I keep checking the Internet every day to see if the Cubs have signed any of the young Cuban free agents. Every time I am disappointed. I don’t even know why I keep checking. On Friday, the young “Lazarito” had a showcase of his talents. Nothing. I close my eyes at night and see pictures of Norge Ruiz pitching off a mound in Myrtle Beach. I roll over and see Jorge Ona jacking one down the left-field line. I know, this is a little warped.
With the Cubs Convention starting on Friday I am hoping some sort of agreement between the Cubs and several Cuban players takes place before the convention or shortly thereafter.
One thing I don’t think Theo Epstein gets enough credit for is the quality of international free agents that the Cubs have signed the last four years. While Jorge Soler is the poster child of the group, many of the young 16-17 year old international free agents signed by Theo in 2012-2014 are just now getting to Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend. In fact, those players are some of the best prospects in the organization. In 2016, you will see many of these top prospects on display throughout the Cubs system.
Chicago – Jorge Soler
Iowa – Armando Rivero and Gerardo Concepcion
Tennessee – Jen-Ho Tseng, Juan Paniagua, and Bryant Flete
Myrtle Beach – Yasiel Balaguert and Gleyber Torres
South Bend – Eloy Jimenez, Oscar De La Cruz, Jose Paulino, Luis Hernandez, Greyfer Eregua, and Adbert Alzolay
Eugene and Arizona (to name a few) – Jesus Camargo, Jesus Castillo, Enrique De Los Rios, Andin Diaz, Pablo Ochoa, Carlos Sepulveda, Andruw Monasterio, Junior Marte, Erling Moreno, Pedro Silverio, Jose Zapata, Johan Matos, Wladimir Galindo, and Robert Garcia
Last year’s class: Eddy Julio Martinez, Aramis Ademan, Jonathan Perlaza, Jonathan Sierra, Miguel Amaya, and Kwang-Min Kwon.
*Bolded and underlined players are on MLB’s Cubs Top 30 prospect list.
I recently wrote a post for Cubs Insider about the impact these international free agents are having on the lower part of the Cubs system and why. The main reason is the Cubs have put an emphasis on signing them in lieu of drafting and signing HS talent.
If more of the Cuban/International talent is signed this off season, it would just create even more depth in the Cubs system. Many of the Cuban players have not been declared free agents by MLB, some have. Right now, the Cubs are linked to possibly signing three, and could have interest in three other Cuban free agents.
Adrian Morejon (LHP), Jonatan Machado (INF), Cionel Perez (LHP), Lazarito (2B/OF) are all 16/17 years old and if signed would go to extended spring training, then Rookie Ball, likely in Arizona, where they would get acclimated to American culture ala Eddy Julio Martinez. Jorge Ona is a 19 year-old RF with good skills in the field and at the plate. Likely, he would be an ideal fit at Eugene, but Ona likely would do the same as the youngsters.
Norge Ruiz is 21. His skills and pitchability might give him a different route. He throws in the upper 80s and low 90s with his FB and has very good command. Ruiz also could follow Martinez to Arizona to get acclimated and bridge cultural and societal differences. However, in 2017, the two could move faster through the system.
Judging the value of these prospects is hard as half of them are extremely young. Some, such as Lazarito have missed more than a year playing ball as they attempt to make it to the States.
I think Ona and Ruiz could be top 30 prospects after signing. If you believe Lazarito’s hype, then he could be, too. Signing a 16-year-old kid is a risky business as a scout has to balance the skills a player has versus the skills a player could have. There’s a lot of projection about skills as well as mental and physical development.
In the end, though, MLB has to declare them free agents for the Cubs to sign them. This could happen next week, it could happen next month, or it could happen after July 2 when the Cubs are limited to what they can spend on players 21 and younger. It could be the Cubs might only get one of these players. It is doubtful they could get three, let alone all six, considering a substantial dollar for dollar penalty.
As for Theo, I like his odds of being able to sign some of these players listed above. His most powerful selling point on becoming a Cub would be to point at Jorge Soler and tell how the Cubs can develop a Cuban player. The Cubs international scouts have to be lauded for their efforts in finding the abundance of Latin talent, Theo should get plaudits for directing that initiative, and the Ricketts for building their Dominican Academy to make the Cubs a dominant force in the region.
With all these assets in place, the Cubs should be an attractive destination for Latin players. Going forward, the Cubs will be restricted in signing a player for $300,000 starting July 2 this year. I don’t think that is going to phase the Cubs as they signed 40 players under the same restrictions only a year ago. Many of those players are already making an impact like Carlos Sepulveda and Jesus Camargo.
The international front should be quite interesting the next few months. I will try not to lose any sleep.