Major League Baseball has declared four Cuban players — third baseman/second baseman Luis Yander La O, third baseman Henry Quintero, shortstop Anibal Sierra and catcher Oscar Valdes — as free agents, making each free to sign with any club, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (Twitter link) and Baseball Essential’s Robert Murray (who first tweeted that Sierra was a free agent).
La O, 24, is the most notable of the bunch. The third baseman turned 24 this past December and has six years of professional experience in Cuba, thereby making him exempt from Major League Baseball’s international bonus pool system. He’s free to sign with any club at any time and is near MLB-ready, according to summer reports from Baseball America’s Ben Badler, who noted that La O could probably jump directly into a Triple-A lineup.
La O is a lifetime .329/.388/.406 hitter in Serie Nacional in 1338 plate appearances. He’s homered just nine times in his Cuban career but also has displayed an uncanny knack for making contact — striking out in just five percent of his career plate appearances (as compared to a seven percent walk rate). La O has also stolen 57 bases in that time, although he went just 11-for-23 in his final Cuban season. Per Badler, some scouts are concerned about his lack of power and question how much he’ll hit in the Majors. Badler did call him an above-average defender at third base with plus or better arm strength but a low throwing slot that leads to inaccuracy at times. Badler also praised La O’s instincts at second base and feels that he can “absolutely” play the position in the Majors, though he noted that La O is inexperienced there and showed as much when turning double plays.
Considerably less is known about Sierra (22), Quintero (22) or Valdez (23), each of whom has been absent from lists of top Cuban prospects. Badler briefly mentioned Sierra when profiling Hector Olivera a year ago (the two were double play partners in Cuba), calling him a light-hitting shortstop with a good glove. Indeed, Sierra has batted just .238/.307/.298 in 91 games/175 plate appearances across parts of three seasons in Cuba. It would stand to reason that he’d need considerable time in the minor leagues, though his glove could have appeal to Major League scouts, it would seem. As for Quintero, he’s a .223/.274/.325 hitter in an even smaller sample of 181 professional plate appearances in Cuba. Valdez has only 59 professional plate appearances, per Baseball-Reference, having batted .200/.345/.244 in 59 plate appearances. (Of course, all of those numbers exclude international tournaments and other venues in which scouts would have the opportunity to see them in game situations). All three are subject to international spending limitations.