Major League Baseball will open 2021 International amateur Free Agency today, finally. It’s a day that usually falls on July 2, but was moved back this year in response to COVID-19. This day is always more ceremonial than newsworthy, as this is merely an opportunity for prospects to put pen to paper on commitments that have been long in the works. And still, it’s a day worth celebrating for Cubs fans, because it means we get to talk about the signings of actual players.
In fact, Baseball America is hearing the Cubs will have agreements with seven players today (there will be more revealed in time). This is despite the fact that their top-rated signee, Dominican shortstop Cristian Hernandez, will sign for $3 to 3.5 million, eating up the majority of the Cubs $5.35 million bonus pool. This will be the largest bonus the Cubs have given in International Free Agency since signing Cubans Jorge Soler and Gerardo Concepcion in 2012, and the largest bonus they have ever given to an amateur Dominican Republic prospect. He’s also their most hyped international signing since the Gleyber Torres-Eloy Jimenez duo nearly eight years ago.
You don’t have to watch much video on Hernandez to see why. Tall and lanky enough to project future power onto, smooth and athletic enough to project a prolonged stay at shortstop. The comparisons to Alex Rodriguez are certainly a little strong, but when you see him connect, it’s easy to begin dreaming.
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Hernandez is listed at MLB Pipeline as 6-2, 175, though it will be interesting to see if that’s still true, as he appears a bit taller than that now. Hernandez just turned 17 in December, but his footwork up the middle is very advanced. He’s a good runner, and someone that draws credit for making “all the throws” necessary for his position. I’ve seen video of the swing where it gets a bit long, and I suspect COVID has limited his ability to play in significant game action for over a year, so player development is still massively important.
The lack of clarity on the minor league season does cast a little mystery over what the Cubs next steps with Hernandez will be. Will they have him come stateside for Spring Training, with an opportunity to stay for Extended Spring Training before playing in the rookie-level Arizona League? Or, will they keep him at their academy in the Dominican Republic all spring, and make a decision on playing in the AZL or the DSL later into summer? There will be no urgency at all to Hernandez’ development, particularly with the litany of shortstop prospects ahead of him in the system, including (and not limited to!) Andy Weber, Yeison Santana, Ed Howard, Rafael Morel, Kevin Made, and Reggie Preciado.
This is the type of player you get to sign only so often, and kudos to the Cubs international scouting crew for landing this big fish.
Among the other signings today …
⇒ The Cubs are always one of the more active teams in Venezuela, and it appears they will be adding two today. Catcher Moises Ballesteros is the latest in the Cubs catching pipeline from the country, joining the likes of Ronnier Quintero, Brayan Altuve, Henderson Perez, Mark Malave, and if you’re willing to count it, Willson Contreras. Ballesteros is a big-bodied left-handed hitter, whose best asset appears to be plus bat speed. He’s quite raw, so I fully expect he spends the year at the Dominican academy, working to stay in shape and building a consistent swing path.
⇒ The other Venezuelan signee, according to Ben Badler, is expected to be left-handed pitcher Carlos Cabrera. We only have 33 seconds of Cabrera to work with, but he appears to be a guy with a natural ability to spin the ball, and achieves a little deception in his delivery by staying so closed for so long. He appears to be the only pitcher the International Scouting Department will sign to a significant bonus today.
⇒ I really like what we see here from Dominican outfield prospect Daniel Ferreira. Short but strong, Ferreira’s bat shows real explosion through the zone. I think the Cubs will work on quieting his hands before he swings, and Ferreira is probably your best bet to be one of the top players on the Cubs DSL team this summer.
⇒ If this encyclopedic listing is correct, the Cubs haven’t signed an amateur from Curacao since Chris Pieters in 2011. That is expected to change with today’s anticipated signing of Raino Coran, who appears to have a tall body that looks like it can add significant strength, but a swing that needs significant work.
⇒ The third and final outfielder coming today in the Cubs 2021 IFA class is expected to be Dominican Oferman Hernandez. The left-handed hitter has a sweet swing and looks well-built, my question would just be if the bat speed will prove explosive enough.
Much more on these prospects and other Cubs signings as the new period plays out!