2020-21 MLB International Reviews: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have taken a different approach to the international signing process than most other clubs. They have signed 16-year-old players from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, including one of the best signings of the last decade in Fernando Tatis Jr.
However, especially in recent years, the White Sox have put a lot of their bonus pool space into signing Cuban players who are older and more experienced. Luis Robert is the highlight of that group, but their top signing in 2019 was Cuban shortstop Yolbert Sanchez ($2.5 million), and while they were limited to signings of no more than $300,000 back in 2018 as a penalty for exceeding their pool to sign Robert, their top bonuses went to Cuban infieler Bryan Ramos and Harold Diaz.
Two Cuban prospects are now at the forefront of their current 2020-21 signing class.
Top Of The Class
The White Sox signed Yoelqui Cespedes, a 23-year-old Cuban outfielder and brother of Yoenis Cespedes. Yoelki played in multiple international tournaments before leaving Cuba, including events in Mexico, Panama and the 2017 World Baseball Classic. After leaving Cuba, he spent time training at his brother's ranch in Florida, though not many clubs went in to see him, in part because of Major League Baseball's ban on scouting international players in person last year, and because most teams had already committed most of their 2020-21 bonus pool money at that point. That context creates a more challenging evaluation of Cespedes, who is the same age as a lot of major league rookies. In his last season playing for Granma in Serie Nacional in Cuba, Cespedes hit .319/.355/.389 in 77 plate appearances with two walks, 18 strikeouts and no home runs as a 21-year-old. The year before, he batted .273/.353/.400 with 17 walks, 42 strikeouts and six home runs in 289 trips to the plate. At 5-foot-9, Cespedes isn't that tall but he has bulked up significantly since his days in Cuba, checking in now at 205 pounds. He's now driving the ball with more impact, especially to the opposite field, showing good bat speed and solid-average raw power. Cespedes never dominated the competition in Cuba, though, and it's an aggressive approach with a swing path that some scouts think could lead to swing-and-miss risk. More than anything, Cespedes just needs to be tested against better pitching for scouts to have a better gauge on his present hitting ability. Cespedes is a plus runner underway with a plus arm. He could come up through the minors as a center fielder, though he played more on the corner in Cuba and won't be moving Luis Robert off center field.
The second major Cuban signing for the White Sox's international class was 20-year-old righthander Norge Vera. His father, Norge Luis Vera, was a star pitcher in Cuba and on the country's national team from the late 1990s through the 2000s, and won a Serie Nacional MVP trophy from the 1999-2000 season. Vera, 20, pitched for Cuba as a teenager on its junior national team and in a U-23 tournament in Panama. He has added more strength since then to his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame, with a fastball that sits around 90-95 mph and can reach 96-97 mph. He struggled at one of his early showcases for scouts, leaving some of them concerned about his command and secondary stuff. Vera went through some mechanical and repertoire changes over the process, and scouts highest on him liked his slider and saw feel for a changeup that he's picked up since leaving Cuba and shelving his splitter. Vera has shown good feel for pitching at his best, though like Yoelqui Cespedes, he also just needs to be tested against more age-appropriate competition.
Names To Know
Victor Quezada, 3B, Dominican Republic: Quezada is a strong, heavily-built righthanded hitter who is physically advanced for his age with big raw power. That power is his main tool, and he generates it with ease from a fairly simple swing. Quezada worked out at shortstop before signing, but he's too big to play there and will go to third base, where he has a plus arm, with some chance he ends up in an outfield corner. He trained with Ray Castillo.
Dario Borrero, OF, Venezuela: In the last year and a half, Borrero hit a growth spurt, going from a skinny 6-foot-2 up to now 6-foot-5, 200 pounds. For such a tall player, Borrero still has a fairly simple, short stroke for his size from the left side that's loose, relaxed and easy. He does a good job of going with where the ball is pitched, showing the bat control to shoot pitches on the outer third to left field or pull pitches on the inner third. His power has started to spike now, with a chance to grow into significantly more thunder once he packs on another 30-40 pounds. Borrero moves around fairly well for his size and will start out as a corner outfielder, though with how big he is he might end up at first base. Borrero is represented by Felix Olivo.
Manuel Guariman, C, Venezuela: As Guariman has developed physically (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), he has grown into good power for a catcher. He projects to stay behind the plate but has more of an offensive-driven value to his skillset. He trained at the Dream Team Baseball Academy under Wilfredo Polidor.
Adrian Gil, RHP, Venezuela: Gil is a 5-foot-11 righthander with advanced pitchability for his age. He has touched the low 90s with his fastball and has good feel for changing speeds and mixing his spots, showing good spin and shape on his curveball with a changeup and cutter he uses too. Gil trained with Freddy Garcia and Carlos Guillen.
The White Sox pulled a sleeper out of Panama when they signed outfielder Benyamin Bailey for $35,000 in April 2019. They could have another low-dollar sleeper signing from the country in this class with 18-year-old righthander Carlos Hinestroza. After playing third base up until a few years ago, Hinestroza moved to the mound, where his arm works well with a fastball that's been up to 91 mph and a chance to throw significantly harder once he gains more experience and adds strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. He's still learning how to pitch, with a slider and a changeup also in his repertoire.