With the Cuban season finishing last month, the wave of talent leaving the island is already starting to pick up. One of the latest players to leave is 23-year-old righthander Yaisel Sierra, who was one of the best pitching prospects in Cuba and will now be exempt from the international bonus pools.
In August, Baseball America ranked Sierra as the No. 14 player still in Cuba, and he likely will be around the same spot when we update those rankings soon. Sierra is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with easy arm action and two plus pitches at times. He throws a lively fastball up to 96 mph and flashes of a swing-and-miss slider, delivering all of his pitches from multiple arm angles.
The key for Sierra will be improving his control and general feel for pitching. After beginning his career in the bullpen for Holguin, he mostly worked as a starter during the 2013-14 season. Instead of staying there, Sierra moved back to the bullpen this past season in 2014-15 and pitched well early but came unraveled in the second half, finishing with a 6.10 ERA in 62 innings with 55 strikeouts and 31 walks (including nine intentional walks). Between his stuff, pitching style and history of control problems in Cuba, Sierra has a lot of similarities to Reds righthander Raisel Iglesias, with Sierra having more size but Iglesias better performance in his final year in Cuba.
While I have seen Sierra pitch 14 times within the last year, scouts haven't had many in-person looks at Sierra. They were able to see him pitch out of the bullpen in Mexico in November at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico, although he didn't travel with the Cuban team that went to the Caribbean Series in February, a notable but understandable omission given his performance.
Sierra, who was first reported to have left Cuba by MLB.com, had his signature start against international competition last July against the U.S. college national team in Cuba, which means teams weren't able to send scouts there to watch him in person. In that start, Sierra threw 5 2/3 shutout innings with seven strikeouts, an outing that came less than 24 hours after he had closed out the previous game with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Since Sierra is 23 and has pitched five seasons in Cuba, he will be exempt from the international bonus pools, once he obtains residency in a third country and is declared a free agent by the commissioner’s office, a process that takes several months. With Sierra being exempt from the bonus pools, any team can sign him once he becomes a free agent, including teams that will be facing penalties for exceeding their bonus pools, since the signing restrictions for a team exceeding its pool only applies to pool-eligible players.
Baseball America subscribers will soon have access to a more thorough report on Sierra along with updated reports and rankings on the top players still in Cuba. From the list of the top players still in Cuba in August, five of those 15 players have left the country, while a sixth, infielder Jose Fernandez, was suspended for attempting to defect.