The Los Angeles Dodgers and Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena have reportedly agreed to terms, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Terms of the deal were not disclosed in Gurnick's report because "there still are physical exams and possible legal and immigration issues to resolve."
MLB (@MLB) February 12, 2014
Arruebarruena is the latest in a string of international signings by the Dodgers, having signed no fewer than 53 players (if you include Arruebarruena) from foreign countries in the last 13 months, according to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles.
Signing with a high-profile franchise like the Dodgers immediately puts Arruebarruena on the prospect radar, but does the talent match the inevitable hype?
Let's examine Arruebarruena's raw tools and upside to find some answers, shall we?
Scouting using only video isn't always the best way to get a grasp on what a player can do, but you see that Arruebarruena has a tremendous throwing arm. Making that first play deep in the hole with that kind of accuracy on his knees is incredible.
It's not a clear video, so trying to judge his first step and range are problematic, but based on the way he glides to his left and right, covering ground isn't going to be an issue in professional baseball.
Arruebarruena's ability to turn the double play also shines through, as he takes the feed from the second baseman (54 seconds on the video) and effortlessly transfers the ball from his glove to his hand, making an accurate throw to first base.
The most impressive part of this video is Arruebarruena's footwork. He glides around the diamond with ease, able to set himself no matter which direction he's going or how difficult the throw may be.
While admitting that a clearer video would be more helpful, I can slap a plus grade (60-65 on the 20-80 scouting scale) on Arruebarruena's defense without hesitation, though it may play better than that given his age and apparent feel for the game.
Oy, this is where things get bad.
Arruebarruena was the starting shortstop for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and managed to hit .375/.444/.375, which tells you all you need to know about the pitching during that event and how fickle small sample sizes can be, because that swing is awful.
He does have some muscle to his physique but doesn't have the swing mechanics or approach to use it.
His stance starts slightly open with a good base, leaning on his back leg until the pitcher moves toward the plate. After the ball is delivered, Arruebarruena takes virtually no stride at all, almost seeming bored in the box, putting all the pressure on his arms and hips to drive the ball.
The only players who can get away with an all upper-body swing are built like Adam Dunn, who has learned to use his powerful lower half, not a 6'0", 200-pound shortstop like Arruebarruena.
On top of those problems, Arruebarruena has no bat speed and his hips fly open. Combine all these issues, it's going to be hard for him to catch velocity on the inner half of the plate and even mediocre breaking balls thrown on the outer half of the plate.
Maybe the Dodgers see something there they can work with, but using my eye, Arruebarruena has the makings of an all-glove, no-hit player who might find a utility role in the big leagues because the defense is so good.
The Scout's View
Arruebarruena worked out for teams in the Dominican Republic last December. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com spoke to a scout after that workout about Arruebarruena's potential in Major League Baseball.
He’s what you’ve been reading. He’s a very good defensive player. His glove is very close to the big leagues. The bat, you kind of think he’s one of those guys who’ll bat down in the order. He can really play shortstop, if that’s the type of player you’re interested in. He’ll be a quality defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues, but you wonder if he’s going to hit.
The scout also mentions Detroit's Jose Iglesias and Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria by name, saying that he felt better about those two being able to hit in the big leagues.
That's damning praise, because Iglesias and Hechavarria were never regarded as MLB-quality hitters when they were coming up.
Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) wrote about Iglesias' hit tool in 2013, saying that he "gets chewed up by secondary stuff," has "no power" and "doesn't project as (a) quality hitter."
Hechavarria fit into the same category as Iglesias, with Keith Law of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required) writing last year that Hechavarria has "a long swing and poor plate discipline."
Based on how both players hit last year, the scouting reports seemed to be spot on. Iglesias carried a fluky first half (.367/.417/.461) to a .303/.349/.386 season line but hit much closer to his expected level after being traded to Detroit (.259/.306/.348).
Hechavarria never got going in 2013, playing 148 games despite hitting .227/.267/.298 for the Marlins.
I think Iglesias, who has the tools to be an elite defender, is Arruebarruena's ceiling and Hechavarria, a strong defensive shortstop in his own right, will be the floor.
Considering how far away the bat looks, Arruebarruena will need at least one full season in the minors before he gets a shot in the big leagues. Even a 2015 debut seems optimistic for the 23-year-old.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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