Cuban right-handed pitching prospect Yoan Lopez has been cleared by the United States government, and he is expected to sign with a Major League team before the start of Spring Training, according to industry an source. The D-backs, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees are among the teams to express strong interest in the 21-year-old starter.
-- Jesse Sanchez, MLB.com
This is an ongoing story, which we first mentioned back in November, but now he has received clearance from the government, the bidding for his services will intensify. The list of teams mentioned by Sanchez is slightly different from one previously offered, with the Dodgers a new addition, and the Giants apparently now out of the running.
But it's worth rememberng again, the situation here would be rather different for the franchises who are interested. Because of Lopez's young age, he would be considered an amateur prospect, rather than going through the "free-agent" process, as for Yasmany Tomas. Due to this, the amount teams can pay in any year is subject to limitations, and if you breach them, there are penalties which follow. As the article explains, the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Angels are already in that penalty phase, but this could work for them, since they don't have much more to lose by throwing money at Lopez. That may be exactly what is happening, based on Sanchez's Tweet this morning:
Source: Cuban RHP Yoan Lopez mulling offers & could break $8MM bonus record for int'l prospect set by #Angels infielder Roberto Baldoquin.— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) January 12, 2015
What kind of player is he? Sanchez offers this scouting report: "Lopez throws a cut fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range." He was already playing in Cuba's top division, pitching for Isla de la Juventud, but that wouldn't necessarily translate into a direct arrival in the major-league, especially given his young age. But it does appear that the thawing of diplomatic relations with Cuba is already having an impact in terms of player availability, and it may not be long before it becomes the next Dominican Republic [the two countries have a similar population].
I'm not getting my hopes up too high at this point: I never will, when the Diamondbacks are mentioned in the same sentence as the Evil Empires, and anything involving money is needed. But acquiring pitching that's under your control for the long term is never a bad idea, and even if the cost exceeds that $8 million figure, it would still likely be short of what we're paying Trevor Cahill for 2015 alone. It's also another indication that the new management may be a little more adventurous when it comes to looking for talent, and that's probably the kind of thinking outside the box which will be necessary if we're to compete with the big boys.
Perhaps somewhat related, the team announced today that Cuban-born Ariel Prieto has been added to the major-league coaching staff, both as a coach and a translator. He served in the same role with the Oakland A's, and helped Yoenis Cespedes make the transition to the majors when he started out. He also, according to the press release, can throw batting practice with either hand, which is certainly unusual. One imagines his main role will be to help Tomás settle in to the desert - and seems further indication that any minor-league stay will be a short one - but if we do end up getting Lopez, I expect he'd be useful there too.