Top Cuban Prospects in the American League

A number of Cubans have signed contracts with large bonuses but not a lot of them are seeing major league playing time. At least yet. The Dodgers have thrown a boatload of money at Cuban prospects but have gotten very little benefit from those signings. One, Alex Guerrero is now tearing it up in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

Last year a couple players from the 2017 top Cuban prospects in the American League top ten list saw some major league playing time that they are no longer eligible for the 2018 list. The top prospect Yoan Moncada is one of them. Problems making contact have resulted in some initial struggles in the major leagues, but he seems to be doing better in 2018 now that he has the starting second base job for the White Sox. The fourth rated prospect Yandy Diaz also graduated, but a lack of power at a position (third base) where power is expected has put him back in the minor leagues to begin the 2018 season. His best bet may be as a utility player. The ninth rated prospect veteran Yulieski Gurriel made it as a first baseman with the Astros, a position he did not play in Cuba. The eighth rated prospect Guillermo Heredia plays superb defense but has still not shown the bat to be nothing more than a fourth outfielder. The suspension of Robinson Cano may move Dee Gordon back to second, giving Heredia another opportunity to show he can make it as a starter.

With Norge Ruiz dropping from the 2017 list that leaves five open spots for new players to appear on the 2018 list. Below are the top ten Cuban prospects playing for American League teams.

1. Luis Robert OF (White Sox) - if the White Sox can keep Jose Abreu they could have a lineup with one third of their players originating from Cuba. The White Sox shelled out a record $26 million bonus to sign Luis. With the new international cap restrictions Luis may be the last of the big time Cuban signings. Luis has the five tools to make him a superstar. So did Yasiel Puig. What he does with those tools will determine his fate in the major leagues. His best tool is his speed with an arm that will allow him to move to right field. At 6′3″ he has the bulk to hit for power. Many Cubans struggle hitting the diet of breaking pitches they see when they get to the States but Luis showed decent contact last year playing in the Dominican League. A sprained thumb has delayed the start of his 2018 season until mid May. Last year in the Dominican League Luis hit .310 with 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts, three homeruns and a .536 slugging average in 28 games, missing a lot of time with minor injuries. Hopefully his tightly wound up body is not plagued by injuries, something that has hampered the production of Yoenis Cespedes.

2. Julio Pablo Martinez OF (Rangers) - The Rangers lost out on the Shohei Ohtani signing, but they did sign Martinez for $2.8 million. Martinez does not have the size of Robert (5′8 to 5′10″) or the 100 mile per hour fastball of Ohtani but he has a collection of speed and power that makes him attractive. His speed may be a tick faster than Robert but his arm is not as strong. His power is also short of Robert. His speed resulted in a number of stolen bases in Cuba and should allow him to stick in centerfield. If he fails in center it will send him down the same path as Adonis Garcia, a fourth outfielder who lacks the power to play corner. Julio had a career .430 slugging average in Cuba but much of his career there was played as a teenager. The Rangers have not assigned him to a minor league team as of yet. When ready he is expected to play at Low A.

3. Lourdes Gurriel 2B/SS (Blue Jays) - In Cuba the teams there could not find a position for him. The Blue Jays are also finding it difficult to fit him at a position. He started as a shortstop in Cuba but has played second and third. A lack of consistency in the field has resulted in him moving to a number of positions. Myworld would like to see how he handles the outfield where his oldest brother Yuniesky plays. Lourdes is the younger brother of Yuli Gurriel and the son of Lourdes who played on the Cuban national team that won a number of gold medals in Olympic and World Cup play. Last year the Blue Jays tried him at second and short. At short his fielding percentage was .837 in the Florida State League. This year his fielding has been more consistent at second and short, even seeing eight games in the major leagues at short and committing just one error. His bat is what teams want to see in the lineup. The Blue Jays are filled with players of famous fathers who played in the major leagues (Guerrero, Biggio, Bichette, Dwight Smith) and Gurriel is another whose father could have played in the major leagues. The power is there for him to hit 20 plus homeruns if he can show a little more patience at the plate and not swing at pitcher’s pitches.

4. Yordan Alvarez 1B/OF (Astros) - The Dodgers originally signed Alvarez for $2 million but traded him to the Astros before he ever played a game. At 6′5″ Yordan is a big guy oozing with power potential. Defensively his best position may be first base. The Astros are using him in left field. A lack of speed and arm makes that the only outfield position he would be best fitted for. Last year a wrist injury limited him to 90 games. It also sapped his power, his slugging average dropping from .658 in Low A to .393 in High A. In his first 27 games this year he was slugging .542 but a collision at third base but him on the disabled list again. Myworld hopes this does not become part of a pattern.

5. Lazaro Armenteros OF (Athletics) - He came with a lot of hype. The nickname for him was Lazarito. The hype may have been a bit exaggerated. A below average arm and lack of burner speed has put him in left. It is hoped that as his body fills out he will hit for power to fit the position. In his debut in the rookie league he did hit four homeruns and slugged .474 as an 18 year old. The strikeouts are prevalent, but he did steal 12 bases in 15 attempts. The Athletics assigned him to Low A in early May where in 10 games he is hitting .324 with two homeruns. The Athletics paid him a $3 million bonus. If he is restricted to left field his bat needs to show some power if they want to get their money’s worth.

6. Cionel Perez LHP (Astros) - Cionel was a bit upset when the Astros originally offered him a $5.15 million bonus in 2016 then reduced it to $2 million when they found problems with his elbow. Not an overpowering pitcher with a fastball in the low 90s the elbow was not an issue last year when he started 16 games. His results were rather ordinary with AA hitters mashing him at a .294 clip. The start of the 2018 season has seen different results with AA hitters flailing away at a .229 clip with a 1.59 ERA in five starts. The Astros are quite satisfied with their starting pitching at the moment so Cionel may have to wait until the 2019 season to get a major league opportunity.

7. Rogelio Armenteros RHP (Astros) - Rogelio was an unheralded Cuban prospect who signed for $40,000 in 2014. He is a crafty pitcher who relies on an above average change that makes his low 90s fastball appear faster. He also controls the plate with above average command. Since signing he has been carving up minor league hitters to a .231 average. After limiting AAA hitters to a .207 average last year in 10 starts he has not had the same success this year, getting tagged for a .274 average. His last two outings have been better, giving up just one earned run in 10.2 innings. Expect him to pitch the full season in AAA, unless injuries decimate the depth the Astros have in their starting rotation.

8. Yanio Perez OF/3B (Rangers) - The Rangers signed Yanio for $1.14 million in 2016 after he starred for Cuba in 2013 in the 18 and under World Cup. He played two uneventful seasons in Cuba as a teenager before leaving for the United States. His lack of speed restricts him to the outfield corners. The Rangers moved him to third base this year but he was injured after just three games and has yet to return. Power is what the Rangers are hoping from him. Last year he hit 14 homeruns in his professional debut at Low and High A. They won’t see that if he doesn’t avoid the disabled list.

9. Andy Ibanez 2b/3B (Rangers) - Ibanez was a star in the making in Cuba, the youngest player to make the World Baseball Classic team. The Rangers signed him in 2015 for $1.6 million after he played three years in Cuba as a teenager. His tools are not off the charts and his lack of speed and power restrict him to second base, where Rougned Odor currently plays. Even at second base his defense does not make up for what appears to be an average bat. Last year he hit .265 in AA with six homeruns and a .400 slugging average. This year he is in AAA hitting an impressive .325 with two homeruns and a .447 slugging average. If he can keep putting up those 2018 numbers that could get him a major league opportunity but it won’t be long term. There just isn’t enough there.

10. Elian Rodriguez RHP (Astros) - Elian replaces Norge Ruiz as the number 10 on this list because he has more flashy tools. At 6′4″ he has a good pitcher’s frame. His fastball zips across the plate in the mid-90s as he attacks hitters with quality stuff. At 20 years old he is also young enough to improve. The Astros signed him for $2 million last year. He was roughed up a bit in the Dominican League, walking 30 hitters in just 25 innings and getting ripped for a .313 average. He has yet to appear in a game this year but will probably begin his season in the rookie level leagues.

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