Top Cuban Prospects - National League

Myworld had a tough time finding that sure number one Cuban prospect for the National League. Last year Adrian Morejon was number one. This year he has dropped. Yadier Alvarez and Yoan Lopez graduated from last year’s list. With just two players dropping (Adolis Garcia and Vladimir Gutierrez) that left room for only four new players on the list. Below are the top Cuban prospects in the National League for 2020.

1. Jose Garcia SS (Reds) - He jumped all the way up from number 9. Perhaps I was too influenced by the kind of spring he was having before the corona virus hit. Unlike Luis Robert, the number one Cuban prospect in the American League Jose is not blessed with extraordinary tools. The Reds signed him for $5 million in 2017. He moved from second to short and has shown he possesses the glove and the arm for the position. His bat was a question mark. The first year he hit just .245 in Low A with a .344 slugging average. Last year he improved his hitting in High A with a .280 average and a .436 slugging. Most of the increase in slugging was due to his 37 doubles, an increase of 15 over last year. Garcia will mainly be a gap hitter, though his 6′2″ frame could reflect double digit homerun power as he matures. Jose should play AA next year. With a good season he could get a callup in 2020, but more likely 2021.

2. Randy Arozarena OF (Rays) - He went from not appearing on this list last year to number 2. At 25 he may be a little old to be a highly rated prospect. The Cardinals traded him this year in the Matthew Liberatore trade to free some outfield space. The Rays outfield is a bit crowded as well but Arozarena should find himself somewhere in the lineup before the season ends. The Cardinals signed him for $1.25 million in 2016. His power seems to be improving with 15 homeruns between AA and AAA with a slugging percentage of .571. This led to a promotion to the major leagues where he added one more tater. He has the speed to cover centerfield and the arm to play right. As a centerfielder he would probably be average defensively, but put him on the corner and he could win gold gloves. He hopes to build on his 2019 season and earn a starting role in 2020 for the Rays.

3. Victor Victor Mesa OF (Marlins) - He and his younger brother Victor Mesa Jr. defected on the same day. Victor Victor got the brunt of the bonus money signing for $5.2 million while his younger brother signed for just $1 million. Victor Victor is five years older than his younger brother so in due time Victor Jr may develop into a better player. Their dad is a Cuban Hall of Famer and one of the reasons Victor Victor left Cuba was the pressure the Cuban fans placed on him to meet their expectations of the son of a Hall of Famer. The transition has been a struggle. In High A he hit only .252 which resulted in a promotion to AA where he only hit .178 for a .235 average. He failed to have a ball sail over the park in 464 at bats and only slugged .263 with a .274 OBA. If he had put those numbers up in Cuba they would be roasting him but in the minor leagues he is barely noticed. Defensively he has great speed to cover ground in centerfield with a very strong arm. He does make good contact with the ball but the exit velocity is lacking. If he wants to make it to the major league he needs to do it with a better bat. At 24 years of age in July his best bet is to play AA to get him close to the major leagues for a 2021 debut.

4. Michel Baez RHP (Padres) - At 6′8″ Michel has a dominating presence. The Padres signed him for $3 million in 2016. Last year he made his major league debut, getting 23 relief appearances. As a starter his command just wasn’t there and a quality breaking pitch was lacking. His fastball/change combination were better suited for the bullpen. His fastball reaches 99. In AA he averaged 12.7 whiffs per nine innings, but that dropped to 8.5 in the major leagues. Expect him to start the year in the Padres bullpen.

5. Malcolm Nunez 3B (Cardinals) - The Cardinals are a little crowded at third with Nolan Gorman and Elehuris Montero ahead of him in the minor leagues. Malcolm was signed for only $300,000 in 2018. The Cardinals were rewarded with a power bat in 2018 where a .414 average and 13 homeruns with a .774 slugging average in the Rookie League put him on the prospect map. He could not replicate those numbers last year, struggling with a .183 average in Low A. He got sent back down to Rookie ball where he hit .254, still not near his average of the previous year. His burly physique will limit him to third base or first base. His foot speed is too slow to make it as an outfielder. His power will reward his team for putting his bat in the lineup but a position may be lacking. Perhaps when he is ready the National League will have the DH. That will be around 2023 if he can get past Rookie ball.

6. Andy Pages OF (Dodgers) - Compared to what the Dodgers have spent on Cuban prospects Pages was a bargain at $300,000. They signed him in 2018 when international salary caps were in place, protecting the Dodgers against themselves. Last year was the first full year Andy played in the United States and he showed some excellent power, slugging 19 homeruns in Rookie ball. He also hit for an acceptable .298 average despite 79 whiffs in just 63 games. Pages has average speed and could survive in centerfield, but his strong arm makes him a better fit for right. At 19 he is still young, but the tools he has are impressive. There is still a couple years of minor leagues he has to play before he is ready to wear a Dodger uniform, but he is certainly a player to watch.

7. Adrian Morejon LHP (Padres) - Last year Morejon was first on this list. An off year where he got lit up in a brief major league appearance (10.13 ERA) calls into question whether his stuff is good enough to be a top of the rotation starter. Major league hitters mashed him at a .385 clip. Even his AA outings were disappointing (4.25 ERA), although he whiffed 11 hitters per nine innings and limited opponents to a .215 average. His fastball hits the mid-90s but he has too many outings where he just doesn’t know where it is going. His secondary pitches also show promise for the rotation. Another issue that keeps coming up is his susceptibility to getting injured. He has yet to pitch over 70 innings in a season. This could result in an eventual move to the bullpen. Last year his season ended early because of shoulder issues, so he will start the 2020 season in AAA. Eventually, if the injuries keep occurring he will be moved to the bullpen.

8. Johan Oviedo RHP (Cardinals) - The Cardinals signed Oviedo for $1.9 million in 2016, the same year they also signed Arozarena. At 6′6″ Johan has intimidating size, but all that length makes it difficult for him to throw strikes. At 22 he is still young. He dominated at High A going 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in five starts. His mid-90s fastball can get swings and misses but his inability to find the plate resulted in 64 walks in 113 innings at AA for a 5.65 ERA in 23 starts. He may have to repeat AA in 2020 but a good year could see him crack the Cardinals rotation. He should be ready to compete for a spot in 2021.

9. Ronald Bolanos RHP (Padres) - Bolanos is the third Padre on this list. They signed him in 2016 for $2.25 million, the same year as the signings of Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon. He started his season in High A, but before the year was done he found himself wearing a major league uniform. The fastball hits the mid-90s and the breaking balls (slider and curve) are solid. His change still needs work as does the command of his pitches. In his major league debut he walked 12 batters in 20 innings resulting in a 5.95 ERA. The Padres have a lot of options for their starting rotation, so if Bolanos still struggles to find the plate he could be another arm used out of the bullpen. The 2020 season should see him work more innings for the Padres.

10. Victor Mesa Jr OF (Marlins) - Myworld was torn between Miguel Vargas of the Dodgers and Victor. Miguel may lack the power or defense to play third and his speed would be a detriment to the outfield. Without power first base would not be a good fit. So we went with Victor Jr., who signed for $1 million, $4 million less than his brother. Last year saw him have a better year than his older brother, hitting .284 in Rookie ball with the only homerun among the Mesa brothers. Like his older brother, Victor Jr. is not expected to have a power bat but his speed is not as fast as his brother. Playing a corner outfield without that power is not a good fit. He is only 18 so there is plenty of time to work on improving the bat. He is still a few years away from playing for the Marlins.

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