Major League Baseball’s biggest free agent remaining now that Spring Training is approaching is Cuban star Yoan Moncada — a player who draws comparisons to fellow Cuban native Rusney Castillo.
There is a lot that is still unknown about Moncada, but the 19-year-old, 6’1″ 210 pound switch-hitter presents a rare combination of skills — Moncada projects as a five-tool player:
He’s a plus-plus runner with above average raw power from both sides of the plate and the tools/skills to stick in the infield, possibly at shortstop. Moncada is the quick-twitch type with big bat speed that clubs covet and his track record of hitting at big tournaments and in Cuba’s professional leagues is excellent considering his age.
Moncada will be a hot commodity and spark significant interest about the league.
Here is what you need to know about Moncada:
1. MLB Has Seen a Recent Influx of Cuban Players Having Success
In the last three seasons: Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu have each had success in the Majors and impacted their respective teams almost immediately. Cespedes finished 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. Puig finished 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. Abreu won the AL Rookie of the Year. Each was an All-Star in 2014.
Assuming Moncada plays with a Major League team this season, he has a chance to be at least three years younger than the youngest (Puig, 23) of that trio when they first reached the Majors.
Moncada told MLB.com that he is excited at the opportunity to potentially be a Major League player this season:
My goal is to sign with a team soon, start training with them, and make it to the major leagues as fast as I can with whichever team that might be. I know I’m going to do the best I can for as long as I can in this sport.
2. Due to U.S. Government and MLB Rule Change, Moncada is a Free Agent
The United States government recently lifted it’s embargo over Cuba. Ben Badler of Baseball America writes how the government’s decision specifically affected potential Cuban employees and their ability to work in the U.S.:
Due to the United States’ embargo against Cuba, OFAC requires Cuban nationals to be considered “unblocked” to be able to work for a U.S. company. There is a “general license,” which is not a written document, that Cubans qualify for if they can prove permanent residency outside of Cuba. While the “general license” has been available to Cuban players for years and OFAC has said that alone is sufficient for MLB teams to sign players, the policy of the commissioner’s office has been for players to apply for a “specific license.” The “specific license” is a written document from OFAC, and the process of acquiring that document has added up to six months of waiting for some players.
However, on Friday OFAC sent a letter to several Cuban players who meet the requirements of the general license, explaining that it would not be issuing a specific license. The next day, MLB sent teams a memo instructing them not to enter into an any agreements with Cuban players until they received further notice from the commissioner’s office. With that notice coming today, it appears the bidding can begin for Moncada.
On February 3, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan broke Major League Baseball’s decision to amend the current rule to current Cuban players.
3. Nearly One-third of MLB Teams Have Interest in Moncada
As of right now, nine MLB teams currently have interest in Moncada, and the New York Yankees have already had a private workout with him.
The other teams that are currently interested in signing the 19-year-old include the: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers (who signed Puig), San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics (who signed Cespedes), Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers.
4. Moncada’s Contract Is Expected to Approach $40 (Maybe $50) Million
In December, New York Post writer Kevin Davidoff reported that the Yankees may be willing to offer a contract to Moncada that is richer than the contract that Cespedes signed before the 2012 season — potentially up to $50 million.
The Yankees have done their homework lately regarding international prospects as the organization recently completed a deal with 16-year-old shortstop Dermis Garcia, MLB’s No. 1 International Prospect.
Despite the Yankees’ aggressive push, most of the previously mentioned teams will be in the mix for Moncada’s services until the moment he signs.
5. As a Teenager, Moncada Was 1 of the Best Hitters in the Cuban League
Moncada has been a super prospect since he was 15-years-old:
Moncada — who plays second base, shortstop and third base — starred for Cuba’s top team of 15- and 16-year-olds, and he made a name for himself at the U-16 IBAF World Baseball Championships in Mexico.
At 16-years-old, Moncada was arguably the country’s best hitter due to the way he dominated the 16U World Championships in Mexico.
At 17-years-old, Moncada debuted with Cienfuegos in Serie Nacional during the 2013-13 season, playing alongside Abreu. Moncada batted .283/.414/.348 in 172 plate appearances, and in his two seasons in the league finished with a .277 batting average. He also made his mark in the 2012-13 All-Star Game.
He is also on Cuba’s preliminary roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.