Why Yasmany Tomas Could Be MLB's Next Cuban Phenom

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterNovember 27, 2014

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 11:  Outfielder Yasmany Tomas # 27 of Cuba reacts after hitting a RBI single in the eighth inning during the World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1 game between Cuba and the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome on March 11, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

After weeks of speculation and intrigue, Major League Baseball's next great Cuban import is here.

Slugging outfielder Yasmany Tomas has agreed to a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.

An agreement in place with the Diamondbacks, Yasmany Tomas is ready to become the next Cuban star-turned-MLB phenom.
An agreement in place with the Diamondbacks, Yasmany Tomas is ready to become the next Cuban star-turned-MLB phenom.Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

A star player in Cuba's top professional league, the Serie Nacional, Tomas has a skill set, particularly on offense, to be the latest in what has become a long line of phenoms who hail from the island nation.

Among those position players who landed big money and made their contracts look like bargains? Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, the recently crowned American League Rookie of the Year.

Two other hitters who have a ton of upside but have yet to see enough big league action are Jorge Soler, who debuted last August, and Rusney Castillo, who that same month scored a seven-year, $72.5 million from the Boston Red Sox.

There had been speculation that Tomas would surpass Castillo's record amount for an international free agent from Cuba. That didn't happen in terms of total value, but Tomas did get more in terms of average annual value ($11.4 million to $10.4 million).

The contract also allows Tomas to opt out after four years. At that point, he would be turning only 28 years old, which could put him in line for an even bigger payday if he performs anywhere near the way recent Cuban stars have.

Tomas had been working out for MLB teams since September, at which point the buzz and hype surrounding him began to swell.

The Diamondbacks are a bit of a surprise destination, as the initial favorites appeared to be the Philadelphia Phillies, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News back in October.

More recently, the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres reportedly had become the front-runners, per Sanchez.

Arizona, however, needed to make a splash after finishing with the worst record in MLB (64-98), and bringing in Tomas does just that for the franchise and its new front office.

Beyond that, Tomas, who turned just 24 years old on Nov. 14, is considered to be ready for the big leagues, meaning he can team with fellow sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo to form a fearsome middle of the order.

And Tomas' ability to hit balls hard and far should play well at Chase Field, one of baseball's most hitter-friendly ballparks.

Speaking of Tomas' power, it's the right-handed hitter's calling card, as Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required) writes:

It’s 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale, with a chance to hit 25-plus home runs over a full season, possibly more depending on contact frequency in game situations. The power is evident in batting practice, where he generates loft and over-the-fence power from his pull side over to right-center field.

Here's a sample of what the slugger can do from when he played for Cuba in the 2013 World Baseball Classic:

While that mash-job to left against a Japan squad that had won the first two WBC titles was impressive, so was his opposite-field shot against Taiwan in the same tournament:


With the visual displays of oomph covered, Badler has more on Tomas' numbers from Cuba:

Tomas debuted in Serie Nacional in the 2008-09 season as an 18-year-old, though he played sparingly his first two years. Tomas missed the 2010-11 season for undisclosed reasons, but he had a breakout season in 2011-12, batting .301/.340/.580 with 16 homers, 10 walks and 44 strikeouts in 226 plate appearances. He followed that up in 2012-13 by hitting .289/.364/.538 (fifth in the league in slugging) with 15 home runs, 34 walks (10 intentional) and 52 strikeouts in 324 plate appearances. Tomas’ final season in Cuba was relatively disappointing. He hit .290/.346/.450 in 257 plate appearances with six home runs, 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 65 games.

Overall, Tomas smacked 30 homers and knocked in 104 in 205 games across five years with the Havana Industriales, according to Sanchez.

Add it all up, and Tomas' ZiPS projection with the Diamondbacks from Dan Szymborski of ESPN reads as such:

That's not necessarily an out-of-the-gate star, but the .464 slugging percentage is another piece of evidence to support Tomas' pop and would have ranked in MLB's top 30 overall in 2014.

In other words, Tomas possesses one of the most sought-after commodities in baseball today—right-handed power.

Despite that, Tomas is not the same kind of freakish athlete that Cespedes, Puig and Soler are. He's 6'1" and 230 pounds, and his game plays more like that of Abreu.

While Tomas' power is considered similar to Abreu's, he lacks the history of homers in the Serie Nacional that the first baseman had before he signed with the Chicago White Sox and hit 36 home runs en route to his award-winning 2014 campaign.

Here's a take from Keith Law of ESPN (subscription required), who ranks Tomas as the No. 10 free agent in this year's class:

When Tomas last appeared in international competition, he was overweight and looked like a DH (while playing center field). Since then, he reportedly has improved his conditioning and seems likely to stick in an outfield corner. Even so, he remains a below-average runner with a stiff body.

What Tomas brings is plus power, and I don't think it's just BP power, as he is very short to the ball—maybe even more so than fellow Cuban Jose Abreu—with good hip rotation and a very quiet approach. He keeps his head steady through contact and his back leg pretty strong. His bat speed is questionable, however, and he might struggle with good velocity, especially since he didn't hit for high averages in Cuba's Serie Nacional.

Are there questions and unknowns about Tomas? Of course, just as there are with any player who has yet to set foot in America, let alone play Major League Baseball.

But given the wild successes of many of the highly regarded Cuban position players to come to MLB before Tomas, as well as the immediate and future production his big bat should provide, taking a gamble on the next phenom is worthwhile.

Even at a near-record $68.5 million.

Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

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