Victor Mesa Brings Elite Talent To MLB Clubs
Victor Mesa is officially out of Cuba and looking to sign with a major league club.
That is a big development. Mesa, known as “Victor Victor” (that name was even on the back of his uniform in Cuba), has star potential, the best young Cuban prospect to become available since Yoan Moncada signed with the Red Sox for $31.5 million in 2015.
Mesa, 21, is a comparable player to Nationals center fielder Victor Robles, the No. 5 prospect on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. He’s a premium defender in center field who at his best has shown 70 speed and at least a 70 arm on the 20-80 scale. He gets quick reads off the bat and takes sharp routes to cover plenty of ground in center field and make highlight-reel catches, winning a gold glove award in Cuba when he was 17.
Mesa is a righthanded hitter who batted .354/.399/.539 in 70 games for Matanzas during the 2016-17 Serie Nacional season, with more extra-base hits (27) than strikeouts (19) and 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts. The Robles comparison fits even down to the injuries that affected Mesa in Cuba.
That doesn’t mean Mesa will immediately be a top 10 prospect upon signing—there’s value and more certainty in players like Robles who have performed up through Double-A—but that is the type of upside Mesa possesses. As another point of comparison, if Mesa were in the draft next month, I think he would be a top 10 overall pick, with the potential to go No. 1 overall, although Auburn righthander Casey Mize would still be the safe bet there.
In fact, given the structure of the draft and the international bonus pools, Mesa would arguably end up with a bigger signing bonus if he were in the draft instead of international free agency. With international bonus pools hard capped, Mesa can no longer sign for a pool-busting bonus like Moncada, Luis Robert ($26 million), Yadier Alvarez ($16 million) or even lesser prospects like Roberto Baldoquin ($8 million) were able to command.
And while every team on paper essentially has an international bonus pool of $5 million to $6 million for the 2018-19 signing period that opens on July 2, many teams have already unofficially committed the majority of their international bonus pools to 16-year-old players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
The timing was different for Cuban center fielder Julio Pablo Martinez, but the problems Mesa will face as an international free agent are similar. Martinez, 22, dealt with a constrained market and signed with the Rangers for $2.8 million in April. He’s already ranked No. 57 prospect on BA's Top 100 Prospects list. The top bonus in the 2017-18 signing period went to Dominican shortstop Wander Franco ($3.825 million), who signed at 16, and this year the top 2018-19 bonus is expected to go to 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Orelvis Martinez, likely for a tick north of $3 million. So unless you’re counting on the Orioles to make a big offer, it’s hard for a Cuban player to maximize his value when he’s being thrust into the system this late in the game.
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On talent, Mesa has the ability to play right now at the high Class A or Double-A level, with the combination of impact potential and proximity to the big leagues comparable to the top college players in the draft who will sign for bonuses in the $5 million to $7 million range. Yet due to the rules of international free agency and the practicality of how teams operate, he might end up getting paid more along the lines of the top 16-year-old players in Latin America.
Mesa would be the No. 1 international prospect available for 2018, although unlike 16-year-olds who sign on July 2, Mesa could play right away once he signs. However, the timetable for MLB to clear Cuban players to sign varies, and it’s unlikely that Mesa would be eligible to sign immediately once the 2018-19 international signing period opens on July 2. It’s not even clear that he would sign in time to be able to make his official debut in 2018.
Whenever Mesa does become available, teams will have the opportunity to add one of the top prospects in the game to their farm system.