The next top Cuban pitching prospect is making his way toward a Major League contract.
On Thursday, right-handed starter Yaisel Sierra, 24, retired all nine batters he faced in three innings during a showcase at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.,in front of an estimated 350 scouts and several top club officials.
Sierra, who has been throwing for teams each week for the last two months in the Dominican Republic, has a visa and is expected to begin visiting cities of teams interested in signing him. Sierra is still waiting to be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. Because of his age and experience, he will not be subject to the international signing guidelines.
Most scouts believe Sierra can help a Major League team next season. He could command a contract comparable to the seven-year, $27 million deal the Reds awarded Cuban starting pitcher Raisel Iglesias last summer and the four-year, $32 million deal starter Jose Contreras signed with the Yankees in 2002.
From Baseball America:
“Sierra threw 34 pitches on Thursday, including 19 fastballs, 12 sliders and two changeups. His average fastball velocity was 94.7 mph, and the pitch peaked at 96 multiple times and once dropped to 91. Sierra had outstanding command of his fastball down and to his glove side. He also had command of his slider in the same spot. Sierra’s slider broke with very late two-plane movement, and he ran it away from righthanded batters consistently, and the pitch showed the ability to compete in the strike zone. Sierra threw what appeared to be a changeup twice. The pitch had more vertical movement than his slider, and did not have overwhelming fade, though he did hit his spots with it.
The righthanded Sierra looked extremely polished on the mound. He repeated his moderate stride very well, consistently landing online and hitting his spots down in the strike zone. Sierra has a clean arm action, with a smooth wrap in the back and ease through release.”
“I don’t know. I think every change I hope is a positive. There’s a lot of good players over there that I think deserve to play where everybody wants to play, at the big-league level. Hopefully one day they’ll get the chance.”
— Jose Iglesias, Tigers
“I’m happy that they’re going back to negotiations or whatever it is that they’re doing. I feel like Cuba has a lot to give and so does the United States. The United States getting in there could help Cuba a lot, especially in the economy. Hopefully, moving forward in the next 10, 15 years, they can get back to where they used to be before.”
“I think there’s a lot of conversations that need to be taken, a lot of things that need to be talked about. Hopefully they can get it resolved in a timely matter, but it’s definitely going to take a long time. I’d love to see all those athletes that are coming over here not just have to live here, they can always go back and see their families. I know there’s a lot of people that have come here that haven’t seen their families in a lot of years. Hopefully they can open up and we can be just like Puerto Ricans or Venezuelans or Dominicans or whoever it is that plays professional baseball and they can get back into the country after the year is over.”
Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
The start of the international signing period for 2015-2016 begins on July 2 and here’s another look at the MLB.com’s Top 30 International Prospects List for players eligible to sign.
Other Names To Watch:
Miguel Aparicio (5-ft-11, 162, pounds), Venezuela
Simon Muzziotti (6-ft, 163 pounds) Venezuela
Jesus Lujano (5-ft-10, 170 pounds), Venezuela
Jonathan Machado (5-ft-10, 155), Cuba
Larry Alcime Jr. (6-ft-2, 200 pounds) Bahamas
Rafael Marchan (5-ft-8, 175 pounds), Venezuela
Jose Sibrian (6-ft-1, 180 pounds), Venezuela
Gresuan Silverio (6-ft, 165 pounds), Dominican Republic
Miguel Hernandez (5-ft-11, 152 pounds) Venezuela
Rafy Ozuna (6-ft-2, 170 pounds), Dominican Republic
Luis Oviedo (6-ft-1, 215 pounds) Venezuela
Gillian Wernett, (6-ft-1, 215 pounds), Aruba
Yunior Perez, (6-ft-4, 190 pounds), Dominican Republic
Fraylin Santos (6-ft-3, 190 pounds), Dominican Republic
Gabriel Estrada (6-ft-1, 170 pounds) Venezuela
An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of next year if he is 17 or will turn 17 by the end of the first season of his contract.
Additionally, any prospect that is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.
Each team is allotted a base of $700,000 and a bonus pool made up of four slot values based on the team’s record for the previous year to spend on these prospects. Including the base, the money allotted to spend ranges from $5,393,900 for the D-backs, who had the Majors’ lowest winning percentage last year, to $1,968,600 for the Angels, who had the highest winning percentage.
Additionally, clubs are again allowed to trade pool money. Bonuses of $10,000 or less are exempt and do not count against the allotment.
Teams that exceed the pools by 0 to 5 percent have to pay 100 percent tax, and teams that exceed the pools by 5 to 10 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period and also have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage. Teams that exceed the pools by 10 to 15 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period and have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
In the most severe penalty, teams that exceed the pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods, in addition to paying a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
The D-backs, Angels, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees exceeded the 2014-15 pool by at least 15 percent, and cannot sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who previously signed a contract with a Major or Minor League club, nor do they apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner’s Office for a minimum of five seasons. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons are also exempt.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
3. The exciting future of Cuba’s national team.
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.
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.