Outfield prospect Yoelkis Cespedes, the younger half-brother of Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes, will be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball on March 18, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports (via Twitter). The 22-year-old left Cuba last June and is planning showcases for MLB clubs in Arizona and in Florida later this month.
Yoelkis has previously played in the Cuban National Series and for Team Cuba in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but he lacks both the age and the professional experience to be exempt from MLB’s international bonus pools. Players who are younger than 25 and have fewer than six years of professional experience are deemed amateurs under MLB regulations and are thus only allowed to sign minor league deals. Amateurs can still receive signing bonuses, which are deducted from a team’s league-allocated bonus pool, but the most recent iteration of the collective bargaining agreement prevented teams from exceeding their bonus pools under any circumstances.
Because bonus pools are now hard-capped, it’s at least possible that the younger Cespedes will wait until July 2 to sign with a Major League organization. Most clubs have already spent the vast majority (if not the entirety) of their 2019-20 bonus pools, but the 2020-21 signing period will kick off on July 2.
As Sanchez explores in a more extensive pieces on Yoelkis, his top priority is signing with a club that can provide a clear and relatively expedited path to the Major Leagues. MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, meanwhile, spoke with Yoenis about the difficulty he had in leaving his brother and his family behind when defecting from Cuba back in 2011. The brothers had to go roughly eight years without seeing one another. They were reunited in 2019 when Yoenis was cleared to return to his home country, and the two frequently worked out together in the Bahamas this winter. DiComo adds that Yoenis purchased a house about five miles away from his own Florida home for his younger brother.
Scouting details on Yoelkis are rather sparse. Sanchez notes that he’s listed at 5’9″ and 205 pounds, with some believing him to be a potential five-tool talent. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs credited Yoelkis with an 80-grade throwing arm and “loud” tools last summer. Kiley McDaniel called Yoelkis “more of a high six- or low seven-figure [signing bonus] type of talent” back in November. Of course, that’s subjective, and Yoelkis hasn’t been seen by MLB scouts in quite some time. He’ll have the opportunity to showcase himself to all 30 teams in the near future, after which we’ll gain a better understanding of his potential price tag and market. He’ll surely require some time in the minor leagues to refine his skills and get back up to speed after a lengthy absence from game settings, but his age and experience place him in much closer proximity to the big leagues than most international amateurs.