SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic—Julio Pablo Martinez, a 21-year-old center fielder who has been one of the top young players in Cuba, has left the country to pursue a contract with a major league team.
At around 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Martinez is a lefty with a promising combination of power and speed. Last season in Serie Nacional, Cuba's top league, Martinez hit .333/.469/.498 in 264 plate appearances with 52 walks, 30 strikeouts, six home runs and 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts. Based on his present ability, he's probably ready to go to a high Class A or Double-A team.
The addition of Martinez to the international signing mix throws an X-factor into the market. To become eligible to sign, Martinez must still establish residency in another country and then wait for Major League Baseball to clear him to sign. Due to his age, he will be subject to the international bonus pools. Based on the recent timetable for other Cuban signings, Martinez shouldn't have a problem getting cleared to sign during the current 2017-18 signing period, which opened on July 2 and closes next year on June 15.
However, unlike when Luis Robert left Cuba and signed with the White Sox for $26 million earlier this year, Martinez is in a tricky spot. Not only do teams now have hard caps on their international bonus pools, but many of them have already spent either most if not nearly all of their current 2017-18 bonus pools. For those that have more pool space remaining for this signing period, such as the Yankees and Rangers, their plan A is to spend that money on Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani if he becomes available this offseason through the posting system.
Teams are allowed to trade for up to an additional 75 percent of their original pool allocation, so teams with a $4.75 million pool can trade for up to a little more than $8.3 million, while teams with the highest pools at $5.75 million could trade for up to a tick above $10 million.
Martinez could opt to wait until the 2018-19 signing period opens next year on July 2. Even then, several teams already have made unofficial commitments to other players to tie up a sizeable chunk of their 2018 bonus pools, though he would likely find a more robust market if he waited until July 2.
Then there are a slew of teams that are unable to offer Martinez more than $300,000 as a penalty for having exceeded their bonus pools under the previous rules in the last two years. There are 12 teams—the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Royals, Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, Reds and White Sox—under that penalty for this signing period. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Royals won't have any restrictions next year in 2018-19, though the other eight teams will all be under the penalty that year, essentially knocking them out of the mix for Martinez.
Despite being left off Cuba's roster for this year's World Baseball Classic, Martinez has been one of the rising stars in Cuba the past few seasons. He excelled during his time playing in Cuba's junior national leagues, earning spots on the 18U junior national team that played in Mexico in 2014 and the previous year in Taiwan. The 18U team in Mexico featured a loaded outfield that also included Robert, Padres outfielder Jorge Ona, Dodgers outfielder Yusniel Daiz and center fielder Victor Mesa, the top young star still in Cuba.