Cuban outfielders have been a hot commodity over the past year, and another young Cuban defector was declared a free agent on Tuesday evening and is now able to sign with any major league team, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.
Twenty-one-year-old Yasiel Puig has long attempted to make his way to the United States. In fact, he was suspended from playing in the Cuban Serie Nacional this past season due to attempting to defect. He successfully did so this summer, establishing temporary residency in Mexico, and is expected to agree to terms rather quickly in hopes of signing prior to July 2, when the new CBA regulations will severely limit international spending.
The vast majority of the attention amongst Cuban outfielders centered around Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, and it should have. Puig possesses raw power — and actually showed game-power back in the 2010-2011 season with 17 home runs — but Ben Badler of Baseball America recently noted that the most recent scouting reports on the young outfielder have been extremely underwhelming.
Despite those disappointing reports and the fact that Puig has not played organized baseball in a year, teams will absolutely be lining up to ink him to a minor-league deal. Badler writes that the Texas Rangers have shown interest, and Jesse Sanchez hears from industry sources that five teams have expressed “serious interest” in the young outfielder.
Now, statistics from the Cuban Serie Nacional should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. The level of competition is perhaps not even comparable to what Puig would potentially see in Triple-A, but legitimate similarities exist between the numbers Yoenis Cespedes compiled in 2010-2011 and what Puig racked up in the same year.
The obvious difference is the significantly higher home run total from Cespedes. It’s that level of power that has allowed Cespedes to transition directly to the major leagues and post a .222 ISO as a 26-year-old without any experience in the United States.
The remainder of the numbers — the on-base percentage, strikeout-to-walk ratio, etc. — are comparable. Even the doubles are comparable. Puig reportedly has above-average speed and was once considered the “fastest player in Cuban baseball” before defecting, so it’s not overly surprising that Puig would collect more triples than Cespedes.
The issue is that no one can ever confidently project how a Cuban baseball player will transition to professional baseball in the states. The statistics have little correlation due to the level of competition, and the players have to adjust to more than just the players in the United States. They also have to transition to the lifestyle, the culture, and the language. That can be extremely overwhelming for anyone, much less a 21-year-old with ambition and plenty of cash, thanks to a hefty signing bonus.
The ultimate question in the next week will surround potential suitors and whether or not Puig can agree to a deal prior to July 2 and circumvent the new CBA regulations that would assuredly erode his potential payday. If he can agree to a deal prior to July 2, it will be intriguing to see what his signing bonus will be. He represents the final opportunity to purchase international talent outside the new rules, and in a world that saw the New York Yankees sign left-hander Omar Luis Rodriguez — who did not even see time in the Serie Nacional — for $4 million, Yasiel Puig will almost surely sign for more than his talent suggests he should.
After all, open your wallets now. The option to do so will no longer be available in less than a week.
J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).