JUPITER, Fla. -- They couldn't be more different. One is left-handed, the other right-handed. One is generously listed at 5-10, 175 pounds and the other is nicknamed the Cuban Skyscraper. Perhaps the greatest dissimilarity between Marlins' prospect Raudel Lazo and his legendary cousin, Pedro Luis Lazo: One wanted out.
The elder Lazo is the winningest pitcher in Cuban National Series history with 257 victories. In a December 2012 interview with the website Swing Completo (Complete Swing), Lazo said he walked away from $30 million to $35 million to defect in his prime.
"I never had the dream of playing in the major leagues," he said in the interview. "It never crossed my mind."
That wasn't the case for Raudel, who was teammates with the elder Lazo on the Pinar del Rio team in the 2008 and 2009 Cuban National Series. As a 19-year-old rookie, Raudel was thinking about professional baseball in the United States.
No one knew.
"I didn't talk about that with anybody," he said. "I carried that inside...The dream was always to come here and play big leagues. I really became focused on it when I left and began training in Mexico."
Lazo defected alone in 2010 through Mexico and in March 2011 was declared a free agent. Eight months later the Marlins signed him for $60,000. So far it looks like a bargain.
In his first season as a reliever for advanced-A Jupiter, Lazo went 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA, 16 walks and 61 strikeouts in 59 innings. That was good enough to earn an invite to big league camp.
The typical Florida State League player can't boast two seasons of Cuban National Series experience, which for Lazo shined through unflappability and mound presence.
"We knew nothing about him," Marlins vice president of player development Marty Scott said. "As far as grit and determination and I guess you could say big cojones. This guy is unbelievable. He goes right at hitters. He's fearless. He's got good stuff."
That stuff became markedly better during the course of last season. Lazo opened the campaign sitting at 88-90 miles per hour with his fastball. By season's end he was consistently hitting 93-94. J.T. Realmuto, one of Lazo's catchers in Jupiter, said his slider and changeup developed as well.
"You don't see many guys his size throwing that hard so I'm sure it deceives a few hitters," Realmuto said. "When you see a little guy like that get on the mound you don't expect him to be throwing the ball by you.
"He gets right-handers outs just as easy as left-handers. He's got a good enough fastball to where he can go in to righties. He can go away, and then his changeup is a phenomenal pitch for righties. It's real hard for them to see. You see them struggle a lot with his changeup."
Lazo no longer is in regular contact with his cousin, who retired from the National Series in December 2010. The elder Lazo did return to action last season, when he received permission to pitch for the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League.
"For me, it was a dream," Raudel said, of teaming with Pedro Luis for two seasons. "As a rookie I felt proud. I didn't think I would make the team that year but with work and effort thank God I made it and I had good results."
The work and effort now, like it was then, is aimed at reaching the majors.
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