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.
As a 16-year-old, Aviles also starred on Cuba's youth national team that took second place at the World Youth Championship in August 2009 in Taiwan. Aviles made the tournament's all-star team as a first baseman, joining Venezuelan second baseman Rougned Odor (Rangers) and Team USA shortstop Francisco Lindor (Indians) as part of a pretty nifty group of all-stars in the infield. He led Cuba in nearly every offensive category, hitting .520/.636/1.120 in seven games, going 13-for-25 with three home runs (most in the tournament), two triples, two doubles, seven walks and three strikeouts.
Unfortunately, video of Aviles is limited. If you scroll to the 0:24 mark in the first video below, you can see him foul off one pitch, but that's about all. The second clip, also from Thunder Bay, starts just after Aviles finishes his swing, but his ensuing home run trot isn't lacking in flair.
Just a name to file away for the future, be it for the Cuban national team or an MLB club.
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