By Yusseff Díaz
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Raisel Iglesias was a top prospect in the Serie Nacional during his time with the Isle of Youth and represented Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In November of that same year, he decided to leave the island in search of a career in the majors in professional baseball.
He established residency in Haiti and had an impressive showcase in December of 2013. The Cincinnati Reds were so impressed by that work out that they eventually signed the righty to a 7-year, $27M contract in June of 2014. After his signing, the hurler was converted into a starter. Iglesias made his debut in the majors as a starter on April 12, 2015, against St. Louis and was the team’s starter on opening day in 2016.
Later that season he returned to a comfortable spot, the bullpen. He eventually took over the closer spot and save six games to close the season. Iglesias entrenched himself in the closer’s spot that year and has saved more than 25 games the last three of the last four seasons, 98 in total for his career. Armed with a 100-mph fastball and an array of wicked breaking pitches the young flamethrower has 132 saves during his career.
This off-season he was traded to LA after being arguably one of the best relievers in the game. Although he got off to rough start with the Angels he has come on lately. In July he was the reliever of the month after saving seven games, posting a 1.93 ERA and striking out 19 batters in 14 innings. This season the righty from the largest of the antilles leads all relievers with 8 saves of 4 or more outs.
In Cuba, you were on a pitching staff that included flamethrowers and future MLB signees Hector Mendoza, Jorge Despaigne, and Yoan Lopez. How was your manager able to distribute innings evenly to all that talent?
When Mendoza came up, he was a starter as were Lopez and Despaigne. We had some live arms on that staff. I was the setup man for closer Danny Aguilera and an eventual spot starter. It was definitely a very talented group.
The starters would give 5 or 6 quality innings and I would sometimes pitch two innings to set up Aguilera and if he couldn’t close due to a pitch count, I would come into close. By doing these things I became a very versatile pitcher.
On the island you were primarily a reliever and were converted into a full-time starter when you signed, was that uncomfortable for you?
Although I was primarily a starter in Cuba, I relished those few spot starts. In Cuba I had a limited repertoire, I threw a fourseamer, slider, and a splitter. Before I signed Raul, Ortega taught me how to throw a sinker and a changeup, this helped me greatly.
Due to the addition of these pitches to my arsenal and the many angles I could throw these pitches from, scouts projected me as a future starter. I was moved back to the bullpen out of necessity, due to injuries and trades. After the Chapman trade I was promoted to closer and I feel very comfortable in that role.
You returned to the bullpen in 2016 and saved 25 games three of the last four years, how have you been able to keep up that consistency?
Effectively I returned to a familiar spot, the bullpen, and took up the role of the closer. The team had enough faith in me to make me the closer and this was a confidence builder. Confidence is a necessity in this role because it’s not the same protecting a three-run lead as it is a one-run lead. It is key that to throw one’s pitches with confidence with any lead and at any time in the count. Concentration is also a key and as my confidence grew, I also felt more comfortable in my role. To try to maintain my consistency and continuity I train hard all year round. I always try to prepare adequately even during the off-season. Due to these factors, I have been able to be successful on the mound. Another key is that aside from 2016 I’ve been relatively healthy in my career, that’s also a key factor in the equation.
Although you’ve saved 25 games three of the last four seasons in 2019 you were very inconsistent. What did you do to correct the inconsistencies of last season?
I saved 34 games in 2019, but I also blew six games. In reality, 2019 was very difficult for me I also lost 12 games. In 2020 I looked better in an abbreviated season. I’ve prepared properly this off-season and I expect to have a better season this year.
The suspension of the season due to COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to continue my preparation at home. Having a gym at my residence has helped me stay in game shape, being in game shape will help me once the season begins. I’m anxious to prove that last season’s missteps were an aberration. I believe I’m going to have a good season, focusing on the positives will enable me to have a successful season.
Tell me something you learned from Aroldis Chapman?
Chapman took me under his wing when I came up with the Cincinnati Reds as did Brayan Peña, having some of my countrymen in the clubhouse helped my comfort level.
Brayan was my personal catcher and we worked very well together. “Chapi” (Chapman) taught me many things, like to keep my head in the game and always be on an even keel. He also taught me to enjoy the game, because at the end of the day it’s only a game. Chapman would come into the game very serene. As an athlete, your mind could be your worst enemy. For me he’s like a brother, his guidance helped me plenty in my development. Playing with him was an enjoyable experience.
What were your goals coming into this season?
The most important thing is to stay healthy so I could help the ball club. I want to improve on last season’s inconsistent performance. Although we weren’t sure on how the season will play out I want to go out and save the highest amount of games possible. I want to do whatever possible to help the team. With as rigorously as I’ve prepared for the season I expect the best results possible.
What else could we expect from Raisel Iglesias this season?
The fans can expect the best of me this season. My arm feels good and healthy. Expect me to leave it all on the field this year.