being a slick fielder, but his bat is more of a question mark. He batted .276 with 67 doubles, 27 home runs and 171 RBIs in 437 games in the Cuban Serie Nacional.
He also insisted his last name contains just one 'u,' though Cuba spelled it "Arruebarruena," on his jersey during the World Baseball Classic.
Arruebarrena said he plays with a similar flair to Puig, who at times drew the ire of opposing teams.
"Yes, that's typical of Latins," Arruebarrena said.