I don’t think it’s any secret of my fascination and interest in the Cuban baseball market. Players from Cuba have had success in the United States since the 1950s and 60s. In the modern age, the Cuban free agent market has taken on its own life. The Cubs have signed several including Jorge Soler, Eddy Martinez, and Yasiel Balaguert.
Although the Cubs are limited as to the amount of money they can spend on international free agents this year, they are not limited when it comes to a player 23 years of age and older. In the next seven months, two players will turn that age. When they do, the Cubs should be in the discussion to sign the two youngsters.
Before the June 15, 2016, deadline for international free-agent signings, there were several Cubans who had still not been cleared by Major League Baseball. One of them was pitcher Norge Ruiz. I have been somewhat smitten with Ruiz since reading an article with a video on Baseball America by Ben Badler. Here is what Badler had to say about Ruiz’s arsenal as a pitcher.
His fastball sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94 mph with good life. He throws a slider, changeup, and a splitter, with his plus changeup his most advanced secondary weapon. He flashes an above-average slider at times too, though that pitch can flatten out on him at times.
After the 2017 season, the Cubs are going to need some starting pitching. The Cubs only have Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks signed beyond 2017. Arrieta and Hammel are not locks to return. Also, Lackey’s contract also expires at the end of next year. Ruiz does not turn 23 until mid-March, 2017. He could be polished up in April and May before likely heading out to either Tennessee or Myrtle Beach.
After having not pitched for two full seasons, it will take some time to get it back together even after playing winter ball in the DR this upcoming season. The Cubs could use his time in the DR to get a really good look at what Ruiz does well and what he needs to improve on. I am hopeful the Cubs will be able to sign him for future service.
Here is a video of Ruiz pitching. He is not going to blow you away with velocity, but watch the movement, where the catcher sits, and the types of swings batters take to show the true nature of his pitches. The dude can rock the catcher’s target.
There are a few other Cubans available who are 23 and older, but I think Ruiz is the player worth trying to sign the most. I think several things are lining up for him that would make him an excellent Cub. Theo has shown the propensity to spend on pitching, just not young pitching. Ruiz’s young age and track record are two factors in his favor. Add in the fact that there is a need beyond 2017. Although the Cubs have yet to produce a starting pitcher for the rotation from the draft or international free agency, Ruiz could change that fact, and do it very quickly.
The other young Cuban player is Lourdes Gourriel. He turns 23 in just about six weeks on October 19. Lourdes has played a mixture of second base, first base, third base, and the outfield. His brother Yulieski, 32, signed with the Astros earlier this year. I don’t know if there is a desire for Lourdes to play with his brother, but I’m sure that the bond is strong. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about the young Cuban signing this year
Waiting for Oct. 19 to sign is a no-brainer. And, assuming he gets cleared to sign in time, he should sign between then and Dec. 1, which is when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. There are no guarantees about what will happen to international players in the next CBA, so it makes sense for him to sign before Dec. 1.
If the Cubs could sign Lourdes, they would add to their embarrassment of riches when it comes to young position players. Lourdes would likely need seasoning in the minors before making it to the pros. On the other hand, he could make it the team out of spring. More than likely, he would start out at least in Tennessee.
What I like most about Gourriel is that he is such a fluid athlete. If the Cubs could sign him, it would be a quite a coup. In the two videos below you can see what a beautiful athlete he is. In the first video, you will see him making a wonderful catch in left field. In the second video, Lourdes cranks one out to right field. Physically, at 6’3”, he looks so graceful in the field and at the plate.
I don’t know the chances the Cubs have in signing in one or both, but I think they are talents worth taking a shot on. When the deadline came and went this summer, I lost hope that the Cubs could sign Ruiz. Not now. Ruiz may not be a top of the rotation starter, but he is young and would be financially controllable, something the Cubs say they covet. Watching Gourriel, on the other hand, I think he could become the number one prospect in the Cubs system. That is saying a lot considering who the Cubs already have.