Moncada, Olivera, Ibanez and Alvarez headline top available talent from island
By Jesse Sanchez
There are approximately 75 Cuban players pursuing a contract with a Major League team, but none are as celebrated as infielders Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera, Andy Ibanez and pitcher Yadier Alvarez.
It's a gifted group. But this collection is as diverse as it is talented.
Moncada, a five-tool teen sensation, will turn 20 in late May. Olivera, a veteran standout in Cuba, will be 30 about a month earlier. Then there's the hard-throwing teenage Alvarez, who seemed to have come out of nowhere, and the reliable Ibanez, who could be the safest choice of them all.
These players do not all operate under the same signing guidelines, yet another factor a general manager must consider before making an offer.
Where will each player land?
Here's a look at the four best Cuban players on the market:
Yoan Moncada, infielder, age 19
Considered the best young prospect to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler and Yasiel Puig, the switch-hitting infielder is the top player from Cuba available on the market and he's understandably receiving most of the attention.
The 6-foot, 210-pound Moncada debuted for Cienfuegos in Cuba's Serie Nacional at age 17 and hit .277 during parts of two seasons. He made a name for himself by dominating the 16-and-under and 18-and-under leagues in Cuba. Moncada has been compared to a young Robinson Cano and recently to top Astros prospect Carlos Correa.
Moncada has worked out privately for the Cubs, D-backs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, along with the Brewers and there could be more tryouts to come, according to industry sources. Moncada could make a decision by Feb. 23, if not sooner, but he has not received any formal offers. He can play second base, shortstop and third base.
There is some concern within the international scouting community about Moncada's hitting ability from the right side of the plate, but there is little doubt he will be a Major League player after a short stint in the Minor Leagues. Moncada won't come cheap, but he could be in the big leagues soon.
Because he is under 23 years old and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Moncada is subject to the international signing guidelines. His expected record-setting bonus means the team that signs him will be penalized 100-percent tax on their bonus pool overage and will be prohibited from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.
Moreover, the team that signs Moncada will have until July 15 to pay the 100-percent tax penalty on the overage to Major League Baseball and up to three years to pay out his bonus. Among Moncada's suitors, the Yankees, Red Sox, and D-backs are already in the maximum penalty.
Teams interested: Cubs, D-backs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Brewers Best fit: Padres, D-backs, Yankees or Dodgers Likely destination: Dodgers or Yankees
Hector Olivera, infielder, age 29
One of the first things international scouts talk about when Olivera's name is mentioned is his age. He will be 30 on April 5, so scouts wonder how many years Olivera can be a productive player if their team chooses to offer him a long-term deal. Scouts also point out a blood disorder that sidelined Olivera from play in Cuba's top league, Serie Nacional, and the perceived fatigue issues. But scouts also rave about Olivera's tools, his international experience and how he can help a Major League club right now.
Consider this: Olivera was one of the most prolific offensive players in Cuba when he was healthy, and by all accounts, the infielder is literally in the best shape of his life. The 6-foot-2 infielder has put on plenty of muscle and now weighs close to 220 pounds. What's more, Olivera has wowed scouts in open showcases and private workouts in the Dominican Republic, reiterating the notion he can hit at least 15-20 home runs and drive in 75 runs from the middle of the lineup during his rookie year. Olivera's ability to play second base and third base on the Major League level is very appealing to clubs.
Olivera is not subject to the international signing guidelines. He petitioned Major League Baseball for free agency several weeks ago and could sign within 24 hours of becoming a free agent. International sources tell MLB.com the infielder is seeking a five-to-six year deal that rivals the contracts award to Arizona's Yasmany Tomas (six years, $68.5 million) and Boston's Rusney Castillo (seven years, $72.5 million).
Teams interested: Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Marlins, Padres Best fit: Braves, Yankees, Padres or Dodgers Likely destination: Marlins, Braves or Dodgers
Yadier Alvarez, right-handed pitcher, age 18
A 6-foot-3, 175-pound right-handed pitcher from Matanzas, Alvarez didn't have any professional experience in Cuba's top league, but he has burst onto the international scouting scene in the last few weeks.
Alvarez has a fastball that touches 98 mph with plus-slider and an above-average changeup. He threw in front of 70 local scouts in the Dominican Republic earlier this month and starred in a large showcase with Olivera last week, prompting one high-ranking National League official to say Alvarez was the best 18-year-old pitcher he had ever seen.
International scouts also believe Alvarez has the potential to be at least a No. 2 pitcher because of his stuff and ceiling.
Alvarez is raw and could use some polish, particularly with his command, but he's young and has time on his side. Given his age, position and potential price tag, one international scouting director said he prefers Alvarez over Moncada. Alvarez will likely start in the lower levels in the Minor Leagues and is a few years away from making his big league debut.
Because he is under 23 years old and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Alvarez is subject to the international signing guidelines. He is in the early stages of establishing residency, the first step in becoming eligible to sign with a Major League team.
Teams interested: Dodgers, D-backs, Rockies, Nationals, Blue Jays, Padres, A's, Cardinals, Twins and Brewers Best fit: D-backs, Dodgers or Padres Likely destination: D-backs or Nationals
Andy Ibanez, second base, age 21
Ibanez might not be the flashiest Cuban player on the market, but he's considered "a gamer" in international circles, and could be a Minor League season or two away from contributing on the Major League level. Here's what we know: Ibanez has a reputation for being fundamentally sound, but his tools do not blow scouts away. Names like Howie Kendrick, Omar Infante, Miguel Cairo and Placido Polanco are mentioned when discussing Ibanez's potential.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound infielder starred for the island's 16-and-under and 18-and-under national teams, and later for Isla De La Juventud in Cuba's Serie Nacional. Ibanez was also the youngest player on Cuba's 2013 World Baseball Classic roster.
Ibanez is ready to sign and he could come to terms with a team once Moncada is off the board. There's the notion he could sign before Moncada because some teams consider him a less expensive alternative and want to get him into camp for Spring Training.
Because he is under 23 years old and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Ibanez is subject to the international signing guidelines.
Teams interested: Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, D-backs, Brewers, Mariners, and Padres Best fit: Yankees, Dodgers, Giants or Padres Likely destination: Yankees, Dodgers, or Padres
Other Cuban players to watch:
Ariel Miranda, left-handed pitcher
Vladimir Gutierrez, right-handed pitcher
Jorge Hernandez, right-handed pitcher
Jorge Despaigne, right-handed pitcher
Alejandro Ortiz, infielder
Angel Miguel, infielder
Diosdany Castillo, right-handed pitcher
Yasmany Hernandez, left-handed pitcher
Guillermo Heredia, center fielder
Yolian Cerse, second baseman
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.