11:58pm: MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez hears that Tomas is currently in the Dominican Republic and exploring his options (Twitter link).
9:08am: One of the best players left in Cuba — outfielder Yasmani Tomas — has defected and will pursue a contract in Major League Baseball, reports Baseball America’s Ben Badler.
The 23-year-old Tomas has five professional seasons under his belt, and his combination of age and experience will make him exempt from MLB’s international spending limitations, even after the rules become tighter on July 2 (at that point, the amount of pro experience needed for exemption jumps from three years to five years).
Badler writes that Tomas, who stands 6’1″ and weighs 230 pounds, has 70-grade raw power (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and among current Cuban players, only the highly touted Alfredo Despaigne has more power. While Tomas has experience in center field and “decent” speed for his size, he’s ultimately a below-average runner and will have to play an outfield corner in the Majors. He does have some swing-and-miss tendencies and has shown weakness against plus velocity and breaking pitches. As such, some seasoning in Triple-A would do him some good, in Badler’s opinion, though he doesn’t rule out the possibility that Tomas could jump directly into a big league lineup. In response to a reader on Twitter, Badler notes that despite his upside, Tomas isn’t at the same level as White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who was more polished coming out of Cuba.
Giving an idea of the type of production he’s shown in Cuba’s Series Nacional over the past few seasons, Badler writes that Tomas slashed .301/.340/.580 with 16 homers in 240 plate appearances in the 2011-12 season and .289/.364/.538 with 15 homers in 324 PA in 2012-13. Tomas regressed, to an extent, in the 2013-14 season, though one source tells Badler it was likely due to an arm injury that he sustained when crashing into the outfield wall midway through the season. Even in his “down” year, Tomas batted a healthy .290/.346/.450 with six homers in 257 PA.
Badler ranked Tomas as the No. 6 prospect in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He trailed the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu, the aforementioned Despaigne, top Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez and slugging infielder Yulieski Gourriel (who has declined since and is now playing in Japan).
Tomas is not yet eligible to sign, as he first needs to establish residence in a foreign country and then be cleared by both Major League Baseball and the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control. Once that happens, he will be declared a free agent and can sign with any team for any amount, but the timeline on those steps is never concrete, and Tomas may not end up signing until late in 2014 or even 2015.
It’s like deja vu all over again.