At the Convention, Cubs Scouting and Player Development Chief Jason McLeod was, at one point, asked about the Cubs’ depth at the catcher position in the upper minors. His initial facial reaction – the kind where the corners of your mouth pull back and turn downward in an almost upside-down smile – pretty much said it all. He noted that the Cubs have grabbed some interested minor league vet/Rule 5 types – and they have – but you got the sense that they’re well aware that, right now, it looks like Welington Castillo, George Kottaras, and then nightmare.
Maybe a recent Cuban defector could help? Jesse Sanchez reports that Yenier Bello, a 28-year-old catcher with a great deal of experience at the highest level in Cuba, has defected and indeed is already cleared to sign with a big league team. Sanchez adds that the Cubs, together with the Dodgers and Blue Jays, among others, have been connected to Bello, who is expected to sign before Spring Training.
A Google scan shows that Bello actually defected last Fall and was cleared by MLB to sign a while ago, but he only just now was unblocked by the U.S. Government.
While in Cuba, Bello intermittently put up solid offensive numbers, and apparently looked the part behind the plate a few months ago for scouts. He hasn’t played professionally since 2011, after a failed attempt at defecting. Still, he’s a catcher with pop, and he’s probably going to have a few suitors, at least.
As is often the case with these lower-profile type international players, it’s hard to say whether Bello is a big-timer or merely a complementary piece. Often, we don’t get our first sense of just how good a guy is believed to be until he signs. And, even then, because of the time away due to defecting, and the limited scouting opportunities before that, opinions on value can vary wildly (the most famous of which were the teams that pegged Yasiel Puig as maybe worth a $1 million investment (he got $42 million from the Dodgers, who look like geniuses)).
With Castillo locked into the starting job, and George Kottaras as the back-up, the Cubs don’t have a spot for a plug-and-play catcher. But if they’re thinking long-term, as they should be, there is a desperate need for upper level catching in the system. There’s an argument to be made that grabbing Bello now, and then letting him adjust in the minors for a year, could be the best outcome for both the Cubs and Bello.
We’ll see if the Cubs are seriously connected to Bello going forward.