Busy in the international market, Arizona lands impactful Cuban players Lopez, Tomas
By Jesse Sanchez
PHOENIX -- The future is now for D-backs, and the search is on for the best players in the world.
"I think our direction is really to find impactful players to come into our organization, whether that be another young Cuban player coming from the Dominican or becoming a free agent or a top player from Venezuela [or the Dominican Republic], our goal is to find the most impactful players to bring into this organization," said D-backs senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson last month at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. "The primary focus is to try to impact our organization internally and grow our own players. If we're able to do that, I think it's going to impact our big league club in the future. But right now, our focus is to find the best talent that is walking on the planet."
Consider the D-backs 2-for-2.
The D-backs agreed to an $8.27 million signing bonus with Cuban right-handed pitching prospect Yoan Lopez on Tuesday. The deal, which is pending a physical exam, would be the largest under new international guidelines.
"It's all pending a physical right now," D-backs general manager Dave Stewart said.
Last month, the D-backs finalized a six-year, $68.5 million with Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.
The D-backs have a long history with players from Cuba, but it's hard to deny the impact these two acquisitions -- a power arm and a power bat from the island -- could have on the club's season in 2015.
In Lopez's case, the agreement is significant because the hard-throwing hurler could pay immediate dividends. Sources indicate he could start the season at Double-A and make an appearance in the big leagues sometime during the season.
The consensus is that 6-foot-4, 190-pound Lopez needs some time in the Minor Leagues, but some scouts believe his plus-fastball with a plus-breaking ball could push him to the top of the rotation in the future. Lopez played three seasons in Cuba for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island's top league, where he sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.
How good is Lopez? His fastball hovers in the low-to-mid 90s, and he touched 100 mph in private workouts late last year. One club was willing to pay up to $9 million for his services, but the pitcher decided his best and quickest path to the big leagues was with Arizona.
For his part, Tomas, who primarily played in the outfield in Cuba, will be given the opportunity to win the starting job at third base during Spring Training. He could also shift back to the outfield and is expected to hit in the middle of the lineup near All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
This much is certain: Tomas has exceptional raw power and his contract is the biggest deal in club history.
Arizona could become a destination for more Cuban players in the future. On Monday, the club hired Ariel Prieto to the Major League staff as a coach and translator. From Cuba, the former Major League pitcher was instrumental in Yoenis Cespedes' successful transition to Oakland, and Prieto will have a similar role in Arizona with Tomas.
As for Lopez, because he is under 23 and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, he is subject to MLB's international signing guidelines. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team's record during the previous season that it can spend during the international signing period, which started on July 2.
The D-backs have been active on the international market since the period began, signing prospects from places like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Taiwan. The completion of the Lopez deal would put them more than 15 percent above their allotted bonus pool and into the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100-percent tax on the pool overage and prohibits the team from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.
Arizona's search for the best players is not over. The D-backs will still have the most money to spend during the next signing period.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.