Club continues busy international period with signings of outfielder Diaz, second baseman Estevez
By Jesse Sanchez
The Dodgers have come to terms with two top Cuban prospects. According to industry sources, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, 19, ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list, and second baseman Omar Estevez, 17, have agreed to a bonuses worth $15.5 and $6 million, respectively, pending physicals.
The Dodgers have not confirmed the deals.
Diaz sported a .348 batting average with an on-base percentage of .448 and a slugging percentage of .440 during his first season with the Havana Industriales. He also hit 13 doubles and three triples in 65 games for the Industriales. Diaz, who is sometimes referred to as "Yusnier," showed athleticism along with some hitting and power. He has plus speed.
Estevez showed above-average power in games and solid raw power in batting practice. He has a muscular body, but he's not too bulky and has been praised for his lateral agility at second base. He doesn't have the strongest arm but shows good actions on defense.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Diaz was the favorite to win the award for the top rookie in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top league, last season, but he defected before he could be given the award.
It's been an eventful three months for the Dodgers on the international market. The club signed Cuban right-handed pitcher Yadiel Alvarez for $16 million, ranked No. 1 by MLB.com, outfielder Starling Heredia (ranked No. 7) for $2.6 million; infielder Ronny Brito (ranked No. 22) for $2 million; outfielders Christopher Arias for $500,000 and Carlos Rincon for $350,000; and shortstop Oneal Cruz for $950,000.
The Dodgers have signed 28 international prospects since the international signing period began on July 2, a list that includes right-handed pitcher Ramon Rosso for $62,000, Venezuelan shortstop Luis Rodriguez for $62,500 and Nicaraguan second baseman Aldo Espinoza for $50,000. Damaso Marte, the son of former Major League pitcher Damaso Marte, signed for a $300,000 bonus, to bring the club's total to more than $23.5 million spent on international prospects.
Additionally, the Dodgers, who had an allotted bonus pool of $2,020,300, but reduced that number to $700,000 after trading away slots, are in the maximum penalty and will still have to pay an estimated $22 million tax on the overage. The club will also not be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two periods, so it makes sense that it's trying to maximize its return on this current period.
There are a few reasons why the Dodgers have committed so much to the international market since the international signing period began. First, it's clear the Dodgers want to reload their farm system with as many top international players as possible in the hopes that these prospects will develop into Major Leaguers in three to five years. Second, there's also the possible implementation of an international Draft and a completely new system for acquiring international talent under the next CBA. The unprecedented wave of top young Cuban talent on the market has also impacted the landscape.
The Dodgers have clearly been enamored with top Cuban talent in recent years, as evidenced by their signings of Yasiel Puig (seven years, $42 million, signed in 2012) and Alex Guerrero (four years, $28 million in '13), as well as shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena (five years, $25 million in '14), infielder Hector Olivera (six years, $62 million in '14 before being traded to Atlanta in '15) and pitcher Pablo Millan Fernandez ($8 million signing bonus in '15).
The Dodgers overhauled their international scouting department in August. According to reports, the Dodgers added Ismael Cruz, formerly the special assistant to the general manager and director of Latin American operations in Toronto, to their front office.
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.