Top Ten 2021 Cuban Prospects in the National League
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
Randy Arozarena and Ronald Bolaños moved to the American League. Michel Báez is the only player who graduated from the list. Víctor Víctor Mesa, who got the big signing bonus dropped from the list while his younger brother, who had less credentials remained on the list.
Below are the top ten Cuban prospects from the National league.
1. Adrián Morejón LHP (Padres) - Back in 2014 he pitched for Cuba’s 15 and under team, pitching them to a gold medal victory over the United States. He was voted the MVP of the 15 and under World Cup. In 2016 he defected from Cuba and signed an $11 million bonus with the Padres. His journey to the major leagues has been long, but he appears to have found the right path. Arm injuries slowed his ascension to the major leagues but he made his debut in 2019, finishing with an ugly 10.12 ERA. He was better in 2020 (4.66) and he hopes to break out this year with a spot in the rotation. He has some wicked stuff, starting with a mid 90s fastball that can touch the high 90s, something all scouts drool at with lefthanders. His curveball has a nasty bite and his change is a quality pitch. A decent slider gives him a fourth offering. What holds him back is his difficulty finding his spot in the strike zone. Too many meaty pitches in 2020 hit too much of the strike zone leading to seven dingers in just 19 innings. It is not just about throwing strikes, but throwing quality strikes. When Adrián can learn that he can fit at the top of the rotation. He will be in the Padres starting rotation in 2021 until he fails to get hitters out.
2. Jorge Oña OF (Padres) - Myworld did not give Oña a lot of respect last year, keeping him absent from the list, but the names are a bit weak in 2021 so he jumps to number 2. Jorge popped on to the list with his .583 slugging average during his major league debut in 2020, encompassing just 12 at bats. In 2019 he was limited to just 25 games because of a shoulder injury, but he hit .348 with five homeruns. There is some power in his bat, which motivated the Padres to sign him for a $7 million bonus in 2016. He does have some issues making contact, and his defense will probably limit him to left field. Ideally, his best spot could be as a designated hitter. He will start the 2021 season in AAA, but do not be surprised if the Padres trade him for some help in their playoff run. He could also be kept to be their DH when the National League incorporates it in 2022.
3. Andy Pagés OF (Dodgers) - Pages was initially traded to the Angels in the first Mookie Betts trade that was called off. Don’t be surprised if he gets offered again to provide the Dodgers with some veteran depth for a playoff run. The Dodgers only signed him for $300,000, a paltry sum when you compare his bonus to other bonuses the Dodgers have shelled out to Cuban defectors. He has some impressive tools, with a strong arm for right field and a loud bat that provides impressive exit velocities when he makes contact. The challenge will be to improve that contact. In 2019 he struck out 79 times in just 63 games but he still slugged .651 with 19 homeruns. The Dodgers will probably start him in High A in 2021.
4. Johan Oviedo RHP (Cardinals) - At 6′5″ and 245 pounds Johan is an intimidating presence on the mound. The Cardinals paid out a bonus of $1.9 million in 2016, the same year they signed Randy Arozarena. As to be expected with that large frame, Johan can whip the fastball toward the plate in the mid-90s. A slider is a pretty good second pitch. What he needs to improve on is finding a third pitch and improving his command. His long arms still prove a challenge for him in finding consistency with his delivery and finding the plate. He made his major league debut last year, putting together a 5.47 ERA. Unlike his 2019 minor league season he did not get a lot of strikeouts per nine innings and he sits around 2.5 walks every nine innings. He will start the 2021 season in AAA and could see the Cardinals toward the end of the season. If his control still fails him and a third pitch is lacking he can always be used in the bullpen.
5. Miguel Vargas 3B (Dodgers) - He played with Adrian Morejón, Lazarito Armenteros and Ernesto Martínez on the Cuban Under 15 team, all of whom are now playing in the minor leagues for major league clubs. He hit .378 with nine RBIs, but unlike the three other players he did not make the all tournament team. His father played on Cuba’s 1992 and 1996 gold medal teams in the Olympics. The Dodgers signed him for $300,000 in 2017. He stands 6′3″ and lacks speed and quickness so a move from third base is possible. If that happens he will have to develop his power, which has not been prevalent in the minor leagues. He does hit for average, draws walks and finds the gaps enough to hit 40 plus doubles. Turning those doubles into homeruns would make the transition easier. Vargas could start the 2021 season in AA and could be offered as trade bait by the Dodgers to acquire veteran playoff depth.
6. Víctor Mesa Jr. OF (Marlins) - His father was a superstar outfielder for the Cuban teams that won numerous gold medals in international events. His brother left for the United States to escape the expectations that Cuban fans expected from the son of a superstar. The older brother Víctor Víctor Mesa signed for $5.25 million. The younger brother Víctor Mesa Jr. got a token $1 million bonus. Now it is the younger brother who is the better prospect. While the power is not great he does show the ability to hit for average (.284). Only 14 of his 50 hits went for extra bases. If he could play a rangy centerfield it would be better, but defensively his best fit is for a corner. He may lack the power to fill that position. Víctor does make good contact with a 24/29 walk to whiff ratio. Víctor should start the 2021 season in Low A where the 19 year old can be moved patiently. His 24 year old brother Víctor Víctor Mesa could only hit .235 with a .274 OBA in his 2019 minor league season. Missing the 2020 season put him in a bad situation where at 24 he needs to prove himself now.
7. José García SS (Reds) - García signed for $5 million in 2017. There is no question that his glove is of major league quality. Despite playing only A ball the Reds still called him up in 2020 to fill the shortstop hole. He struggled with the bat, hitting only .194 with no extra base hits and a 1/26 walk to whiff ratio. His OBA was .206 and his slugging was .194 in 24 games. It is obvious José needs some more work with the bat before putting on the Reds uniform. The Reds were looking for a shortstop for the 2021 season, but having failed to acquire one decided to move third baseman Eugenio Suárez to play the position. If he struggles the Reds may have no other choice than to call García up, sacrificing some offense to solidify the defense. Expect José to start the 2021 season in AA.
8. Malcolm Núñez 3B (Cardinals) - The Cardinals signing of Nolan Arenado could put a brick wall towards Núñez opportunity with the Cardinals. The Cardinals signed Núñez for $300,000 in 2018. Núñez played with Víctor Víctor Mesa on the Under 15 Cuban National team in 2016 where he hit .613 with 9 walks. The defense is a little shaky and his speed is virtually non-existent, so if he is going to make it the bat will have to work. The bat did not display a lot of power in his first appearance stateside in 2019 with just two homeruns and a slugging average of .318. That will have to improve. He did slug 13 homeruns with a .415 average and .774 slugging percentage in the Dominican Summer League the prior year. He should begin the 2021 season in Low A.
9. Vladimir Gutiérrez RHP (Reds) - The Reds signed Gutiérrez the same year they signed Jose García, shelling out $4.75 million for Gutiérrez. Vladimir is not over powering with a fastball that sits in the low 90s. His top pitch may be his curve with a decent change, but the curve can be inconsistent. When he struggles to get the pitch over the plate he becomes very hittable. His minor league seasons have been afflicted with the homerun ball, giving up 26 in 2019. That resulted in a poor 6.04 ERA. At best, Vladimir may be an end of the rotation pitcher or a spot starter. He was placed on the 40 man roster in a rebuilding year for the Reds. He should make his major league debut sometime mid-season, provided he stays healthy and is pitching effectively.
10. Daysbel Hernández RHP (Braves) - The Braves signed Daysbel for $190,000 in 2017. At 5′10″ he is not a big presence, but he can hit the mid-90s on the radar gun with his fastball. A lack of control and a missing third pitch destines him for the bullpen where he has pitched in all 56 of his appearances. In his two minor league seasons in 2018 and 2019 he has limited the opposition to a .193 average. His best season was in 2019 where he picked up 7 saves with a 1.71 ERA. At 24 years of age the Braves must move him quickly. He should start the 2021 season in AA and could see his major league debut with a successful minor league season.
(Top photo of Adrián Morejón: K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune, Other photos: MLB)