BravesCenter.com has learned that the Atlanta Braves have signed two Cuban defectors that could play in the upper level of the farm system in 2006.
The Braves have signed outfielder Barbaro Canizares and agreed to a deal with left-handed pitcher Francisley Bueno. The deals represent a greater emphasis on the international market by the Braves, who were helped with their international scouting earlier this winter by the return of Rene Francisco from the Dodgers as the International Scouting Director.
Canizares just turned 26 years old last November. He's six-foot-two, 220 pounds and can play the outfield, first base, and even catch. Canizares played this winter in the Nicaraguan Winter League and hit .352 with 10 home runs and 29 runs batted in 54 games and 193 at bats. He also had a .445 on base percentage. He played on the same team with Braves' prospects Ardley Jansen, Devin Anderson, and Ben Grezlovski.
Canizares defected in February of 2004 from Cuba. He spent some time in Mexico, but finally went to Costa Rica in order to become a free agent. Canizares played on the Cuban National Team a few years ago with Yunel Escobar, who was Atlanta's second round pick in last June's draft.
Here is a link to a story a reporter for the Miami Herald did on Canizares back in December. The Braves expect Canizares to go to camp and compete for a job with the Mississippi team as a corner outfielder.
Bueno will turn 25 years old on March 5th. He was the Player of the Year in Cuba in 2002 and on Cuba's Gold-winning Olympic team in 2004. He has been playing this winter in the Dominican Winter League with the Escogido Lions, with Wilson Betemit being one of his teammates. Bueno is being compared by Braves' scouts to Odalis Perez. He has a fastball in the 88-92 mph range, along with a sharp curve, a change up, and a split. But his curve ball is his main breaking ball. Bueno is 5'11", 200 pounds. He'll compete for a job as a starter with the Double-A team this spring at Disney.
The Braves believe Bueno is their best addition this winter from the international market. Francisco was also instrumental in the signing of Yoel Campusano, a 17-year-old third baseman from the Dominican. The Braves compare Campusano's body type to that of Adrian Beltre at the same age. Campusano will be in Florida this spring and fight for a job on the Gulf Coast League roster.
Atlanta is negotiating with at least one more Cuban defector and hopes to have a deal soon.
The Braves have also signed two more minor league veterans to bring to camp to compete for jobs on the Richmond roster. Dax Norris, who started his career with the Braves, has a chance to split playing time with Brayan Pena in Triple-A. Norris was drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 1996 June draft. He spent seven years in the Braves' system before leaving as a free agent after the 2002 season.
Norris' best season for the Braves was in 2000 in Greenville, when he hit .252 with 13 home runs and drove in 72. He has spent the last three years in the Astros' system, playing last year in Double-A Corpus Christi.
And Atlanta has signed right-handed pitcher Phil Stockman to a minor league contract. Stockman was a six-year free agent that has spent the last seven seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. He has split the last three seasons between Double-A and Triple-A. Last year, Stockman was 1-3 in 47 games in AA with an ERA of 3.25. Then he was promoted to AAA and struggled, going 1-1 in 17 games with an ERA of 6.25. Stockman will battle for a job in Richmond's bullpen this spring.
The Braves also signed catcher Jon Williams to a minor league contract. The left-handed hitter will turn 27 this May. He was drafted by the Giants in 2001 and last played in their system in 2002. Williams will fight for a backup catcher's job with Myrtle Beach at Disney.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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