Three teams look like the favorites to sign Julio Pablo Martinez, a 21-year-old center fielder who had been one of the top young players in Cuba and has talent on par with a first-round pick if he were in the draft.
Two clubs--the Yankees and Marlins--held private workouts for Martinez in Florida last week. Martinez worked out for the Marlins in Jupiter on Thursday, with Marlins president Michael Hill in attendance. Two days later, Martinez was in Tampa for a private workout with the Yankees.
The Yankees, Marlins and Rangers look like the favorites for Martinez, who is still waiting for Major League Baseball to declare him a free agent. The current 2017-18 international signing period runs through June 15, so he should be cleared before then.
The Yankees and Marlins have limited bonus pool space available for 2017-18, so if one of them were to sign Martinez, he would likely wait to sign until July 2 when the 2018-19 signing period opens. After missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers still have space left in their 2017-18 pool, so signing with them right away once he's cleared could be an option for Martinez.
For the Marlins, signing Martinez would put him in the discussion as their new No. 1 prospect, a combination of Martinez's skill and the lack of talent in Miami’s farm system.
The Yankees have a much richer farm system that got even stronger last month when they signed outfielder Raimfer Salinas (the No. 10 international prospect for 2017) and catcher Antonio Cabello (No. 15). While the Yankees are typically one of the most aggressive teams internationally, there hasn't been as much buzz around them with top 2018 players (see reports here, here and here), so a pursuit of Martinez for their 2018 class would make sense.
The Rangers do have one of the top center field prospects in baseball in Leody Taveras, though Taveras is still 19. Teams can't roll over their bonus pool money from one period to the next, so the Rangers have to use their pool space before June 15. The Rangers could opt to spread the rest of their money around to other players between now and June 15, but with a lack of obvious impact players available, it's sensible for them to make a run at Martinez.
Based on his present talent level, Martinez is ready for a high Class A or Double-A assignment. A lefty around 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Martinez in his last season in Cuba hit .333/.469/.498 with 52 walks, 30 strikeouts and six home runs in 264 plate appearances with 24 stolen bases in 29 tries.
Martinez has a promising combination of power, speed and athleticism in center field. In Cuba he was a plus runner from home to first, though he has shown even better in the 60-yard dash recently while working out for clubs.
His strike-zone control isn't as sharp as his raw Cuban stats might suggest, but he has consistently performed at a high level both in the Cuban junior leagues and in Serie Nacional. He's a good low-ball hitter, with quick wrists, good bat speed and a strong lower half to generate power. While there is some swing-and-miss to his game, his strikeout rate should be manageable. His all-around skill set has some similarities to a shorter version of a younger Curtis Granderson, though Martinez is faster.
While Martinez is talented, he has run into a case of poor timing. In May, Cuban outfielder Luis Robert signed with the White Sox for $26 million. That was right at the close of the 2016-17 signing period, when teams were allowed to blow past their international bonus pools.
Under the new rules, teams have a hard cap on their international bonus pools, so Martinez won't come anywhere close to what clubs paid Robert or Dodgers outfielder Yusniel Diaz ($15.5 million), his former teammates on Cuba's 18U junior national team, in 2014.