BOSTON -- He was the most enigmatic player in last month's annual June draft, a Cuban pitcher that Major League Baseball had submitted for consideration at the last moment without such basic information as place of birth and career record. On baseball's official Web site, the birth date for Rolando Viera was listed incorrectly as Dec. 31, 1974, a date that roughly reflected his agent's claim in news reports that his client is 27.
Ray Poitevint, an international scout for the Boston Red Sox, believed he had an edge on the competition because of a secret scouting mission from a few years back.
"We went down to Mexico three years ago to scout a shortstop on the Cuban team at a hidden spot," Poitevint said. "We were dressed as gardeners. I knew one of the Cuban national team coaches through a friend and he told me where the workout would be."
Poitevint said he and fellow scout Lee Sigman were concentrating as well on pitchers Pedro Luis Lazo and Jose Contreras, top pitchers for the national team, when they stumbled across another intriguing pitcher during the intra-squad game.
"Viera threw two innings and a long period, maybe four innings, in the bullpen," Poitevint said. "We saw him (Viera) by accident. We didn't have a Viera on our list."
In the 50-round draft, the Red Sox used a seventh-round pick on Viera, the intriguing left-hander that no teams had gotten a chance to scout or contact since he arrived in the U.S. in late April.
There is just problem with Poitevint's scouting report. Viera said he has never been to Mexico, nor even played for Cuba's national team.
"They never took me anywhere," Viera said.
Viera's agent, Joe Kehoskie, said Viera had never left Cuba before defecting to the U.S.
"His last name, Viera, is very similar to a very well-known pitcher named Norge Vera," Kehoskie said. "We believe there could be some mistaken identity there."
|Rolando Viera, a seventh-round draft choice of the Boston Red Sox, is anxious to begin his big-league career. But not without what he feels is a fair contract.|
How much Poitevint's assessment played into the Red Sox drafting Viera is unclear. He shared his story and scouting report with ESPN by phone one hour after the club had selected Viera in the draft on June 5. Three days later, Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette indicated that Boston had never scouted Viera, despite the claim of Poitevint, who says he "supervises the Cuban situation" for the club.
"Frankly, we haven't seen Viera," Duquette said. "We're basically going on his reputation. We're basically going on his statistics."
Sigman declined comment when asked about the Mexico scouting mission. "It's best to talk to Ray on that," he said.
Viera was 18-10 with a 3.12 ERA in his final two seasons with Havana Industriales, the same team that produced New York Yankees pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Complete, year-by-year statistics on pitchers in the Cuban league, the National Series, are elusive because annual guides were not published by the government for most of the past decade due to poor economic conditions in the island nation.
Credible scouting data can be equally elusive. While many major league teams have built ample files on players on Cuba's national teams by watching them at international tournaments outside of Cuba, Major League Baseball prohibits teams from going to Cuba for scouting purposes due to the U.S. embargo against the communist nation.
Even sight unseen, Viera was a good gamble at that point in the draft, Duquette said.
"We don't have a left-handed starter (in Boston)," he said. "We don't have a left-handed starter in our minor-league system. We're always looking for good left-handed pitching out of the bullpen so we thought we would take a shot at Viera."
Boston's need for quality pitching has grown in the month since the draft. A strong staff that helped elevate the Red Sox to the top of the standings in the American League East has been weakened lately by injuries, with three-time Cy Young-winner Pedro Martinez on the disabled list.
Meanwhile, Viera has been impressive in workouts with the Red Sox. The team got its first look at him on June 20 when he threw before Boston's game at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, where Ben Cherington, the Red Sox's international scouting coordinator, said Viera "looked fine" and showed the team an assortment of pitches.
Viera, whose fastball has been clocked at 90 mph, threw again a week later at the team's minor-league facility in Fort Myers, Fla. That time, the club arranged for a simulated game in which he pitched against minor-league hitters, none of whom made hard contact off Viera in the equivalent of three innings of work.
The Red Sox already have on their roster one Cuban defector, right-hander Rolando Arrojo.
"All the Cuban pitchers that we've scouted over the years have good savvy," Duquette said. "They have good deliveries around the plate. They like to compete and they like to compete in big stadiums, in big games. It's our opinion that if Viera can do it (in Cuba) like these other pitchers that have come here, that he has a good opportunity to help the Red Sox and help the major league team pretty soon."
Viera is 27 years old, according to his Cuban passport, which makes him the oldest player taken in this year's draft -- by more than two years. But Duquette says he isn't concerned about the age of Viera, whose arm could be fresher than other pitchers his age because he missed the better part of the 1994 and '95 seasons with hepatitis, then missed last season after Cuban baseball officials suspected him of a desire to defect.
||His last name, Viera, is very similar to a very well-known pitcher named Norge Vera. We believe there could be some mistaken identity there. ”
||— Agent Joe Kehoskie on the Red Sox's possible reasons for drafting Rolando Viera
"I think Warren Spahn got to the big leagues around 27," Duquette said of the left-hander who ended up in the Hall of Fame. "If he has just a small percentage of Warren's career victories, we'll have made a good draft (pick)."
The Red Sox, however, are moving slowly to sign Viera, whose situation is complicated by a federal discrimination lawsuit he is pursuing against Major League Baseball, in which he seeks to be declared a free agent. He argues that Cuban players should be treated the same as players from other foreign countries and not be subject to the draft. Major League Baseball placed him in the draft on the grounds that he currently lives in the U.S.
Kehoskie has told the Red Sox that Viera is eager to play with the team and would promise to play out at least the rest of the season if the sides agree on a contract, even if Viera beats Major League Baseball in court in the next few months.
"If there's a silver lining in this, the Red Sox were the team that called the most before the draft," Kehoskie said. "They called, I think, 10 out of the 12 days once it was public knowledge Viera was out."
Norge Vera, on the other hand, remains in Cuba.
Tom Farrey is a Senior Writer for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com . Willie Weinbaum is an ESPN producer.
||I think Warren Spahn got to the big leagues around 27. If he has just a small percentage of Warren's career victories, we'll have made a good draft (pick). ”
||— Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette on 27-year-old Rolando Viera
This story is available in Spanish at ESPNdeportes.com.