According to Ben Badler of BaseballAmerica.com, another one of Cuba’s brightest prospects has defected from his homeland in search of a major league contract.
His name is Ronald Bolanos, a 19-year old right-hander, who pitched for Cuba over in Mexico last September in the 18U COPABE Pan American Championships. Though he didn’t crack Baseball America’s Top 20 list of Cuban prospects this season, I still believe the Yankees would be wise to inquire on the young right-hander, and here’s why:
Bolanos stand’s 6’2″ and currently weights 180 lbs. According to Badler, he already posses an 88-93 mph fastball, and at times, he flashes an above-average slider with a late break that sits in the low-80s. Two things that jump out to me here are 1. the fact that he already has a fastball in the low 90’s and hasn’t even grown into his body yet, and 2. his scouting report sounds a whole lot like Michael Pineda‘s when he broke out with the Seattle Marines in 2011.
Another interesting perspective to take into account is that Bolanos came up through the Cuban junior leagues as an outfielder, and didn’t start pitching until 2014 in Cuba’s 18U National League. He posted a 2.02 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 19 walks in 35.2 innings pitched as a reliever, which solidified his spot on Cuba’s Junior National team. Over in Mexico in the aforementioned Pan American Championships, he appeared in three games and made one start. He threw a total of nine shutout innings and led all Cuban pitchers with 15 strikeouts.
Why is this significant? Well, the fact that he really didn’t start pitching until last year means that there is essentially no wear-and-tear in his pitching arm. In an era that’s dominated by Tommy John surgery, it’s rare that a high-profiled prospect pitcher such as Bolanos becomes available with an arm that hasn’t been overused.
This past season, Bolanos appeared exclusively as a pitcher in his rookie season with Mayabeque in Serie Nacional. In 21 appearances, three of which were starts, Bolanos posted a eyebrow-raising 4.89 ERA over 37.2 innings pitched with 23 strikeouts and 30 walks. While these numbers don’t seem very encouraging, you have to factor in that Bolano’s is playing in Cuba’s top-league as a 19-year old, and that Mayabeque was one of the worst teams in the league by far.
Here’s where things become tricky.
Given his young age, Bolanos will be subject to the international signing bonus pools and will have to wait over a year before clearing the hurdle and being able to sign on with a club in the MLB. Bolanos missed this years registration cutoff, which was on May 15th, and means that he’ll have to wait until July 2nd, 2016 to sign with an MLB club.
Also, because the Yankees went more than 15% over their 2014-15 international bonus cap by signing five of the top 10 and and eight of the top 20 international prospects, they won’t be able to sign anyone for more than $300,000 during the 2016-17 international signing period.
While this might be enough to land Bolanos, you just never know how much other teams might throw at him in free-agency. He’s young, has a live arm with no wear-and-tear, and has a pretty high ceiling.
Time will certainly tell.
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