It is no secret that the farm system of the New York Yankees has been something of a running joke around the big leagues for quite sometime. It is also not a secret, that the Yankees are a tad long in the tooth on their roster, with several prominent players on the wrong side of 30-years old and starting to show a decline in performance. Without having to use the MLB First Year Player’s Draft, the Yankees can add valuable pieces to help shore up the farm system in preparation for providing big league talent sooner rather than later, by taking out fliers on several Cuban defectors who will be eligible to sign with the highest bidder–most likely the Yankees. Let’s take a closer look at a handful of the Cuban players who could soon be property of the New York Yankees:
1. Aleydmis Diaz-Shortstop: Reports on his defense have received mixed reviews, but the 23-year old hit .315 with 12 home runs in 270 at-bats. Several scouts believe that once he becomes eligible to sign in February (he was suspended for having forged age documents), he will most likely move to second base. The Yankees have a vacancy at second base don’t they? MLB.com’s scouting report stated:
While he is known for “his ability to hit for power and average, Diaz is [also] considered an average runner with an above-average arm.
He has been compared to St. Louis Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso but with more pop in his bat. That right there should be enough for the Yankees to take a chance on signing him, and putting him at Triple-A Scranton for some American minor league seasonsing. His glove is legit, but his bat needs work. It wouldn’t take a Brinks truck to sign the young infielder.
2. Erisbel Arruebarruena-Shortstop: Another Cuban middle infielder, who will turn 24-years old in March, he projects to need minor league work before ever seeing the big stage of the Bronx. Arruebarruena stands 6’0″ and weighing 195 lbs., scouts have raved about his glove and arm. With the end of Derek Jeter‘s career on the horizon, it would be in the Yankees best interests to sign him. Ben Badler of Baseball America provided his insight:
Arruebarruena has clean hands, quick actions and good body control. He’s a below-average runner, but his quick first step and instincts give him good range. He has a quick transfer and a plus-plus arm with accuracy, which allows him to make throws from deep in the hole and turn 4-6-3 double plays with ease. His awareness in the field is advanced and he’s shown the ability to make the barehanded play look routine and make strong throws from different angles.
If thrown to the wolves at the big league level, Badler believes that Arruebarruena wouldn’t hit much better than .220 or so. He has a long swing, is right-handed, and has difficulty with pitch recognition. This is where the tutelage of the Yankees minor league and roving hitting instructors would earn their pay. He’s reported to have a long swing, but if he could develop into a .270 hitter with 10-12 home runs at the big league level within a season or two, Arruebarruena would be worth much more than the Yankees would have to pay out to sign him.
3. Odrisamer Despaigne-Starting Pitcher: The Cuban workhorse has been cleared to sign a contract with a Major League team after defecting from Cuba and having lived in Spain since this past July. Not much is known about how Despaigne projects, but scouts from the Yankees, Dodgers, and Phillies have watched him workout. He shares an agent with Dodgers’ outfielder Yasiel Puig. He pitched on the Cuban National Team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and is 26-years old. Despaigne posted a better strikeout rate and ERA than fellow Cuban defectors Dalier Hinojosa and Alfredo Gonzalez, but he also walks more hitters as well. He completed his Cuban career only 12 games over .500, with an ERA of 3.65. Once again, Ben Badler’s take:
Pretty fringy. Maybe a bullpen arm.
Despaigne has worked out for scouts twice, and plans one more workout for interested teams prior to the start of spring training. He is an innings eater, having pitched over 220 innings between the regular season in Cuba and in the WBC. His final season ERA was 2.58, and with some minor league work, could see an opening in the back of the Yankees rotation if none of the candidates currently being discussed pan out or if an injury occurs. There isn’t much pitching talent in the Yankees minor league system to keep him from a promotion if he develops.
4. Raicel Iglesias-Starting Pitcher: A raw, 23-year old talent who was caught the first time he attempted to defect, the right-hander has experienced control issues. Iglesias walked 54 hitters and struck out 53 in 76 2/3 innings pitched. During Cuba’s tour of the United States, he was clocked throwing between 92-95 mph, but scouts believe he would need to throw extended innings in the minor leagues before being ready to face big league hitters consistently.
His breaking ball is sharp at times, and comes in between 76-81 mph. Much like Despaigne, if he shows any amount of success at the minor league levels, not many prospects currently in the Yankees farm system would prevent him from getting a call to the Bronx. Of the four mentioned Cuban prospects, he would come the cheapest for the Yankees. With his youth and lively arm, the Yankees can hardly avoid at least signing him to a deal and seeing if he develops.
The Yankees have had experience with defecting Cuban ballplayers before. Orlando Hernandez was a mainstay in the Yankees rotation for several seasons during the dynasty years, while big money Jose Contreras didn’t quite pan out. None of these prospects are on the same level as Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes, but have shown enough talent and ability for growth that the Yankees shouldn’t ignore this opportunity to add some talented prospects to their farm system with an eye towards the future.
Billy serves as the co-editor of Yanks Go Yard. You can follow him on Twitter @Billy_Brost.