Jorge Soler and the Best New MLB Foreign Prospects
Jorge Soler began his journey to the major leagues last year when he defected from Cuba. That journey seems to be winding toward its conclusion, as last week Soler reportedly signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
While the signing doesn't necessarily come as any surprise, it does beg the question of which other foreign-born prospects may be making their way onto major league rosters sometime soon.
Let's take a look.
OF Alfredo Despaigne
The 26-year-old outfielder has all the tools of a major league star. He's what is considered a five-tool player. In case anyone reading this isn't familiar with that term, it's a term that is used by baseball scouts to describe the strengths of a young player's game.
The tools are speed, throwing, fielding, hitting and hitting with power. Despaigne has all of them.
He's coming off a season where he just won his third Serie Nacional MVP Award, in a season where he retook the record for most home runs in a season (from Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes). The record-setting home run was an inside-the-park home run.
It seems a little unlikely that he will sign with a major league team though, given his age and that for a long time he's been on the radar, but has never made any kind of indication that the jump from Serie Nacional to Major League Baseball is one he's interested in making.
1B Jose Dariel Abreu
Abreu is the other man that Despaigne had to top in order to reclaim the title of Home Run King. In 2010-2011, Abreu set the record with Cespedes in a season that has to be labeled as utterly ridiculous.
In an injury-shortened season (he played only 66 games because of shoulder bursitis) Abreu hit .453, posted an on-base percentage of .597 and a slugging percentage of .986, not to mention driving in 93 runs.
Say what you will about the quality of play in the Serie Nacional versus Major League Baseball—that stat line is downright scary.
Abreu is another player in the Despaigne mold, as he doesn't seem likely to be signing a major league contract anytime soon because he's 25 and has never made any indication that he'd like to do so.
P Masahiro Tanaka
Tanaka should be a hot name in the baseball world, and I expect, given the season that Yu Darvish is having, that he will be soon.
In 2005, he broke Daisuke Matsuzaka's high school record for strikeouts. While that doesn't exactly lend itself to excellence in the majors, as Matsuzaka was supposed to practically revolutionize the way people pitched when he came over, it still gives you an insight into how talented this guy is.
In 2011, Tanaka went 19-5 with a 1.27 ERA, 241 strikeouts, 171 hits and only 27 walks in 226.1 innings pitched. While I would love to file that under the same "scary" headline as Abreu's season, it is worth noting that the league he plays in switched balls prior to the season, which led to offensive declines.
It is also worth noting that Tanaka had a better ERA than Darvish in 2011 and was second to him in innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. He finished second in MVP voting for the Pacific League.
He throws a fastball that tops out at 96 mph (though it is generally in the low 90s), a slider and a splitter.
If Darvish can continue his success and Daisuke can recover from his injuries and prove to be effective again, look for Tanaka to garner a lot of attention from major league clubs.
P Andres Serrano
Serrano is an 18-year-old Dominican pitcher that the Cardinals signed last October, though the deal is still pending MLB approval.
Take a look at his scouting report, according to Scoutingbook.com:
Andres Serrano is a long and limber righthanded teenager from the Dominican Republic. Known for good overall athleticism and coveted for his projectable frame and solid 94mph fastball, Serrano is seen by most scouts as someone who could move pretty quickly through minor league ball despite his young age. In addition to that big fastball, Serrano features a curve and change already look very good, which means a year or three of minor league seasoning should be all that's necessary to make sure his skills keep pace with his growing body. He's got everything you look for in a future rotation topper.
If that doesn't sound like someone to at least keep an eye on, then I don't really know who is. If the deal is approved by the MLB, expect to be hearing about Serrano soon.
P Simon Mercedes
Simon Mercedes is another Dominican pitcher, this time signed by the Boston Red Sox.
Mercedes stands 6'4" and about 220 pounds with a power fastball and a good breaking ball.
The reason the deal is still pending approval by the MLB, you ask? Because Mercedes has already signed a deal with another major league team. The Giants reportedly signed him but the deal fell apart when Major League Baseball discovered that Mercedes was reportedly not Simon Mercedes. He was 16-year-old Jeffrey Tapia.
Upon learning this, the league denied the deal and banned Mercedes from signing with a major league team for one year. As soon as the ban was lifted, Boston swooped in and snatched him up, looking for him to become a cornerstone in their rotation in years to come.