Sources tell FanGraphs that earlier today, Cuban defector shortstop Yolbert Sanchez was cleared by MLB to sign with clubs starting on February 5. He’s scheduled to hold private workouts in the Dominican Republic later this week. According to Francys Romero, Sanchez and fellow Cuban Jorge Tartabull left Cuba in June. Sanchez resurfaced in the Dominican Republic in the last 3-5 weeks, according to scouts. Very few decision-making evaluators have seen him recently, but that’s expected to change between now and February 5. Sanchez has been scouted in international tournaments (the video embedded below is of Sanchez playing for Industriales in Cuba’s top pro league), so scouts do have some history with him.
Sanchez, and the timing of his free agency, are notable for two reasons. First, he’s an older prospect who will be paid from a team’s international bonus pool, money normally spent on 16-year-old prospects who don’t even play regular pro games until almost a year after signing. Compared to most other prospects acquired this way, Sanchez, who turns 22 in March, is less risky and should have a quicker timeline to the big leagues. Second, the Baltimore Orioles have by far the most international pool money left of any team, as they’ve spent little of their initial $5.5 million bonus pool, and might have over $6 million in space after trading for additional pool space. We’re unsure of the precise amounts, but believe the Dodgers, Cubs, and Phillies to have the most pool space remaining behind Baltimore, though all three are thought to have less than $3 million in space, leaving the Orioles with a potentially significant amount of breathing room between themselves and the nearest competition. Sanchez is seen by scouts as a $2-4 million type prospect.
After missing out on the last consensus seven-figure prospects on the market in current Rays prospect RHP Sandy Gaston and current Marlins prospect CF Victor Victor Mesa, who last showcased and then signed in October, some speculated the Orioles would be forced to sign several prospects in the $100,000-to-$500,000 per player bonus range in order to use their full pool space, which they already began doing before the new front office regime was put in place.
The Orioles had to be hoping a player like Sanchez would come along before this signing period closes on June 15, 2019, allowing new GM Mike Elias to add a premium individual talent to the farm system. Sources speculated to us that clubs that have not yet verbally allocated most of their 2019 signing pool can offer Sanchez millions and hope he waits a few more months to sign, though this may be a means of trying to keep Baltimore honest and force them to use most of their pool to sign Sanchez, rather than offering an amount that’s slightly more than the club with the second-highest remaining 2018 international bonus pool.
Sanchez draws mixed reviews for his offensive potential, but scouts agree he has above average-to-plus running, fielding, and throwing tools, and he will stick at shortstop. The Orioles took two shortstops with their Rule 5 Draft picks in December and the position is seen as an organizational weakness at the upper levels for the rebuilding club.