Yasmani Tomas, one of the top young power hitters in Cuba and a member of the national team, has left the island to pursue a contract with a major league team, Baseball America has learned. The Cuban newspaper Granma also confirmed that Tomas had left the country.
Tomas is 23 and has played five seasons in Serie Nacional, so he will be exempt from the international bonus pools, even when the new rules kick in on July 2 that require five seasons instead of three for pool exemption. Tomas was arguably one of the top 10 or so players left in Cuba in terms of major league potential, and one of the top half dozen players who meet MLB’s 23-and-5 rules, the sweet spot for a signing unencumbered by the pools.
A righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, Tomas can hit towering home runs thanks to the strength from his thickly-built 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. Tomas has 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale, and with Jose Abreu already gone, the only player still in Cuba with more raw power than him was Alfredo Despaigne. He has some experience in center field and is a decent runner for his size, but his speed is still below-average and he’s going to be a corner outfielder in pro ball.
Tomas was one of the youngest players on the Cuban national team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, although he had an up-and-down season for his Industriales team this past season. Given his present talent level, Tomas might have a chance to go straight into a major league lineup, but a more likely scenario would have him starting in the upper minors, with Triple-A seeming like a good fit.
The WBC provided a breakout platform for Tomas to showcase his skills in front of scouts, and he seized the opportunity, ranking as the No. 6 prospect at the tournament. While veteran national teamer Alexei Bell started the tournament in right field, by the end of the event Tomas was getting more playing time, going 6-for-16 (.412) with two home runs, one double, one walk and four strikeouts. During the 2012-13 Serie Nacional regular season that year, Tomas hit .289/.364/.538 with 15 home runs, 34 walks (10 intentional) and 52 strikeouts in 324 plate appearances over 81 games, ranking fifth in the league in slugging and sixth in home runs. That came one year after his breakthrough 2011-12 campaign when he batted .301/.340/.580 with 16 homers in 240 plate appearances over 69 games.
Tomas did show some swing-and-miss tendencies at the WBC with an uppercut stroke and trouble handling good breaking pitches. Three months after the WBC, when Cuba took a team to the U.S. last summer to face the college national team, the U.S. power arms were able to exploit some of those holes by beating him with good velocity up and in and getting him to swing through soft stuff in and out of the zone.
This past season in Cuba, which ended with Industriales losing in the semifinals in April, Tomas seemed to regress, even losing playing time in the second half, which one source said was the result of an arm injury he sustained crashing into an outfield wall in February. He finished the season at .290/.346/.450 with six home runs, 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.
Tomas will still have to obtain residency in another country, get an unblocking license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball to be eligible to enter into an agreement with a club. The timetable for jumping through those hurdles varies, though it seems unlikely Tomas would sign before the end of the season and it might take him until 2015 to ultimately sign.