When news of Jose Abreu's defection emerged in August of 2013, we could immediately draw lines to the White Sox. There wasn't an inside information linking them -- it just made sense, as the Sox needed a first baseman as much as they needed an impact bat, and a lot of other big-market teams didn't have a similar impetus to take that risk.
That same deductive reasoning makes one take notice of the news about Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old swtich-hitting infielder who left Cuba and just established residency in Guatemala. He has tentatively scheduled a showcase there for Nov. 12.
Baseball America's Ben Badler called Moncada "the next Cuban baseball star" in August, laying out his amateur and professional history (he was Cienfuegos teammates with Abreu):
How good is Moncada? He has more upside than Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, who just reached a $72.5 million deal with the Red Sox. He’s better than Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who’s in the Dominican Republic but is still likely several months away from free agency. If Moncada were eligible for the 2015 draft, he would be in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick. Gourriel and Despaigne would be safer bets, but there’s no player in Cuba with Moncada’s combination of youth, tools and hitting ability. [...]
In 2012-13, Moncada made his Serie Nacional debut for Cienfuegos, where he was teammates with White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Dodgers shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena. Moncada performed well for a 17-year-old, hitting .283/.414/.348 in 172 plate appearances with 13 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Moncada also made his mark at the league’s all-star game, where Cuba holds certain skill competitions in addition to a home run derby. Among the events are races to first base and around the bases. At the 2012-13 all-star game, Moncada won both races, beating Castillo, a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale, and Guillermo Heredia, a 60 runner who started in center field in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Others agree with Badler's assessment:
Heard he's a potential star "@JesseSanchezMLB: Top Cuban prospect Moncada petitioning for FA; showcase planned http://t.co/mJpov5gIWY #Cuba"— keithlaw (@keithlaw) November 3, 2014
Oh yeah. Everyone I've talked to raved about Moncada "@saveitnerds_: @keithlaw Higher ceiling than Yasmany Tomas?"— keithlaw (@keithlaw) November 3, 2014
Cuban SS is 19 & Soler/Puig level talent http://t.co/QKWk98LwVy RT @mlbtraderumors Yoan Moncada To Hold Showcase http://t.co/fatanKT1Rk— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) November 3, 2014
Unlike Abreu, Moncada is subject to international pool restrictions, as he's under 23 and hasn't logged five years in a Cuban professional league. It's unclear which signing period he's eligible for, but either way, his market will be restricted some:
The Moncada sweepstakes should be interesting. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, who have a reputation for signing top talent on the international market, have spent more than 15 percent of their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. In short, those three clubs will not be able to sign Moncada if he becomes eligible to sign after June 15.
The Cubs and Rangers, who are big players in Latin America but cannot sign an international player for more than $250,000 during the current signing period because they exceeded their 2013-14 bonus pools by more than 15 percent, could become players in the Moncada sweepstakes if he becomes eligible after June 15.
Last week, Larry said in a comment that the White Sox were in a better position than other teams to pursue a Cuban player. That comment pertained to a different defector (Andy Ibanez), but it applies here.
All 30 teams will be in on Moncada, so White Sox fans shouldn't get hopes up. However, draft position isn't the only reason to cheer a bottom-10 season -- international budgets matter, too, and the Sox might have some spending power other teams don't.
Status updates for international players
Kenta Maeda: The owner of the Hiroshima Carp said he was holding off on posting his ace back on Oct. 13, but that's negotiable, of course.
Jose Fernandez: Badler couldn't confirm the Cuban second baseman's whereabouts as of Oct. 20.
Higinio Velez, the president of the Cuban baseball federation, announced Sunday that Fernandez and Herrera have been released from the Matanzas team due to disciplinary reasons. Velez said he could not say whether they left the country or where the players are currently. While multiple well-connected sources said they believe Fernandez and Herrera did leave Cuba, those stories were inconsistent, and Baseball America could not independently confirm Fernandez’s current location.
Yasmany Tomas: The right-handed power-hitting outfielder is working out for teams, most recently the Boston Red Sox. However, the Phillies seem to be the front-runners.