MLB: Top 20 Cuban Prospects
Myworld thought about breaking out the top 10 Cuban prospects in the American League and the National League. As we were breaking out the list the American League seemed a bit short forcing me to put players like Dariel Alvarez on the list. This would also leave out a number of unsigned players, many of whom are waiting for the July 2 date to sign with teams. So we thought we would just put together the top 20 of players from the American and National Leagues, and those who are waiting to sign that have left Cuba in pursuit of the lottery ticket they call major league baseball.
The top ten list from last year had the number two pick lefthander Carlos Rodón make it to the major leagues. Three outfielders also made it, number three Jorge Soler (Cubs), number four Rusney Castillo (Red Sox), though the crowded Red Sox outfield has forced Castillo back down to the minor leagues, and number five Yasmany Tomás (Diamondbacks). Righthander and number six prospect Raisel Iglesias made the starting rotation of the Reds. Another outfielder, Héctor Olivera made it for the Braves, but he has been suspended because of a domestic abuse issue. He is still on this list because he has not lost his rookie of the year eligibility. The departure of so many players leaves a lot of room for new players to make the list. The number one prospect from last year remains number one this year despite the arrival of the Gourriel brothers.
1. Yoan Moncada 2B (Red Sox) - The Red Sox paid $63 million to sign him, $31.5 million to Yoan and the other $31.5 million going to major league baseball. He got off to a slow start to begin his first professional season but came on strong to finish with a .278 average with 49 stolen bases. The power should come where he should hit 20 plus homeruns. With Byron Buxton and Corey Seager in the major leagues Yoan is now the best prospect in minor league baseball. His arm makes him better suited for second than shortstop.
2. Lourdes Gourriel OF/3B (None) - Myworld likes the potential of Lourdes better than the present of Yulieski. At 6′5″ Lourdes should develop into a power bat. He had a break out season with his bat in the Cuban league prior to his defection. His defense in the infield is very brittle so my world believes his future is in the outfield, despite what others think. Don’t expect him to sign with a team until he turns 23 in October. That is when he will have his maximum negotiating power (won’t be subject to the international cap). With the residency requirements and the long wait it takes major league baseball to declare a player a free agent he will probably not be available to play at any point this season.
3. Vladimir Gutiérrez RHP (None) - He made the list last year as the number nine Cuban prospect. Teams shied away from him when they measured his fastball and found a significant drop in its velocity from the mid-90s to the high 80s and low 90s. His curve ball had also lost a lot of its break. Mechanics were said to be the issue and when he got that fastball humming into the mid-90s again interest in him perked up. At 19 years of age he may have to wait until July 2 because many teams already have big financial commitments to other international prospects, unless he signs with a team that has already exceeded its cap.
4. Yulieski Gourriel 3B/2B (None) - His last year in the Nacional Series he hit .500 in 224 plate appearances, slugging 15 homeruns and driving in 51 runs in 49 games. His best defensive position is third base, though he has played second base on the national team. Despite his reputation as a good defensive infielder myworld is concerned with the number of errors he makes. Many attribute his lack of motivation with the drop in competition in the Cuban league to his lackluster play. There was talk that he was more motivated this year to draw the interest of major league scouts. He also reneged on his contract with the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan claiming injury and fatigue. The concern would be whether he can stay motivated after he signs a big contract with major league baseball. Some people just get too comfortable after a lot of success and Yulieski may be one of those.
5. Yadier Alvarez RHP (Dodgers) - The Dodgers are using their resources to sign many of the more talented Cuban players. The Dodgers shelled out $32 million to sign Yadier, with $16 million of that a penalty going to major league baseball. His fastball hits 98 and sits in the mid 90s but his command is poor. At 20 years of age it will be a couple years before the Dodgers will see him in the rotation. Don’t expect to see him on the mound until July when he opens up for a rookie league team. The Dodgers will work on his mechanics in extended spring training to get a more consistent, fluid delivery.
6. Lázaro Armenteros OF (None) - He would like to be referred to as Lazarito, but he has yet to accomplish anything to get that kind of respect. The tools are there to become an offensive force like Yasiel Puig but the personality could be similar creating chaos in the locker room. He was a star on his 15 and under national team and has the power to fit in a corner outfield. He has had camps where he has shown the tools but he has had others where scouts were disappointed. Not a lot of people have really seen him perform in game like situations where pitchers can mix it up a bit and he needs to recognize what is being thrown at him.
7. Alberto Almora OF (Cubs) - One of the better defensive centerfielders in minor league baseball. The bat needs to progress before he sees the major leagues. Last year the 2012 first round pick hit .272 with six homeruns and a .727 OPS. Despite his Cuban background he starred on the United States national team. If his bat does not improve his defensive ability could make him a fourth outfielder.
8. José M. Fernández 2B (None) - An excellent contact hitter who may not provide enough defense to justify his offensive game. The speed is not there to steal a lot of bases and his power is lacking. So he could end up being a Rob Refsnyder or Forest Wall, a second baseman with a bat but very little defensive contribution. At 27 he will have more game experience than the younger prospects.
9. Adrián Morejón LHP (None) - He was the top pitcher in the under 15 World Cup tournament that Cuba won. Many of the pitchers on the United States team will be first round picks in 2017. If he was a Dominican he would be a prized international prospect being peppered with million dollar offers. As a 15 year old his fastball was zipping to the plate in the low 90s. As he matures that fastball will increase in velocity. He also has two above average pitches in a curveball and change that only need to be refined. If he was an international free agent he would be one of the top prospects at 17 years of age.
10. Jorge Ona OF (None) - Another young Cuban at 19 subject to the international cap. He showed above average power and an arm that will fit in right field at the 18 and under Pan American championships. He hit four homeruns in eight games and batted .636, numbers equivalent to a first round pick on the United States 18 and under national team. He lacks the speed to fit in centerfield but he should have more than enough power and arm to fit in right field.
11. Héctor Olivera OF (Braves) - Assault charges have put a question mark on his long term viability. Myworld was also not impressed by his defense in left field. He has the bat to hit line drives and will pepper the gaps, but his power appears to be lacking to hit balls over the fence. At 31 years of age there is just not a lot of upside to his game. Now you have to wonder about his character. After he left Cuba many were concerned about his injuries (possible ligament damage in elbow) but he appears to have lessoned those worries. Myworld would prefer him in the infield at his natural position second base.
12. Yasiel Sierra RHP (Dodgers) - Another pitcher who can rock the fastball towards the plate in the mid-90s. His major problem is a lack of control to command the fastball to fly over the plate. His slider can miss bats and he needs to develop a change to counter the hard stuff. The Dodgers signed him to a six year $30 million contract. Because he was older than 23 and had played for five years in Cuba the Dodgers did not have to pay a penalty for signing him. The last year he pitched for Holquin in Cuba in 2014 his ERA was 6.10 with 31 walks in 62 innings, not an impressive result. United States batters will be a little more discerning with his lack of command off the plate so the walk rate may rise.
13. Yoan López RHP (Diamondbacks) - Yoan signed for $8.25 million in 2015. He pitched a little bit last year in AA for Mobile. His results were not impressive with a 1-6, 4.69 ERA with a 24/32 walk to whiff ratio in 46 innings. His fastball has tripped across the plate at 98 miles per hour but usually sits in the low 90s. His secondary pitches (curve and change) still need a lot of work. If he fails to develop three pitches and continues to struggle with his control he may end up in the bullpen. The Diamondbacks still have some time with youth on his side to work with his mechanics.
14. Alfredo Rodríguez SS (None) - Originally signed with Reds for about $6 million but then the contract was voided. It is rumored the Reds have asked Alfredo to wait until after July 2 to sign so they would not be hit by the international cap penalty for 2016, limiting their ability to sign committed free agents after July 2 for more than $300,000. He won the rookie of the year award in Cuba after the 2015 season then fled for the United States. Some question whether he will have enough bat to play in the major leagues. His glove falls short of other Cuban national team players for shortstop who also failed to hit such as Barbaro Arruebarrena.
15. Andy Ibáñez 2B (Rangers) - He is tearing it up in the Low A minor leagues hitting .456. Expect him to get promoted to High A shortly. He has always been highly regarded in Cuba, making the 2013 World Baseball Classic team as a 20 year old. Not a fast player and limited to gap power he relies more on his defense at second base and his baseball instincts to make the smart play. His fast start to the minor league season shows there may be some potential in his bat.
16. Aledmys Díaz SS (Cardinals) - The injury to Jhonny Peralta has given Diaz a chance to play shortstop with the Cardinals. He lacks the bat to hit for high average and his glove is just a bit short to make him a starter at short. His best bet may be as a utility player who can roam around the infield. He did hit .380 in minimal at bats at Memphis but he has also struggled to reach .250. There is some over the fence pop in his bat, but expect more doubles power than souvenirs to the fans in the stands.
17. Yusniel Díaz OF (Dodgers) - Another Dodger signing for $15.5 million last year he has gotten hot in the minors hitting homers in three consecutive games. His batting average is still a little low (.220) and his long swing could keep it there. At 20 years of age his power is still to the gaps but as he gets older the balls could start flying over the fence with greater regularity as they have been doing the last three days. There is enough speed in his legs to fit in centerfield but his ultimate spot may be as a corner outfielder with a strong enough arm to fit in right field.
18. Rangel Ravelo 1B (Athletics) - Some question whether he will carry enough power to play first. The White Sox drafted him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft and then traded him to the Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija deal. He does have the ability to hit the gaps for extra bases and bat over .300. He has a good arm but lacks the foot speed to play the outfield so first base appears to be his best position. The key for his advancement is whether his strength can develop to the point where his bat can carry balls over the fence.
19. Luis Yander La O 3B/2B (None) - He played third base for the Cuban Series del Caribe team in 2015, moving Yulieski Gurriel to second base. The power in his bat is lacking for third base but he plays a superb defense. His defense is not as good at second base but his bat seems to be a better fit there. His best role may end up as a utility player. There is very little power in his bat so spraying the gaps will be the best teams can hope for.
20. Eddy J. Martínez OF (Cubs) - Originally he agreed to a contract with the Giants but saw more money ($3 million) with the Cubs when the Giants delayed in sealing the contract. He has the speed to play center field but lacks the power to play a corner. His arm is strong enough to play centerfield. Expect the Cubs to keep him in extended spring to work on his game and allow him to achieve success when he begins to play the games when the rookie leagues begin in July.
Bonus player Norge L. Ruíz RHP (None) - We think he lacks the stuff and the height as a right hander to make it as a major league. We liked what we saw of Yunesky Maya more than we did of Ruiz. His fastball is not overpowering but he does have a deep repertoire. Myworld just doesn’t think there is a lot there. That could be enough to make him a star.
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