Language can be quirky, change one vowel and you go from Affluence to Effluence. Cuban naming traditions are also quirky, change one vowel or consonant and you go from a power hitting third baseman to a rangy outfielder. Such is the case with Adonis Garcia (Atlanta Braves) and his brother Adolis Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals) or Yulieski Gurriel (Houston Astros) and his brother Yuniesky Gurriel (Free Agent) or Yoenis Cespedes (New York Mets) and his half brother Yoelkis Cespedes (Granma, Cuba), you get the point.
Adolis Garcia is the latest Cuban defector to sign in America. The 24-year-old at 6’1 and a lithe 167lbs has tools, but has been described as raw. The Cardinals gave him $2.5 million and an invite to spring training. Normally I would say being assigned uniform number 75 means you wont be flying north with the big club, but Cuba players frequently wear higher or what would be considered odd numbers in America. The likelihood is that the veteran of 5 Series Nacional will need some time in the high minors to adjust to the American game. The defensive skills abound and he showed flashes with the bat, but his approach at the plate has been described as free swinging, I guess it’s true nobody ever walked their way off the island.
I saw Garcia play last year in Havana, I was impressed by his arm but overall I wouldn’t say he projected the same spectre that Jose Abreu or Yulieski Gurriel did when I first saw them. In my opinion the instant impact talent has been raided from the island, however, for a relative pittance and an invite to try out, why not take a flyer on an athletic talent with overflowing skills, the key will be coach ability and adjustments.
Garcia reminds of me of Lourdes Gurriel or fellow Ciego de Avila Tigre (now free agent) Luis Robert, a new generation of gazelle like athlete with a tantalizing skillset, yet no overpowering ability that projects the future.
Lourdes or Yunito, the youngest of the Gurriel clan has been described as both a potential Shortstop or Centerfielder, I have heard through channels that the infield projection is overhyped, but with a young prospect the Blue Jays will likely explore this for themselves. With the bat he likely projects somewhere between his 2 brothers, Yuniesky a high contact, low power hitter, as evidenced by his winning the batting title in his lone season in the Can-Am League with Quebec and Yulieski, considered by many the best hitter in the history of the Cuban League, the total package of power, contact and patience.
Rumours abound that the Cardinals are also interested in Luis Robert, as mentioned another slim, rangy athletic project, some call him the best prospect in the world not currently signed. Robert is 19 and broke into the Cuban League at 16 and more recently was allowed to play in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants. Secrecy abounds about whether he defected or perhaps might be one of the first players to be granted approval to explore playing in the states. Similarly, the upside is huge, but some of the hype is a projection based on the track record of those who have come before. Cuba is in transition, in the past 2 years alone close to 200 players have left the top league, some of these well known and established in MLB, many more just trying to make it to a new life, all to say that the talent drain has made it harder to gauge performance. The major difference in this next generation of players perhaps though, growing up in a baseball crazed culture playing year round at a competitive level, yet still getting a chance to funnel into the American baseball pipeline young enough to adapt to the U.S. game.
I am not sure where the tipping point is on Cuban talent thriving in the highest leagues of the world, the Cuban government is trying new progressive approaches, however it does not appear a deal with M.L.B is close. The agreements with Japan, Mexico, Canada are one step for more mature players to ply their craft make some money and put some back into Cuban baseball infrastructure. There has been recent rumbling that Cuba may soon allow their ex-patriot players to rejoin the National Team for tournaments such as the World Baseball Classic. Most recently it was announced that for the first time, players that had left and wanted to come back could apply, such is the case with three former players that will make their return to the Series Nacional this fall.
Cuba is changing quickly, perhaps the last time things were so fluid was during the revolution of the late 50 and early 60’s, what path this will take will meander, that’s the Cuban way. Personally I have seen many changes just in the past 2 years, stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
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