When the Dodgers signed Cuban righthander Yaisel Sierra to a six-year, $30 million contract in February 2016, they expected him to be earning that money at the major league level pretty quickly.
So did he.
“Yes, everyone who signs has that dream, to ultimately end up in the big leagues,” Sierra said through a translator. “You go out there, you do your job and give 100 percent but things don’t always go your way.”
The 25-year-old Sierra is one of a wave of investments the Dodgers have made in Cuban talent that has paid limited dividends. Sierra split last season between high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa. A starter and reliever in Cuba, he pitched in both roles last season and recorded a combined 5.89 ERA and 1.48 WHIP.
“It’s a little hard, of course, but it’s not something you cannot do,” Sierra said of the adjustment to life and baseball in the U.S. “You clash with the culture. You clash with the language. You get used to it, little by little.
Last year’s experience on the field taught Sierra some important lessons that might be pushing him closer to the major leagues in his second season. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watched Sierra during spring training and saw progress.
“As he’s learned the game over here and how his stuff plays over here, he’s going to his sinker a lot more,” Roberts said. “Credit to him for making the adjustments.”
Those adjustments led to success early at Tulsa for Sierra. He held opposing batters to a .200 average in April with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 innings in his eight relief appearances. He had allowed 10 hits and six walks while maintaining an elite groundball rate.
“I learned that I have to use my fastball a lot more,” Sierra said. “In this kind of baseball, you have to use your fastball a lot and be able to place it in the corners.”
— Bill Plunkett covers the Dodgers for the Orange County Register