The A’s announced yesterday that they’ve inked free-agent outfielder Dairon Blanco. The 24-year-old left his native Cuba back in the spring of 2016 and was declared a free agent by MLB last November. Terms of the deal weren’t reported, but the A’s are in the metaphorical “penalty box” after blowing past last year’s international pool, so the deal can’t guarantee Blanco more than $300K.
Blanco is a lifetime .303/.369/.409 hitter in parts of four pro seasons in Cuba (916 plate appearances). At the time of his departure from Cuba and MLB’s declaration of free agency for the right-handed hitter, Blanco was said by Baseball America’s Ben Badler and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen to possess 80-grade speed on the 20-80 scale but a lesser set of other tools. Longenhagen put a 40 on his arm last November, and Badler questioned his natural hitting abilities.
By the time Spring Training gets underway, it will have been more than two years since Blanco has suited up for a pro game. He’ll assuredly require some minor league time in 2018 and possibly beyond the coming season before he emerges as a viable option for the A’s. But, Oakland has no clear option in center field and could very well need a left fielder during or after the 2018 campaign, depending on the status of Matt Joyce, who’s entering the second season of a two-year deal.
Certainly, the team hopes that Dustin Fowler will be able to hold down a regular spot in their outfield (ideally, in center) for years to come, though his ability to contribute is tied directly to his ability to recover from a significant knee injury suffered in his MLB debut with the Yankees last year. Expecting Blanco to emerge as a candidate to log significant big league time this coming season seems optimistic, though his apparently blistering speed and a Gold Glove award in Cuba could make him an intriguing fourth outfield option at the very least, if he can prove competent with the bat.
Oakland’s assistant GM Dan Feinstein spoke highly of Blanco to Melissa Lockard of OaklandClubhouse.com, telling her that the A’s have been scouting Blanco for more than a year during his workouts in the Dominican Republic. “[Blanco] has a track record of success in the Cuba, and possesses tools that are hard to come by,” said Feinstein. “He’s very athletic, and a true 80 runner with the ability to play all three outfield spots. Profiles as leadoff hitter who will occasionally put one in the seats.”