Major League Baseball announced today that the Rays will play an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team in Havana, Cuba on March 22, thus marking the first time an MLB club has visited the island since the Orioles played an exhibition game there in March of 1999. (Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first broke the news that plans had been finalized.) “During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba’s storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans,” said commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement announcing the game. Added MLBPA executive director Tony Clark: “We thank the Cuban National Team and all involved in hosting this game, as we are very excited to return to Havana to continue our efforts to strengthen the ties between our countries through our love and passion for the game of baseball.”
As the Rays gear up for a historic trip to Havana, here are a few notes pertaining to some of the top Cuban talent in the world…
- The Padres are now the favorites to sign Cuban prospect Lazaro Armenteros, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler (subscription required but highly recommended), though he notes that the Braves and Dodgers both have some interest. However, Badler notes that the player known as “Lazarito” has been “the subject of some of the most extreme sensationalism in public reports,” and ranks the 16-year-old 11th on his list of the top 15 Cuban players available to Major League clubs. Lazarito would add to what appears to be a potentially significant class of 2016-17 international prospects for San Diego, as Badler and ESPN’s Eric Longenhagen have both previously reported the Friars as the favorites to sign 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Ona (fourth on today’s rankings from Badler) and 17-year-old lefty Adrian Morejon (10th). It’s worth noting, too, that Badler isn’t downplaying Lazarito’s talent entirely; he does write that Lazarito’s talent is “right up there” with the other top international prospects that have signed in the 2015-16 international class, so the implication is merely that the “phenom” labels that have been placed on Lazarito are an overstatement.
- Third baseman Luis Yander La O, currently a bonus-pool-exempt free agent, did not perform particularly well at a February showcase that was also impacted by poor weather, Badler notes in his rankings. La O still landed eighth on Badler’s list, but he notes that La O may schedule another showcase in an effort to put on a better show for interested clubs.
- The Reds have seemingly changed course in their pursuit of shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez and will convince him to wait until July to sign, Badler reports while ranking Rodriguez 12th on his list. Had Cincinnati signed Rodriguez for his the $6MM bonus that was reported back in January, they’d have been barred from signing international amateurs for any more than $300K in each of the next two signing periods. Badler notes that as compensation for making Rodriguez wait, however, the Reds might end up giving him an even more sizable bonus than that $6MM sum (which, of course, will come with a 100 percent luxury tax).
- Guillermo Heredia’s previously reported deal with the Mariners became official today, per a club announcement. Heredia signed a one-year, Major League contract with the Mariners that will pay him the league minimum salary, as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. At the time of the signing, details on the contract were vague and did not specify whether Heredia had secured a Major League deal or a minor league deal. He’s been added to the 40-man roster, according to the Mariners, with Jesus Sucre being shifted to the 60-day DL in order to clear a spot. For what it’s worth, Badler noted in the aforementioned piece that the Mariners got “a terrific bargain” on Heredia, even with questions about his bat. Badler has previously noted that Heredia is a plus defender in center field with good speed.