Yoenis Cespedes to play in Dominican

Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will play with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic winter league while waiting to be declared a free agent to sign with an MLB team.

Cespedes is scheduled to make his professional debut Thursday against Gigantes del Cibao, said Luichy Sanchez, who works in Aguilas' front office. Cespedes initially will serve as Aguilas' designated hitter, a source close to the player said.

Cespedes is close to receiving his letter of temporary residency in the Dominican Republic, mandatory in the long process of being declared a free agent to play baseball in United States.

He joins Aguilas Cibaenas (4-8) at a critical time. The team has lost six of its past seven games in the round-robin semifinal tournament and is in last place. Aguilas needs to win its last six games to secure a spot in the finals.

The 26-year-old Cespedes is highly coveted by MLB teams. The Cuban slugger batted at least .323 in the past four seasons. Cespedes also hit a record-setting 33 home runs during the 2010-11 Cuban National Series season before escaping to the Dominican Republic to pursue his dream of playing in the majors.

Speculation in the industry is that Cespedes' major league contract could exceed the $30 million deal his countryman Aroldis Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

Enrique Rojas covers Major League Baseball for ESPNdeportesLosAngeles.com.