Keep an eye on these 12 Cuban free agents

Detroit Tigers

There are currently more than 150 Cuban-born players in the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues, and more are on the way.

Several Cuban players are expected to sign during the 2022-23 international signing period, which starts Saturday and ends on Dec. 15, including prospects with national team and Serie Nacional experience.

Five Cubans appear on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 International Prospects list, including three of the top eight. And there are plenty of others to keep an eye on during this international signing period:

César Prieto, 22, INF: Prieto left the Cuban national team while playing in West Palm Beach, Fla., last May and later settled in Tampa. He was riding a record-setting 44-game hitting streak in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, the island’s top league, at the time of his departure.

The athletic Prieto has shown good instincts, and the ability to play multiple infield positions. Think of him as a super-utility player. For now, it’s Prieto’s bat, not his glove, that provides him with the most value despite questions about his power. He’s considered an average defender at second base with room for improvement. That said, there are some scouts who consider him “first round of the Draft” talent.

Overall, Prieto has a chance to be an everyday player and is comparable to Aledmys Díaz and José Miguel Fernández with a tad more athleticism and speed. The Orioles are the favorite to sign him.

Pablo Guillén, 23, RHP: Guillén’s repertoire features a slider and fastball that runs between 90 to 93 mph. He led Serie Nacional in ERA with a 2.25 mark in 78 2/3 innings in 2020-2021 and didn’t allow a home run. What’s more, in five seasons in Cuba, a span of 244 innings, he allowed only one home run. The righty arrived in Miami courtesy of his Spanish passport and later made the decision to pursue a career in the Major Leagues. He was declared a free agent in November and is represented by Hastings.

Loidel Chapellí Jr., 20, OF: The outfielder is one of the 12 Cuban players who left the team during the U-23 World Cup in Mexico and could be the best hitter of the group. Chapellí’s track record includes starring for Cuba’s U-15 team in the World Cup in Japan in 2016 and playing for the U-18 team at the World Cup in 2017. He also won the Rookie of the Year in Cuba in 2019-2020. During his final season in Serie Nacional, he slashed .317/.442/.496 with 20 doubles, two triples and seven home runs. This offense-first outfielder is working on improving his defense. He will have a showcase on January 12 in Yucatan, Mexico.

Jeison Martinez, 22, INF/OF: Martinez left Cuba in late 2020 after slashing .365/.436/.528 with 26 extra-base hits in 71 games with Mayabeque in Serie Nacional play. He shows good bat speed with some power and can hit the ball the opposite way with authority. On defense, he’s a natural second baseman, but he can also play all over the infield and all three outfield spots. Martinez is represented by Andy Mota of the Wasserman Group and is scheduled to have his showcase on January 18 in the Dominican Republic.

José Lazaro Contreras, 16, OF: Two words: Power and speed. Contreras has lots of potential, because of his strong and athletic build. He has been clocked in the 60-yard time-run at 6.4 seconds regularly and can hit the ball with authority. He has been training for more than a year in the Dominican Republic. The Rays are the favorite to sign him.

José Dariel Puig, 18, C: There’s a lot to like about Puig. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound teenager has a strong arm on defense and good bat speed at the plate. He has starred for Cuba’s national team since he began playing with them at age 12. He left Cuba at the end of the 2019 season after averaging .371/.450/.471 with Havana in the U-18 national tournament. Several teams have expressed interest in him.

Jonathan Linares, 16, C: The switch-hitter makes solid contact now and could show some power in the future. He’s proven to be an all-around defender with a strong arm and good instincts. The Angels are the favorite to sign him.

Brander Guevara, 19, RHP: A member of Cuba’s team at U-18 World Cup in 2018, the teenager is considered by many scouts to be a potential starter. He has shown good mechanics with solid arm action and durability. He spent some time in Costa Rica and in December, he moved to the Dominican Republic to showcase his talents. Guevara’s fastball sits at 90-91 mph and the belief is that he will eventually touch 93-94 mph consistently.

Alberto Hernandez, 17, SS: The athletic 6-foot-2 Hernandez left Cuba in 2020 and put himself on the radar in the international scouting community. The strong teenager is a solid runner and shows a good arm. The teen hit .442 with 13 doubles, three triples, one home run, and 27 RBIs for Isla de la Juventud in his last U-16 national tournament. He walked 14 times and struck out eight times during that span. The Astros are the favorite to sign him.

Luis Antonio Pérez Hemminges, 18, INF: Pérez can play both shortstop and third base, but he might be better suited for the hot corner because of his skillset and size. He left Cuba in 2021 as one of the best U-18 hitters on the island, slashing .322/.453/.466 with 13 extra-base hits in 36 games. He was recently declared a free agent. He is a native of Las Tunas, the hometown of Houston’s Yordan Álvarez.

Reimi Garcia, 19, RHP: Garcia throws a fastball between 92-94 mph, a changeup, slider, and a curveball. The native of Havana went 3-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 30 2/3 innings in the U-18 tournament in Cuba. He struck out 44 and limited opponents to a .111 batting average during that stretch. He is represented by Culture 39 and is working out for teams and in showcases.

Carlos Espinosa, 19, RHP: Espinosa’s fastball has reached 95 mph and his repertoire also features a curveball, slider, and changeup. He’s a power pitcher who has been praised for his mechanics. He has a chance to pitch in multiple roles. He left Cuba in early 2020, and the Astros are the favorites to sign him.

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