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Yasmani Tomas, OF, Cuban Defector (Not Yet A Free Agent)
6'1/230, R/R, 2015 MLB Opening Day Age: 24.39
Hit: 45/45+, Power: 55/60, Run: 40/40, Field: 45/45+, Arm: 50/50+
The above video is from one game of last summer's five-game series when the Cuban national team traveled stateside to face a loaded college Team USA that featured 10 first rounders from the 2014 MLB Draft: Carlos Rodon (White Sox), Kyle Schwarber (Cubs), Michael Conforto (Mets), Trea Turner (Padres), Tyler Beede (Giants), Erick Fedde (Nationals), Brandon Finnegan (Royals), Brad Zimmer (Indians), Matt Chapman (A's) and Luke Weaver (Cardinals). The Cuban team had a lot of trouble making contact against a loaded Team USA pitching staff and Tomas in particular struggled, going 3-for-19 with 3 singles, 1 walk and 8 punch outs over the 5 game set.
That illustrates the biggest concern with Tomas: his ability to make contact. The below video is the TV feed from the WBC when Cuba went Japan and Tomas hit a massive homer underlining his best attribute: his ability to hit the ball a long way. With it fresh in everyone's minds how Cuban power hitters can impact a big league lineup, Tomas' power bat is sure to attract some substantial bids. He's hit well in the top Cuban professional league for 5 years, but had a slightly disappointing 2014 on the heels of the failure vs. Team USA and showing some holes at the plate in the 2013 WBC, despite a solid highlight reel.
His frame is a little thick and while he plays some center field for Cuba, he's a corner outfield fit in the big leagues. His arm strength varies game-to-game but scouts have seen a 55 enough to think he's got a chance to play a solid right field. Tomas' power is mostly to his pull side and he'll swing out of his shoes at times, showing some attributes of a 4A slugger. That said, Tomas has a cleaner, quieter swing with more power than those types of hitters, though his bat speed is average at best. Scouts think that inclination and bat speed will lead to a 45 or 50 bat (.250-260 average, .320-.330 on-base) and the question is if that will be enough to get to his 25 homer power in games, or he ends up being a platoon power bat.
Comparables & Context
Tomas timed his defection well, as he is 23 and has the required pro experience to avoid being subject to international bonus pools, so there is no limit to what he can potentially earn in his first contract. If he had defected a year ago, he would be limited to a straight signing bonus in the low seven figures and a limited market of teams that had that much money available in their pool.
OF Yasiel Puig/LA, 7yrs/$42M
OF Yoenis Cespedes/OAK, 4yrs/$36M
LHP Aroldis Chapman/CIN, 6yrs/$30M
OF Jorge Soler/CHC, 9yrs/$30M
2B Alexander Guerrero/LA, 4yrs/$28M
SS Erisbel Arruebarruena/LA, 5yrs/$25M
OF Leonys Martin/TEX, 5yrs/$15M
RHP Miguel Gonzalez/PHI, 3yrs/$12M
SS Adeiny Hechevarria/TOR, 4yrs/$10M
OF Dayan Viciedo/CHW, 4yrs/$10M
SS Jose Iglesias/BOS, 4yrs/$8M
2B Aledmys Diaz/STL, 4yrs/$8M
Note: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez was drafted (1st round, 2011) after defecting and attending a U.S. high school
One of the big factors to keep in mind for Tomas is simple supply and demand. MLB and it's clubs are swimming in cash right now due to huge TV deals and with teams valuing prospects more than ever, the only way to acquire top players is to spend a king's ransom on a past-his-prime free agent or develop him yourself. With there essentially being hard caps on draft spending, July 2nd spending limited to 16-year-olds no matter what you spend and Japanese free agents now being priced like MLB free agents, the most impactful and least-regulated way for MLB clubs to spend their money to develop a homegrown star is with Cuban free agents.
In the past, scouts would complain that Cuban free agent prices were inflated for unknown reasons, but that was before Puig, Abreu, Chapman and Cespedes showed up and at a time when you could spend whatever you wanted in the draft and on July 2nd. They were right to complain about the Cuban mystique not being worth the trouble then, but the prices are rising with good reason now. In this new reality, teams are heavily incentivized to find a place to spend that TV money to get young talent and even clubs who are in full rebuilding mode, like the Astros or Cubs, have enough money to be a finalist for any Cuban and signing these 20-somethings still be sticks to their plan of stockpiling young talent.
I point all that out to say that Tomas' raw talent or closest comparable won't be the most important factor to determining his payday; the amount of teams seriously bidding will. For all we know, Tomas is the last notable Cuban bat to hit the market for the next 5 years and for clubs that don't want to overpay for a 30-year-old domestic free agent, this is their chance to make a splash that doesn't also cost a high draft pick. See the sidebar below for some other talents still on the island to keep in mind.
On a pure talent basis, scouts seem to think that Tomas fits somewhere south of Cubs OF Jorge Soler, who was 20 years old and signed for 9 years, $30 million during the 2012 season (just before the international signing pools went into effect). Since the unblocking process may take over a year, Tomas will sign at age 23/24 before the 2015 season, so normal inflation may give him the same payday in a shorter-term deal. At the time of signing, Soler was bigger and fitter at 6'4/215, with above average bat speed, plus raw power, more quick twitch to his frame and true right field tools. Tomas is a lesser prospect that's 3+ years older and still probably needs some time in the minors, but is probably more valuable than Leonys Martin and Dayan Viciedo when they signed, so you can see where his pure talent fits.
It's too early to start pegging the most interested teams as this whole process make take a year, so I'll focus on the potential pay day. As covered above, it's reasonable to look at Tomas' talent and the closest (but superior) comparable of Soler and say 5 years/$25 million is a fair price.
2. 2B Jose Fernandez is arguably the top player still on the island. He's flashed an above average hit and power tool at times and can stick at second base. The 5'11/185 left hitter who turns 27 next April hasn't hit as well as scouts had hoped in some recent tournaments but has the tools to be an impact bat.
3. OF Alfredo Despaigne is seen as a better hitter than Tomas despite his squattier frame (5'8/215) and is the other possible top prospect still on the island due to his 70 raw power. Despaigne (who would be 28 on 2015 MLB Opening Day) was set to play this season in Mexico, presumably increasing his chances to defect, but a passport snafu has him back in Cuba now.
4. RHP Norge Ruiz stood out last summer in a start versus college team USA and is only 5'10/170 but the 20-year old that has flashed above average stuff and may be the best pitching prospect still on the island.
The two things that make this difficult to reasonably project at this point are 1) the possibly year-long wait until he signs and all the workouts that will happen between now and then, shaping his market and 2) as covered above, the potential free-for-all bidding process if the workout process goes well.
It's worth noting that Puig was a similar size as Tomas when he defected, then during his first year with the Dodgers, he dropped a lot of weight and turned into a different, more dynamic player. Puig was more quick-twitch then than Tomas has ever been, so the odds of this are low, but that also adds to the allure and mystique of Cuban players, as they can squash or validate your expectations due to the odd circumstances and big gaps in when teams can scout them.
I think Tomas' deal will be for 4-7 years and I'd say the reasonable expectation for Tomas would be in that $20-35 million area, and I'm betting the more rational, less desperate clubs will all have a max bid somewhere in this area. If Tomas gets in really good shape and looks to have legitimately improved since his struggles against Rodon and company and his representation can find the right combination of motivated bidders, I could see this thing going as far north as $50 million. Abreu at $68 million is a number even an improved Tomas shouldn't touch as Abreu was ready to step into a big league lineup and had a better chance to hit, with a longer track record of doing so and more power.
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