Astros Agree To Sign Cuban Pitcher Cionel Perez

The Astros are adding another prospect to their international signing class, with an agreement in place to sign 20-year-old Cuban lefthander Cionel Perez for $5.15 million. Perez is subject to the international bonus pools and, based on his present ability, could head to one of their Class A affiliates next season, though that’s still to be determined.

Perez has a small but athletic build at around 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. I watched Perez pitch extensively when he was in Cuba, where his fastball mostly ranged from 88-93 mph and touched 94. There were starts in Cuba where Perez would sit more in the 88-91 mph range, with the top-end velocity readings mostly coming in relief work. He lacked a true out pitch among his secondary offerings, with his curveball and slider tending to blend together into a slurvy, three-quarters breaking ball at 74-80 mph.

However, since Perez left Cuba in May 2015, the reports from scouts who have followed him have been better. His fastball is up a tick, with the addition of a two-seamer to his repertoire. While his secondary pitches are still inconsistent, his slider has flashed at least average. He also never threw a changeup when he was in Cuba but has added once since then, so the development of that pitch will be important for him.

While Perez didn’t rank among Baseball America’s Top 20 international prospects in Cuba in our April 2015 rankings, he did quickly become one of the top performers in Serie Nacional at a young age. Pitching for Matanzas in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league, Perez posted a 2.06 ERA with 76 strikeouts (sixth in the league) and 32 walks in 87 1/3 innings over 17 starts during the 2014-15 season. Had Perez stayed in Cuba, he would have taken on a more prominent role on their national team, including the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The deal, first report by Jesse Sanchez of MLB, is still contingent upon Perez passing a physical. During the current 2016-17 signing period, the Astros have reduced two other deals with international free agents this year—Cuban shortstop Anibal Sierra (vision) and Dominican shortstop Freudis Nova (elbow)—following their physicals.

Prior to signing, Perez had been scheduled to pitch this winter for Estrellas in the Dominican League, though once his deal with the Astros is finalized, it’s possible that could change.

The Astros immediately blew past their 2016-17 international bonus pool when the signing period opened on July 2. As a penalty for exceeding their pool, the Astros have to pay a 100 percent tax on their pool overage, meaning the Perez signing will essentially cost them $10.3 million. They also will be unable to sign any international players subject to the bonus pools for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods.

During the current signing period, the Astros signed five of BA’s Top 50 international prospects for July 2, including Nova (No. 5), Venezuelans shortstop Yorbin Ceuta (No. 11), Venezuelan righthander Angel Macuare (No. 40), Dominican catcher Nerio Rodriguez (No. 43) and Dominican shortstop Deurys Carrasco (No. 46).

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