Yordanis Linares defects Cuba

 

Yordanis Linares, a former youth league star-turned-accidental teenage softball hero, is transitioning once again.

Add the center fielder to the long list of players on the expanding Cuban market.

Linares, who played three seasons with Villa Clara in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, the island’s top league, defected this week and is now in the Dominican Republic.  The outfielder will seek residency, the first step to signing with a Major League team, in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Costa Rica or Nicaragua.

There are an estimated 75 Cuban players in the Dominican Republic seeking a contract with a Major League team.

“I’ve always wanted to play against the highest competition in other countries and that’s why I left,” Linares, 26, told MLB.com in Spanish from the Dominican Republic. “I feel like my game will play well in the United States. My first goal was to leave Cuba and that’s accomplished. Now, I just want to work hard and sign with a good team, be a good player in the Major Leagues.”

Linares left the island without incident, he said. He simply traveled from Havana to Panama on a plane earlier this week and later made his way to the Dominican Republic. He told Cuban officials he was going on vacation to Central America.

“It’s the biggest decision of my life, the biggest decision a man can make to leave, but I wanted to do it,” Linares said. “One day, I want to have my family with me, but I know I have a lot of work to do.”

Linares is a career .318 hitter with 15 home runs, 96 RBI, 33 doubles, and seven triples in 191 Serie Nacional games since his debut in 2012.  He hit .322 with 17 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 34 RBI last season in Serie Nacional play.

Linares was also part of the Cuban team that participated in the 2014 Caribbean Series in Venezuela.

Because of his age and experience, he will be subject to the international signing guidelines when he becomes eligible to sign. Linares must also petition Major League Baseball once he establishes residency in a country outside of Cuba or the United States. The entire process could take several months.

“I’m here with my trainer Victor (Baez) working hard and when it’s the right time, I’ll sign,” Linares said. “I want to get what I always wanted and that’s to play with the best.”

Linares grew up in the Remedio neighborhood of Villa Clara, and began playing baseball competitively at an early age. He walked away from the game at age 14 after becoming disenchanted with the selection process for the country’s top teams. Three years later, a friend convinced him to return to the field, this time as a softball player. Linares eventually became one of the sport’s top players in Cuba.

At 19, Linares’ softball career was interrupted by the country’s required military service. He returned to baseball two years later, and made his Villa Clara debut at age 22.

“I just want to make my dream come true,” Linares said. “I’ve made the first step to get here. I just need to keep working.”

 

 

 

Moncada works out for teams

Top Cuban infield prospect Yoan Moncada cannot sign with a Major League team until he is cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury, but he has already participated in several private workouts for teams.

According to industry sources, Moncada, 19, has held private workouts for the Brewers, Rangers, Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, and Padres in Florida. The Dodgers, Rays, Cubs, and Phillies are also showing strong interest.

Moncada remains the most celebrated young prospect to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler, who signed with the Cubs in 2012. Moncada debuted for Cienfuegos in Cuba’s Serie Nacional at age 17 and hit .277 during parts of two seasons. He made a name for himself by dominating the 16-and-under and 18-and-under leagues in Cuba.

Because he is under 23 and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Moncada is subject to the international signing guidelines. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team’s record in 2013 for the international signing period, which started on July 2.

The Yankees, Rays, Red Sox along with the D-backs and Angels have all spent more than 15 percent of their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.

Moncada was granted his release from his Serie Nacional Cienfuegos team last year and later cleared by Cuba’s National Baseball Commission. He was granted a visa and a passport by the Cuban government and left on an airplane to Central America.

Moncada had a showcase for 60-70 scouts in Guatemala on Nov. 12.

Showcase for Andy Ibanez, others scheduled in DR

Cuban second base prospect Andy Ibanez will highlight a showcase of players from the island on Friday and Saturday in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.

The two-day workout will also feature left-handed pitcher Ariel Miranda, 25, shortstop Angel Miguel Fernandez, 24, outfielder Gelkis Jimenez, 21, and first baseman Yasiel Mederos, 25.

Ibanez, 21, is considered “a gamer” in international circles, and he has been compared to players such as Omar Infante, Miguel Cairo and Placido Polanco. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound infielder is fundamentally sound and has solid tools across the board, although he does not have one tool that blows scouts away.

Ibanez starred for the island’s 16-and-under and 18-and-under national teams, and later for Isla De La Juventud in Cuba’s Serie Nacional. He was also the youngest player on Cuba’s 2013 World Baseball Classic roster. He established residency in Haiti and has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. He must also be cleared by the OFAC before he can sign. Ibanez will be subject to the international signing guidelines.

All five player have been granted free agency, but have not been cleared by the United States government to sign.

Starlin Castro’s agent responds

Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer told MLB.com his client was not involved in a shooting in the Dominican Republic.

“He wasn’t involved. He wasn’t arrested or detained. He voluntarily went into the police so they could know that he wasn’t involved. They told him they knew that because there was video and he wasn’t involved and they had no problem with him. The thing is, (media reports) put out that he has been arrested for questioning. When is anyone ever arrested for questioning? He had nothing to do with it. He just happened to be at the club. He heard there was a problem and he went out the back door and left. Then he went to the police to make sure they knew he wasn’t involved.”

“His name got dragged into a shooting in Santiago a couple of weeks ago and he just happened to be there at a concert. There was a shooting in the parking lot and because somebody saw him in the parking lot, they put his name all over it. Anything that happens gets more sensationalized if they get a Starlin Castro involved.”

Impact of renewed US-Cuba relations

The news of improved diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba has the baseball world buzzing about the future of Cuban players in the Major Leagues.

Here’s what we know: The new plan does not overturn the economic embargo on Cuba that was passed by Congress more than 50 years ago or change the path that many Cuban players must take to get to the Major Leagues, at least for now.

We also know it’s impossible to ignore the contributions of Cuban players in the last few years and there are more players already making their way to Major League stadiums near you.

Here’s a look at MLB.com’s coverage of the renewed relationship with Cuba and possible impact on baseball.

1. The shift in U.S.-Cuba relations could be a game-changer for MLB.

2. Five Cuban players to watch.

3. The exciting future of Cuba’s national team.

4. How do they stack up? Evaluating the best Cuban players.

Moncada has arrived in the USA

Yoan Moncada is in the United States

Yoan Moncada could begin private workouts for teams this month.

Cuban teenage prospect Yoan Moncada is in the United States.

Moncada arrived from Guatemala over the weekend using a Visitor Visa. He is staying in Florida with his agent, David Hastings, according to industry sources. Last month, the switch-hitting infielder established residency in the Central American country and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. He must still be unblocked by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can come into a final agreement with a club.

On Tuesday, FanGraphs.com’s Kiley McDaniel reported Moncada was in Florida.

It’s unclear what the next step is for Moncada, 19, but his arrival could mark the beginning of private workouts for teams within the month or at the beginning of next year. The teenager, who began playing professionally for Cienfuegos in Cuba at 17, has been compared to Cubs’ outfielder Jorge Soler and Yasiel Puig at the same age.

Moncada’s unique talents come with a unique story.

While many Cuban players are known to leave the island in late-night escapes or defect from the national team during international tournaments but 6-foot-1, 210-pound Moncada was granted his release from the Cienfuegos team this year and cleared by Cuba’s National Baseball Commission. He was later granted a visa and a passport by the Cuban government and left on an airplane to Central America, where trained for several months before his first showcase in front of 60-70 scouts on Nov. 12.

The Yankees, Braves, Red Sox and Cubs all reportedly had four or more scouts at the showcase, but every team has expressed some level of interest.

Because he is under 23 and has not played in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Moncada will be subjected to the international signing guidelines, but it’s unclear if he would be eligible to sign during the 2014-15 international signing period, which started July 2 and ends June 15, 2015, or during the 2015-16 signing period, which starts on July 2, 2015.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have a reputation for being aggressive on the international market, having spent more than 15 percent above their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. Those three clubs will not be able to sign Moncada if he becomes eligible to sign after June 15.

The Cubs and Rangers, on the other hand, can’t sign an international player for more than $250,000 during this signing period after exceeding their pools last period by more than 15 percent. They would benefit from Moncada not becoming available until after June 15.

One thing is certain: Moncada has arrived.

Yasmany Tomas to D-backs

 

Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas and the D-backs have agreed to a six-year deal worth $68.5 million, according to industry sources.

The Tomas deal will include an opt-out after four years and is pending a physical, the sources said. The D-backs have not confirmed the agreement.

Tomas, who turned 24 on Nov. 14, left Cuba last summer and trained six days a week for four months until the rules allowed him to begin working out on a baseball field in early September. He eventually starred in a showcase in front of scouts from all 30 Major League team later in the month and held private workouts for the Braves, D-backs, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Royals in the weeks that followed.

Tomas can play right field for the D-backs or move to left field if Arizona chooses to shift Mark Trumbo from left to right field. He’s a middle of the order hitter that could slot somewhere behind All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the team’s no. 3 hitter.

The D-backs finished with a 64-98 mark last season, the worst record in baseball.

The details of Tomas’ escape from Cuba remain mysterious, but here’s what we know: Tomas left the island in June and landed in Haiti, where he later established residency. He was unblocked by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in September and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball a few weeks later.
The son of a fuel truck driver, Tomas is from the La Cuevita San Miguel del Padron section of Havana. He began playing baseball at age 6 with the other neighborhood children in the street, and he often tagged along with his grandfather to watch the hometown Havana Industriales play.
He played five seasons for the Havana Industriales in the Serie Nacional in Cuba, which means he was subjected to the international signing guidelines. Overall, he hit 30 home runs with 104 RBIs in 205 regular-season games for the Industriales, starting in 2008. However, he never played more than 69 games during the Serie Nacional’s 90-game regular season and did not play during the 2010-11 season.

Yasmany Tomas mulling offers

 

It’s close to decision time for Yasmany Tomas.

 
Tomas is currently mulling offers from at least the Braves, D-backs, Padres, and Giants, according to industry sources. He’s also considering attending the Winter Meetings next month in San Diego.

 
It’s unclear when Tomas will make his final choice, but it’s long been believed that the slugger is seeking at least a five- to six-year deal with an annual salary near $15 million. However, last week sources indicated the Tomas camp had not ruled out the possibility of signing a short-term, high-value deal that would allow him to return to the free-agent market sooner rather than later.

 
This much is certain: Tomas starred in a showcase in front of scouts from all 30 Major League teams in September and held private workouts for the D-backs, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Royals in the weeks that followed.

 
We also know the Braves have a need to acquire at least one corner outfielder and have increased their interest in Tomas since dealing Jason Heyward to the Cardinals last week and placing Justin Upton on the trading block.

 
On Tuesday, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, assistant general manager John Coppolella and top international scout Gordon Blakeley were among the club representatives to watch Tomas train in the Dominican Republic.

 
Should Tomas choose Arizona, he could play right field for the D-backs or move to left field if Arizona chose to shift Mark Trumbo from left to right field. Tomas could also slot somewhere behind All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the team’s no. 3 hitter, in the batting order, especially if the club decides to trade catcher Miguel Montero.

 
The Giants, who recently said goodbye to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, have scouted Tomas extensively and there’s a belief the slugger could play third base, in addition to left field, for San Francisco if he signs there. Tomas’ agent, Jay Alou, is the nephew of Felipe Alou, who serves as a special assistant to San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean.

 
The Padres have an offer on the table for Tomas, and general manager A.J. Preller was recently in the Dominican Republic to meet with the outfielder, but the Padres are not believed to have the highest current bid for his services.

 
The Phillies had been considered by some the favorite to land Tomas, but a source told MLB.com last week that the club had cooled on him because of his asking price. However, the Phillies remain interested in signing the player.

 
Tomas, who turned 24 earlier this month, played five seasons for the Havana Industriales and hit 30 home runs with 104 RBIs in 205 regular-season games for the Industriales, starting in 2008. However, he never played in more than 69 games during the Serie Nacional’s 90-game regular seasons and did not play at all during the 2010-11 season.

 

Tomas left Cuba earlier this year and established residency in Haiti.

 

 

Another Yoan (Lopez) on the radar

YoanLopezpitchesThere’s another young Cuban prospect named Yoan that is poised to make an impact on the international market.

Right-handed pitcher Yoan Lopez, 21, held a showcase for scouts in the Dominican Republic on Nov. 8 and has another showcase scheduled for next week on the island. Sources indicate the Yankees, Padres, Giants, D-backs are among the teams that have already expressed strong interest in the 6-foot-4, 190-pound pitcher.

Lopez, who established residency in Haiti and has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, must still be cleared by Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury before he can sign with a team. Top prospect Yoan Moncada, 19, a switch-hitting infielder from Cienfuegos, is also awaiting OFAC clearance before he can sign.

As for Lopez, he throws a cut-fastball, a change, a curve and a slider, but is best known for a fastball that hovers in the 93-to-95 MPH range. His fastball has been clocked at 100 MPH three times since he began working out for teams. Back in Cuba, Lopez played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, the island’s top league. He sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting from Cuba.

Because he is under 23 and has not played in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Lopez is subject to the international signing guidelines. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team’s record in 2013 for the international signing period, which started on July 2.

It will be interesting to see which teams pursue Lopez.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have spent more than 15 percent of their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. The Angels are also expected to face the most severe penalty after agreeing to a deal worth $8 million with Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin, which could be an indication clubs are willing to accept the maximum penalty for the right player.

 

Padres, Braves in hunt for Tomas

The race to sign Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is heating up once again.

The Braves and Padres have emerged as the frontrunners in the Tomas’ sweepstakes and top officials from both clubs are expected to meet with him this weekend in the Dominican Republic, according to industry sources.

What’s more, sources indicate Tomas is currently mulling offers and his camp is considering attending Winter Meetings in San Diego next month. The slugger is believed to be seeking at least a five to seven year deal with an annual salary near $15 million, but the Tomas’ camp has not ruled out the possibility of signing a short-term, high-value deal that would allow him to return to the market sooner rather than later.

Tomas, who turned 24 on Nov. 14, left Cuba last summer and trained six days a week for four months until the rules allowed him to begin working out on a baseball field in early September. He starred in a showcase in front of scouts from all 30 Major League team later in the month and held private workouts for the D-backs, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Royals in the weeks that followed.

The Phillies were previously mentioned as the favorite to land the slugger.

Tomas played five seasons for the Havana Industriales in the Serie Nacional in Cuba, which means he was subjected to the international signing guidelines. Overall, he hit 30 home runs with 104 RBIs in 205 regular-season games for the Industriales, starting in 2008. However, he never played more than 69 games during the Serie Nacional’s 90-game regular season and did not play during the 2010-11 season.

The son of a fuel truck driver, Tomas is from the La Cuevita San Miguel del Padron section of Havana. He began playing baseball at age 6 with the other neighborhood children in the street, and he often tagged along with his grandfather to watch the hometown Havana Industriales play.

Check mlb.com for updates

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