Top 2021 Cuban Prospects in the American League
From last year’s list Luis Robert, the top prospect on last year’s list graduated. Ronald Bolaños and Randy Arozarena moved from the National League to the American League. If you included Arozarena’s at bats from the playoffs he would have graduated, but he is still eligible as a rookie. Julio Pablo Martínez, Yordys Valdés and Orlando Martínez dropped from the list. Two new players who were signed by the White Sox in 2021 were added to this list.
1. Randy Arozarena OF (Rays) - No one has ever been hotter in the playoffs when Arozarena, who hit 10 homeruns in 20 playoff games. For the longest time Babe Ruth held the record for most homeruns in the post season with 15, but then during that era they only played one seven game series. Arozarena almost equaled that amount in one playoff year. Don’t expect that power to result in Ruthian numbers during the regular season. He hits the ball hard but it’ll probably settle in the 30 plus homerun range. He was signed by the Cardinals in 2016 for what was then a modest bonus of $1.25 million. He has failed to fall high on prospect lists, but myworld did rate him as the second rated Cuban prospect in the National League last year. He appears to have a good hit tool, with the ability to hit in the neighborhood of .300. His speed will allow him to play centerfield, but he is a better fit in a corner with an arm strong enough for right field. The Rays acquired him from the Cardinals for Mike Liberatore. Arozarena should start at a corner for the Rays in 2021 with possible spot starts in centerfield.
2. Roberto Campos OF (Tigers) - The Tigers paid out $2.85 million to sign Campos. Like a lot of Cubans, not a lot is known about the 17 year old. In the United States he would still be in high school. He has the big, right field frame at 6′3″ and 200 pounds. He left Cuba at 13 and trained at a facility in the Dominican Republic for three years. His batting practices are impressive, but there is no game like action to show what he can do with a mixture of different offerings. The speed is there to play center, but like Arozarena his best fit appears to be right. He will probably start the 2021 season in Low A, since there will not be any rookie leagues.
3. Yusniel Díaz OF ( Orioles) - The tools are there for him to be a major leaguer. Some question whether he has the motivation. The Dodgers wheel barreled out $15 million to sign him back in 2015. They traded him to the Orioles for a half season use of Manny Machado. He slogged around in AA for more than two years. This spring he was hoping to win a job with the Orioles, but he will probably start the season in AAA. His tools are probably just above average in all categories, but power wise and defense fall far short of Manny Machado. Because he lacks the burner speed to play center, how his power develops will determine whether his bat can fit into a corner. His highest homerun total is 11 with a career slugging average of .440. Most teams want to see higher production from a corner outfielder. He will need a good season in AAA in 2021 and a couple injuries before he fits with the Orioles.
4. Yoelquis Céspedes OF (White Sox) - He is the younger brother of Yoennis Céspedes, who had a great early career in Cuba before he signed a major league contract. Yoelquis numbers in the Cuban league pale in comparison to Yoennis, yet the White Sox were still willing to pay $2.05 million for him. Yoennis signed a four year contract with the Oakland Athletics for $36 million, when there were not as many restrictions on bonuses for international players. Yoennis hit 177 homeruns in Cuba while Yoelquis has hit 12. Yoelquis only stands 5′9″, so we hold out little hope he will be a stand out player. His arm may be his strongest tool, but it is said he has some power, despite his vanilla .415 slugging percentage in Cuba. The speed is there to play center so if his power does not develop he could survive on his defense and moderate power. He reminds me a bit too much of Adolis García. At 23, he should probably start the year in AA with a potential major league debut in 2022.
5. Alexander Vargas SS (Yankees) - The Yankees spent $2.5 million to sign Vargas in 2019. The 19 year old showed a smooth glove in his rookie league debut, but a little overmatched with the bat. His speed allowed him to steal 15 bases in 48 games and leg out 7 triples. At 5′11″ and only 150 pounds the power is a little short but should improve as he gets stronger. The defensive tools are there for him to stick at short. He needs to show a little better bat if he doesn’t want to fall into oblivion like a number of other Cuban shortstops that are short with the stick and battling for an opportunity to play in the major leagues. Alexander should start the 2021 season in Low A. The Yankees seem to be flush with shortstops so it would not surprise myworld if Vargas is not traded in a couple years for playoff pieces.
6. Norge C. Vera RHP (White Sox) - Norge is the son of Norge Luis Vera, who was a star for the Cuban National team that won an Olympic gold medal. At 6′4″ he has a good frame for a pitcher. The White Sox signed him for $1.5 million in 2021. That is over $3 million the White Sox spent for two Cubans. Norge throws his fastball in the low 90s but it should gain velo as he matures physically. He appears to have the requisite secondary pitches to fit in the middle of a rotation. His long levers had difficulty finding the plate when he pitched in the Cuban League, but he was only 18 then. The White Sox will start him in Low A in 2021.
7. Lázaro Armenteros OF (Athletics) - Lázaro came from Cuba with too much hype. The Athletics believed that hype and spent $3 million to sign him in 2016. He was advertised as a five tool athlete, but his arm is weak and dedicated to left field and he has trouble making contact. He struck out 227 times in 2019. If the pitch has a bend to it Lázaro has trouble making contact. He does have some speed and shows some power when he can make contact. He fell three homeruns short in 2019 from being a 20/20 player in the minor leagues. The 2021 season should see him start it in AA where he needs to focus on making more consistent contact.
8. Bryan Ramos 3B (White Sox) - The third White Sox on this list, but Ramos signed for only $300,000 in 2018. The power is there for him to stick at a corner infield position, but the glove at third may force a move to first. If that is the case there may be more pressure on him for his power to really perform. Major league teams have been reluctant to have right handed gloves who bat right handed play first base. His speed is not great, but he could also move to a corner outfield position. In his one season of Rookie level ball in 2019 he had trouble making contact with 44 whiffs in 51 games. The 2021 season should see him start in Low A.
9. Ronald Bolaños RHP (Royals) - Ronald appeared as the ninth top Cuban prospect in the National League last year. He appears as the ninth best prospect in the American League this year. The Padres signed Bolaños for $2 million in 2016, then included him in a trade to the Royals with Franchy Cordero for Tim Hill. He did get an opportunity to pitch with the Padres in 2019 and with the Royals in 2020, but his seven appearances result in an ERA of 6.94. Throwing strikes has been a bit of a challenge in the major leagues, resulting in 5 dingers in just 23 innings. His fastball hits the mid-90s and his curve has a good break, but if he wants to fit into the rotation he needs to enhance his change to get a third effective pitch. He will start the 2021 season in AAA.
10. Yolbert Sánchez SS (White Sox) - The fourth White Sox on this list. The White Sox signed him for $2.5 million. At 24 he is a veteran of the Cuban League, hitting just two homeruns in his three years there, with averages ranging from .255 to .350. In 2019 he played 29 games in the Dominican Summer League where he was playing against much younger players. The defensive tools are there to play shortstop but the bat needs to improve if he hopes to take on a regular role. A utility option exists if his bat fails to mature. The White Sox may be aggressive with him in 2021 and start him in High A or AA.
(Top photo of Randy Arozarena: Tony Gutierrez/AP, Other photos: MLB)