The Cubs have signed a pair of Cuban prospects, outfielder Yasiel Balaguert and righthander Carlos Martinez.
(Update, Jan. 11: Balaguert signed for $400,000 and Martinez signed for $250,000.)
Balaguert, who turns 19 on Jan. 9, has modest tools, a strong, thick-bodied frame (6 feet, 190 pounds) that he will have to keep in check and shows occasional average power with a quick bat and good extension. Several scouts have said he'll have to continue to make adjustments to get to his power in games because of a long, uppercut swing from the right side and an aggressive, pull-oriented approach that leaves him susceptible to secondary stuff.
Balaguert played for Cuba's junior national team in July 2010 at the World Junior Championship in Thunder Bay, Ont. before he defected later that year, playing alongside Jorge Soler and against future 2011 first-round picks Bubba Starling, Francisco Lindor and Blake Swihart. Balaguert hit .200/.300/.240, going 5-for-25 with a double, two walks, two hit by pitches and nine strikeouts in seven games, beginning the tournament as Cuba's leadoff hitter before being dropped to the bottom of the order later in the competition. He had shown better the previous year at the World Youth Championship in Taiwan, where he hit .333/.387/.519 (9-for-27) with three doubles, a triple, three walks and seven strikeouts.
At Thunder Bay, Balaguert played center field with Soler in right. He shows solid defensive instincts and route running, though his speed gets 40-45 grades from scouts on the 20-80 scale with a near average arm, so he likely fits better in left field long term.
Martinez, 20, played for the Industriales in Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2009-2010, when according to Baseball America's records he had a 5.48 ERA in 23 innings with 19 strikeouts and 23 walks as a reliever. He has a thick-bodied frame at around 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with a fastball that parks in the low 90s. His breaking ball needs work, as at his best scouts have seen him flash an average curveball but it often gets slurvy, while his changeup is also a work in progress with occasional fade.
Balaguert and Martinez are both represented by Jaime Torres, who also represented outfielder Rubi Silva and catcher Yaniel Cabeza when they signed with the Cubs out of Cuba on Dec. 15, 2010.
Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler are the big-name Cubans getting attention in the Dominican Republic, and rightfully so. Neither are free agents yet (a process that may take longer than it has been portrayed), but both are premium prospects, with Cespedes closer to a big league ready player than a true prospect.
Here's one name to file away for who knows when: Guillermo Aviles, an 18-year-old, lefthanded outfielder playing for Granma in Cuba's top league, Serie Nacional. Aviles, who turns 19 next month, hit his first career home run yesterday, continuing a solid start to the season with a .279/.326/.442 batting line and just five strikeouts in 46 trips to the plate. The league as a whole this year is hitting .285/.365/.416 with a .781 OPS, so Aviles (.768 OPS) at the least is holding his own as one of the league's youngest players.
Aviles can't match Soler's explosive tools or size, but when the two were junior national teammates at the World Junior Championship in Thunder Bay, Ont. in July 2010, Aviles arguably outperformed Soler and was named to the all-tournament team as a first baseman. Aviles hit .370/.452/.741 at the tournament, going 10-for-27 with two homers, a triple, two doubles, four walks and two strikeouts, leading the Cubans in batting average and slugging and ranking second to Soler (.500) in OBP.
At a slim 6-foot-1, Aviles has an athletic frame and a smooth swing with good rhythm and balance. Scouts who have seen Aviles have said he's shown good feel for hitting and the ability to use the opposite field, with the potential for average power in the future, maybe more. He's shown average speed and arm strength, and when he played first base for the junior national team scouts said he looked fluid and handled the position well, though Granma has been using him in center field and right field this season.
Cuban lefthander Alexander Carreras, who turns 22 on Sunday, has signed with the Diamondbacks for $400,000.
At his best, Carreras has shown a solid delivery and athleticism, touched 93 mph and mixed in a hard cutter/slider, which some scouts believe is his best pitch. His velocity has been inconsistent, though, and some scouts said they saw him sitting around 86-89 mph. The 6-foot lefty also mixes in a breaking ball and a changeup.
Carreras had been training in the Dominican Republic with Edgar Mercedes over the last year and pitching in winter ball for Aguilas in the Dominican League, where in four starts he had a 4.20 ERA with 12 strikeouts and 10 walks in 15 innings.
According to Baseball America's records, Carreras played in Cuba for the Industriales in his final season (2009-2010) in Serie Nacional, where he had a 5.01 ERA in 70 innings with 46 strikeouts and 36 walks. During his rookie season in 2008-2009, Carreras played for the Guerreros de Metropolitanos and posted a 3.94 ERA in 48 innings with 33 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Given his Cuban track record, Carreras is expected to begin his career in the minor leagues, possibly Double-A Mobile or high Class A Visalia.
The Australian Baseball League is hosting its first-ever all-star game on Wednesday with the hopes of catching the eyes of a worldwide audience.
Players selected from the league's six teams will represent their home countries, playing for either Team Australian or Team World at the game in Perth. The international team features players from the U.S., Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Italy and even India.
Adelaide Bite pitcher Rinku Singh (Pirates), the only representative in the league from India, thinks that participating in the game is a chance to help send baseball back home, and hopes that things like the all-star game will help make the sport more popular in his home country.
“First of all, it’s pretty exciting to go and play in an all-star game,” Singh said. “And then second of all, to be the first baseball player from India, I’ve had a huge opportunity to make it to the major leagues and to try to bring baseball back home. People are really crazy about it here, but at home they keep following how I’m doing and everything. I’m trying my best to just keep it up and succeed in baseball because if I make it, it’s going to be bigger back home.”
As always, keep tabs on your favorite organization's offseason activity with the Minor League Free Agent Tracker.
The Blue Jays and Rays acquired useful role players at the Dec. 12 non-tender deadline simply for the willingness to tender ’12 contracts to Ben Francisco and Burke Badenhop. Two other players re-signed on minor league deals with the same club after not being offered a major league contract: Chris Gimenez (Mariners) and Fabio Castillo (Rangers). Trade Central provides a comprehensive overview of all the offseason's wheeling and dealing.
Released: RHP Reid Mahon
Signed: LHP Ryan Edell, OF Carlos Larez
Boston Red Sox
Released: RHP Miguel Gonzalez
This is the same Miguel Gonzalez whom the Red Sox drafted in the ’08 Rule 5, following a year lost to injury in the Angels system. He repeated the trick with the Red Sox in ’09, missing the entire year after having Tommy John surgery. Gonzalez returned to make 35 total appearances in ’10 and ’11, topping out in Double-A last year. [...] Continue Reading »
Major League Baseball has taken another step toward its goal of implementing an international draft.
MLB and the MLB Players' Association today announced they have formed an International Talent Committee to review the way international players are signed and developed. The formation of the committee was in accordance with the new collective bargaining agreement.
MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner and MLB executive vice president of labor relations and human resources Rob Manfred are the committee's co-chairs. MLB vice president Kim Ng, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson (who had previously been in charge of MLB's efforts to reform its operations in Latin America) and Rays GM Andrew Friedman will be on the committee, as will MLBPA director of player relations Tony Clark, MLBPA senior advisor Rick Shapiro and MLBPA special assistant Stan Javier.
The committee does not include any international scouting directors, nor does it have any trainers or agents who represent international amateur players.
The committee will meet twice a month, starting on or before Jan. 15. Among the committee's stated goals:
J.J. Cooper and John Manuel supplied you with the cure for Rule 5 fever as they reported from the Winter Meetings. Elsewhere, John laments the paucity of intriguing talent in the Rule 5 draft these days.
Don't miss the Minor League Free Agent Tracker, which allows users to filter more than 600 players by 2011 organization, new org, position and signed/unsigned status. We're up to 150 signees and counting.
Signed: LHP Jason Lane, SS Cody Ransom (re-signed)
Note that Arizona signed 34-year-old veteran Jason Lane as a lefthanded pitcher and not an outfielder. A two-way star at Southern California, he picked up the win in the ’98 College World Series finale but didn't log multiple pitching appearances in a season in pro ball until 12 years later. He logged 13 relief innings for the Blue Jays' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate this year, collecting 12 strikeouts and allowing two walks and 18 hits. The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a comprehensive piece about Lane and his pitching pursuits in August. It's worth your time if you're interested in Lane, the Diamondbacks or conversion players. [...] Continue Reading »
DALLAS—Every year's Rule 5 draft previews must mention the event's rich history. It's where the Twins acquired Johan Santana, where the Royals found Joakim Soria, and where Josh Hamilton's career hit the reset button.
But since changes in 2007 that added a year of protection for clubs before their players had to be added to the 40-man roster, the Rule 5 has shrunk in importance. Thursday's proceedings, where 37 players were selected overall—12 in the major league phase—showed that the new rules almost have rendered the Rule 5 obsolete.
"The rules changes have had a significant impact on the talent pool," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, whose team was active for the fifth straight year, selecting a player in the Rule 5's major league phase. "Going from three and four years to four and five years, you start to see a thinner talent pool."
Of the 12 players selected, eight were pitches and four were position players. Righthander Rhiner Cruz, who went to Houston, enters history as this year's top Rule 5 selection. [...] Continue Reading »
DALLAS—The Winter Meetings wrap up Thursday with the Rule 5 draft, and the status of the first pick of the draft seemed to be coming into focus as Wednesday night crept into Thursday morning.
Most of the buzz in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole centered on Jiwan James, the Phillies' outfielder and No. 9 prospect, being in the Astros' cross-hairs. He's athletic, he's a major league-caliber defender right now, and his speed and defense could buy time for his bat to develop. One scout compared him to Dewayne Wise, whose long big league career started when he was Rule 5'd back in 1999.
However, the James speculation seemed to stop when word leaked that the Astros had hired Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow as their new general manager. Luhnow had success with St. Louis' drafts, but he made his name with the Cardinals drafting more polished, role players—along the lines of World Series heroes Allen Craig or Lance Lynn—rather than high-risk, high-reward players such as James. It remains to be seen if the Luhnow hire would affect Houston's Rule 5 pick—for example, would the Astros pick a Cardinals player, such as righthander Francisco Samuel?—and Astros officials weren't commenting Thursday night. [...] Continue Reading »
DALLAS—In the first half of this decade, the Rule 5 draft produced star big leaguers such as Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Jose Bautista, among others.
But the eligibility rules changed for the 2006 edition of the draft, granting teams an extra year of protection for their players. After teams got used to the new rules of the game—Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton went off the board early in ’06—the draft has mattered less and less each year. Since ’07 the success stories have been much more modest, e.g. Darren O'Day, Joe Paterson, Everth Cabrera, and just five Rule 5 picks stuck with their drafting clubs from the 2010 proceedings, only one of them a position player, Michael Martinez of the Phillies.
DALLAS—The International Baseball Federation held its congress in Dallas in advance of the Winter Meetings, announcing significant changes to the international baseball schedule.
Among the changes announced was the formal announcement that the title of 'world champion,' which the IBAF must designate as part of its charter, will now go to the winner of the World Baseball Classic. IBAF president Riccardo Fraccari also announced that Major League Baseball is launching the 18-and-under version of the Classic, which will replace IBAF's 18U World Junior Championship. The last IBAF 18U tournament will be held in 2012.
IBAF also announced two new events, one of which has been reported on previously. The top 12 finishers in the 2013 WBC will line up in 2015 for the Super 12 (previously reported as the Premier 12). In addition, IBAF announced a rebranding of the baseball World Cup, which starting in 2014 will be limited to players 21 and under. The 21U World Cup likely will become the premier tournament for USA Baseball's College National Team in the future, replacing the FISU World University Games, where the age limit is 27. [...] Continue Reading »
Dominican outfielder Sanber Pimentel has signed with the Athletics.
Pimentel, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound lefty, is a 17-year-old from Santo Domingo who trained at La Academia. He stands out for his bat and projects as either a right fielder or a first baseman. His older brother, Rangers 22-year-old outfielder Guillermo Pimentel, played for short-season Spokane in 2011.
The Minor League Free Agent Tracker allows users to easily find out which players each organization has signed this offseason.
Signed: RHP Jensen Lewis, SS Wladimir Sutil
Signed: RHP Jonatan Isenia, RHP Miguel Socolovich, SS Steve Tolleson, OF Victor Medina
Chicago White Sox
Signed: SS Ray Olmedo [...] Continue Reading »
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