Late last week we learned through a report by Ben Badler of Baseball America (h/t MLB Trade Rumors' Steve Adams) that another high-profile Cuban hitter, outfielder Yasmani Tomas, had defected in order to pursue a career in Major League Baseball.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com noted that the 23-year-old currently is in the Dominican Republic, and Adams points out he "needs to establish residence in a foreign country and then be cleared by both Major League Baseball and the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control" before he can sign.
With that in place, Tomas will be free to sign with an interested team for any amount, as his age and experience—he played in parts of five seasons for the Industriales in Cuba’s Serie Nacional—"make him exempt from MLB’s international spending limitations."
There isn’t a definite timetable for the aforementioned process, as Adams notes, and Tomas may not end up signing with a team until late 2014 or even 2015.
However, once he’s been cleared to sign, expect a bidding war to take place between numerous teams.
Here’s what you need to know about Tomas in advance of his potential stateside career.
Tomas debuted as an 18-year-old in Cuba’s Serie Nacional during the 2008-09 season, and, for the most part, the teenager held his own with a .297/.350/.385 batting line and five extra-base hits in 91 at-bats. He appeared in 35 games for the Industriales, seeing time at both corner outfielder positions as well as first and third base.
Tomas appeared in only 24 games the following year and batted just .185/.179/.370 in 27 at-bats, and didn’t receive any playing time—for reasons unknown—for the Industriales during the 2010-11 season.
However, Tomas would emerge as one of Cuba’s more prolific hitters the following season, as the 21-year-old batted .298/.340/.581 with 20 home runs, 15 doubles, 50 RBI and a 57-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 272 at-bats (83 games).
Tomas added to his resume the following year with another strong offensive season, as he batted .289/.364/.538 with 15 homers, 18 doubles, 60 RBI and a 52-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 277 at-bats. He also drew 10 intentional walks while appearing in over 80 games (81, to be exact) for the second consecutive season.
It also marked the first time in Tomas’ Serie Nacional career that he played center field almost exclusively.
In his final year (2013-14) with the Industriales, Tomas’s playing time and production both were limited due to a wrist injury suffered during the season. However, the 23-year-old still managed to turn in a solid offensive campaign, batting .291/.348/.452 with 23 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 35 RBI in 230 at-bats.
Tomas also opened eyes during the 2013 World Baseball Classic while serving as one of the younger players on the Cuban national team, as he was 6-for-16 (.412) with two home runs, one double, one walk and four strikeouts in the tournament.
The first thing you’ll hear about Tomas is that he possesses enormous raw power—legitimate 70-grade thump according to Badler:
A righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, Tomas can hit towering home runs thanks to the strength from his thickly-built 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. Tomas has 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale, and with Jose Abreu already gone, the only player still in Cuba with more raw power than him was Alfredo Despaigne.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required) praised Tomas' swing mechanics and approach, stating that he’s “very short to the ball – maybe even more so than [Jose] Abreu – with good hip rotation and a quiet approach.”
Scouting Baseball’s Kiley McDaniel (subscription required) also noted Tomas’s sound right-handed swing when commenting on his power:
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.
Even though Tomas saw time in center field during his tenure with the Industriales, few believe that he’ll able to handle the position in the major leagues, with the consensus being he’s better suited for a career in right or left field.
According to Law:
Tomas is a stout center fielder who'll have to move to a corner outfield spot, as he's a below-average runner with a stiff body who could probably stand to shed some weight before he signs. (Baseball-Reference lists him at 6 feet 1 and 229 pounds, but he looked much heavier than that last summer.)
McDaniel echoed Law’s belief in Tomas as a corner outfielder:
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.
Overall, Law contends that a reasonable projection for Tomas would be an “average to slightly above-average regular in left field, with 25 to 30 homers, a low OBP and below-average defense.”
McDaniel also is skeptical of Tomas' hit tool and wonders whether or not it will affect his power frequency in the major leagues, writing: “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 his 25 homer power in games, or he ends up being a platoon bat.”
Comparing Tomas to Other Cuban Stars
Since Tomas basically played in three full seasons (his age-21 to age-23 seasons) before defecting, I thought it would be interesting to look at how some of the other recent Cuban signees, specifically Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes—Yasiel Puig signed with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old—fared at the same age:
The above statistics support the previous scouting assessments that Tomas is not the same type of all-around, dynamic hitter that both Abreu and Cespedes were at the same age.
However, the fact that Tomas' numbers in Cuba weren’t as impressive as Abreu, Cespedes or Puig’s doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t receive a big payday once eligible to sign. According to Law, “Tomas might get paid like Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig, but he’s not in their class as a prospect, and if paid similarly, he would be benefiting from how successful Abreu and Puig have been.”
McDaniel also believes that Tomas' potential contract will have more to do with the market than his recent success in Serie Nacional:
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.
That said, the industry consensus is that Tomas won’t receive anywhere close to Abreu’s six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox or Puig’s seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers.
However, based on some of the other contracts handed out in recent years to Cespedes (four years, $36 million), Alex Guerrero (four years, $28 million) and Erisbel Arruebarruena (five years, $25 million), it’s seemingly a safe bet that the 23-year-old Tomas will receive a deal for anywhere from four to seven years that’s worth as much as $30 million to $35 million.
*All stats from Cuba's Serie Nacional are courtesy of ESPN's Cuban-Play.com unless otherwise noted.