A popular topic of discussion lately has been about a teenage Cuban infielder who is set to absolutely shatter the recently set record for a player subject to the international bonus pools. What makes him so much better than any other recent international free agent like Dermis Garcia, Adrian Rondon, Gilbert Lara, or Eloy Jimenez? A potentially elite player who could be major league ready before he can legally buy a beer in the States, and that's only two years from now.
Yoan Moncada was born May 27, 1995 in Abreus, Cuba; a town 30 minutes northwest of Cienfuegos. He was clearly the cream of the Cuban crop since coming on the international circuit as a 16 year old in 2010. The following year he exploded with crazy numbers at the 16U World Championships and in the 16U Cuban national league. His performance in the 16U Cuban national league are hard to replicate even in a video game, posting a 1.561 OPS in 158 plate appearances with eight homers and 15 steals. Moncada was bumped to the 18U division the next season and led the league in hitting once again with a 1.291 OPS and stole 20 bags.
As a 17 year old, Cuban powerhouse in Serie Nacional Cienfuegos gave Moncada 172 plate appearances where he hit .283/.414/.348 with 13 steals as a second baseman. That season he shared the infield with AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and Dodgers minor league shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to give you an idea of the talent he was playing with. Jump forward another year to the 2013 season and Moncada received 195 more plate apppearances for Cienfuegos where he hit .273/.365/.406, also getting playing time at center field and shortstop.
Photo courtesy of NESN
Now that the empirical evidence is out of the way, what else is there to know about the uber-prospect? First, reading Kiley McDaniel's coverage on this whole situation at FanGraphs is an absolute must. McDaniel has written at length about various ways to look at the Moncada signing, from how he left Cuba to the business side of things to the relationships between teams and trainers in the region. The most interesting thing to me that he covered is how Moncada made his way out of Cuba.
The details surrounding his departure from the island are still unclear, but what is alleged right now is that he received a passport from the Cuban government to come and go from Cuba as he pleases. This is far from the handmade raft stories or recollections of shady thugs smuggling players to different countries. Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today was able to shed a bit more light on the process after he spoke with author Peter Bjarkman. According to Bjarkman, after Moncada competed for the Cuban National team in the Netherlands at the 2013 World Port Tournament, he married an older woman with American and Argentinian citizenship and announced he was quitting the Cienfuegos team. In order to leave the Communist island, he and his new wife went to her native Argentina before later establishing residency in Guatemala where he is showcasing for teams. Bjarkman also noted that the entire process of getting Moncada's papers in order and legitimate took almost a year before he could emigrate.
Also worth noting, as McDaniel did, is that this information came from a certified public accountant in St. Petersburg, Florida who is acting as Moncada's agent. Not mega-agent Scott Boras or any other A-list agent, but someone who has never had any affiliations with a potential major league baseball player. According to McDaniel, this unknown agent (later named by USA Today as David Hastings) even had armed security at Moncada's most recent showcase in Guatemala; even escorting a pair of agents for the Boras Corporation off the premises.
Photo courtesy of Prensa Libre
Baseball America's international prospect guru Ben Badler first put Moncada on the map back in August when he profiled the teenager. In this piece by Badler, he notes Moncada's plus speed, plus to double plus arm, plus raw power, and excellent bat speed at his Guatemalan showcase. The stout 6 foot, 210 pound switch hitter and right handed thrower turned in 60-yard dash times around six and a half seconds and showed a better swing from the left side than the right. Badler even went as far as to say he is better than Yasmany Tomas while having more potential than Rusney Castillo of the Red Sox in his first piece on Moncada. Jim Callis of MLB.com said he would take Moncada over any of the 2014 draftees like Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon or Tyler Kolek in a recent mailbag piece, which is quite the praise to say the least. It can also be inferred that Moncada would also rate at the top of the list for 2015 draftees.
The other half of MLB.com's prospect coverage, Jonathan Mayo, threw out some scouting grades for those familiar with the 20-80 system. His speed ranked the highest with a 70 while his arm, power, and hitting tools all came out at 60. The only tool rated below a 60 was his fielding which Mayo gave a 50. With the rest of his tools being so good and his obvious athleticism, he should be able to improve upon that once settling into a single position, be it second base, third, or somewhere in the outfield.
By all accounts, Moncada sounds like a potential impact player offensively and reports of his make-up and work ethic are very impressive. Rumors of a $30 million signing bonus seem legitimate and could end up being a bargain, even with the 100% tax on however much that ends up being above the signing team's allotted bonus pool. In Badler's most recent article he names three AL East teams along with the World Series champion Giants, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, and Braves as eight of the most likely teams to sign Moncada. In my opinion, every team should be making an offer on Moncada as he presents an incredibly rare opportunity to sign a premium Cuban talent this young and this close to the majors. The homer in me wants Atlanta to make a splash and instantly upgrade their future, but there's really no telling who will sign him at this point.