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M's sign infielder Betancourt to roster
The Associated Press
SEATTLE – Cuban infielder Yuniesky Betancourt agreed Wednesday to a contract with the Mariners, roster, bolstering Seattle's depth at shortstop.
The 22-year-old Betancourt fled Cuba on a raft in July 2003. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound shortstop wound up in Mexico, where he has lived since.
"Yuniesky is an athletic, offensive shortstop," Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said. "We view him as the equivalent of a first- or second-round draft pick."
Earlier this month, veteran shortstop Pokey Reese joined the Mariners on a one-year contract that includes a team option for 2006.
Seattle also has promising 22-year-old Jose Lopez available, but he's expected to return to Triple-A. Lopez played 57 games with the Mariners last season after Rich Aurilia was traded to San Diego.
Betancourt played second base from 2001-03 with Villa Clara in the Cuban National League. Villa Clara's starting shortstop, Eduardo Paret, has played with the Cuban national team since 1995.
Betancourt hit .288 with 43 runs scored, four homers and 45 RBIs for Villa Clara in 2002, then improved to .317 in 2003 with 64 runs, seven homers and 52 RBIs in 2003 before he left Cuba.
He started at shortstop for Cuba's 17- and 18-year-old national team in the 2000 world championships at Edmonton, Canada, hitting .523 in the tournament.
Right-hander Aaron Looper was designated for assignment to open a roster spot. The 28-year-old Looper was 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA in eight games at Tacoma last season but spent most of the summer rehabilitating after elbow ligament-replacement surgery on May 13.
His father is Benny Looper, Seattle's vice president for player development, and he is a cousin of Mets right-hander Braden Looper.
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