Gerardo Concepcion Free Agency: 10 Foreign Unknowns Who'll Be MLB Superstars
In recent years, Major League Baseball has seen a significant number of international players vying to make their mark on American soil in the sport that they dearly love, and on Wednesday, another young star took steps to do just that.
Young 19-year-old Cuban left-handed pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, who defected from from his homeland last June, has been granted free agency, according to his agent, Jaime Torres.
Concepcion defected while his Cuban national team was playing in a tournament in the Netherlands, the same tournament in which current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman defected in 2009.
Concepcion has established residency in Mexico and is currently training in the Dominican Republic, where he will no doubt catch the eye of several major league teams.
Concepcion is virtually unknown to much of the baseball world, however, like many of his countrymen before him who took the same path, they quickly established themselves and made names for themselves in rapid fashion.
Concepcion is just one of several international stars who dream of one day gaining stardom in Major League Baseball. Here is a list of several other internationals stars who may not be well known yet, but will be sometime in the future.
While many people across baseball are completely enamored with Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes, there is another outfielder from the island nation drawing considerable interest as well—19-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler.
Soler has drawn the eye of quite a few teams, including the Phillies, Athletics, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers and Yankees.
Soler is prized by many teams because of his size, plus bat speed and raw power and the fact that he will likely come quite a bit cheaper than Cespedes.
“He’s got a Hanley Ramirez-type body,” Nationals Director of International Scouting Johnny DiPuglia said. “Plus arm. Plus bat speed. He’s a good kid, a good-energy kid.”
Cuban-born right-hander Yadel Marti first came on the world baseball scene in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, helping to guide his country to a second-place finish.
Marti, now 32 years of age, defected sometime late in 2008 and was declared a free agent in August 2009. He is currently signed with the Oakland A's and worked his way up to the Triple-A level last season, posting a 5-1 record and 4.92 ERA in 14 starts with the Sacramento River Cats.
Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki is hoping to follow in the footsteps of another famous countryman, Ichiro Suzuki, and the Milwaukee Brewers will be giving him that chance.
Aoki, a three-time batting champion for the Yakult Swallows of Japan's Central League, signed a two-year contract with the Brewers on Tuesday, with an option for a third year.
Aoki amassed a .329 lifetime average in eight seasons, becoming one of only four players in Japanese baseball history to collect 200 hits in a single season. The Brewers will be counting on Aoki to provide that same type of production in the possible absence of left fielder Ryan Braun, who is facing a possible 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy.
The Baltimore Orioles are hoping that Wei-Yin Chen will become a fan favorite and quickly become a household name. I wrote about Chen earlier this week:
Baltimore Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has always been known as having a keen eye when it comes to evaluating international talent, so it was hardly a surprise that Duquette signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a three-year, $11.3 million contract.
Chen, 26, amassed a 36-30 record and 2.48 ERA over the last four seasons for the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central, capturing the ERA title in 2009.
With a low-90s fastball and sharp-breaking slider, Chen could very well turn out to be a delightful surprise for the O’s, who are in desperate need of any kind of nice surprise.
As an eight-time All-Star in Japan's Pacific League for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki has certainly garnered fame and fortune in his homeland. Now, he will try for the same in the United States with the Seattle Mariners.
Kawasaki inked a minor-league deal with the Mariners that includes an invite to spring training. Kawasaki hopes to gain a roster spot as a utility infielder at first, but fully intends on doing whatever he can to make a good first impression.
Kawasaki, 30, hit .294 with 1,363 total hits during his career in Japan.
In 2010, Cuban left-handed pitcher Onelkis Garcia defected, and has been in an odd sort of limbo ever since.
Last year, MLB declared Garcia eligible for the 2011 draft, but pulled the plug just days before the draft, declaring him ineligible. Now, once again MLB has said the Garcia will be eligible for the draft in June.
Garcia, 22, is currently honing his skills with Leones del Ponce in the Puerto Rican League. Garcia features a low-90s fastball that can at times reach 94 MPH, along with a curve and changeup. Baseball America states that Garcia is projected to go somewhere in the third round, and that he is still a work in progress at this point.
Young 19-year-old outfielder Yasiel Balaguert dreamed of starring one day in the majors when he defected from Cuba late in 2010. The Chicago Cubs were willing to give Balaguert that opportunity.
Balaguert was signed by the Cubs in late December, and will likely take their time in his development process. At 6'0" and 190 pounds, Balaguert presents a very quick bat and soft hands. Balaguert starred for the Cuban junior national team, playing alongside Jorge Soler.
The Chicago Cubs have been very active in recent years on the international front, signing several unknown players who they hope can become part of a great future for the Cubs. One of those is outfielder Rubi Silva.
Silva, 22, was signed by former Cubs GM Jim Hendry in December 2010. Silva hit .285 in 122 games between Single-A and Advanced Single-A last season, playing all three outfield positions in addition to seeing time at second base. The Cubs are very high on Silva's overall athleticism, and his versatility in the field could be a huge key in his future.
The Chicago Cubs took a chance on another Cuban player along with Yasiel Balaguert—20-year-old right-handed pitcher Carlos Martinez.
Martinez played for the Industriales in Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2009-2010 before defecting. At six foot four inches and 215 pounds, Martinez has a low-90s fastball, curve and changeup that scouts say need refinement in order to be truly effective.
The Cubs signed Martinez for $250,000, and appear destined to be patient with the young Cuban star as he works to refine his pitching motion and develop his secondary pitches.
There is certainly a lot of buzz concerning 18-year-old lefthander Gerardo Concepcion, and rightfully so.
Concepcion went 10-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 21 games, including 16 starts, with Industriales de la Habana, his first season in Cuban Serie Nacional. Concepcion showed remarkable poise at a young age, and scouts believe that he can develop into an elite pitcher at the major league level.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.