In December, President Obama announced that the United States would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba and loosen sanctions on the island nation. This was exciting news for the Major League Baseball community, as it could potentially lead to Cuba becoming one of the deepest pools of baseball talent available to Major League teams. Previously, Cuban players were forced to flee their country illegally and then successfully establish residence in a different country before they were allowed to enter the United States and play.
The hope is that improved relations will streamline this process and make it much easier for Major League teams to sign Cuban prospects. One player who is likely to benefit from improved relations between the two countries is Yoan Moncada, who most likely will end up calling the Bronx his home.
Moncada is a nineteen-year-old infielder who plays in the Cuban Serie for Cienfuegos. He is one of the most coveted assets in the International Market, with some experts saying that if he were eligible for the draft, he would be a potential number one pick. Moncada garnered the attention of scouts at a young age when he was named an all-star at the COBAPE Pan American 16U championships in Mexico. He then continued to dominate in Cuba’s youth leagues, where he managed a .643 and .543 on base percentage in the 16U and 18U leagues, respectively.
During the 2012-2013 season, he made his debut in the Serie Nacional as a seventeen-year-old and performed well, posting a .283/.414/.348 line. He has shown that he possesses all the of five tools, especially speed (During the Serie Nacional all-star festivities he won the race to first base and the race that goes all the way around the bases).
Moncada left Cuba in late 2014 and traveled to Guatemala, where he established residency. Recently, he received a letter from the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control which stated that he may be licensed as an unblocked national, meaning that Moncada will be able to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. Once Moncada obtains this visa, Major League teams will immediately attempt to woo him, potentially with contracts reaching tens of millions of dollars.
Teams such as the Cardinals and Giants have shown interest, but the most likely destination for Moncada would be the New York Yankees.
The Yankees’ farm system isn’t exactly the best in baseball, with their top prospect, Aaron Judge, being placed at only 22 on Keith Law’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. In fact, only two Yankees prospects were on the entire list. The signing of Stephen Drew shows that the Yankees prefer to look outward for a way to improve their extremely weak infield. While Moncada would still be a year or two from the big leagues, he would be a strong, young option who could be making an impact by 2017.
And while he would be expensive, the Yankees showed that they were willing to spend big on international players when they brought Masahiro Tanaka over from Japan last winter. The Yankees have also already exceeded their international signing cap, so they have no obligation to try and stay under the cap anymore, although they would have to pay a 100 percent luxury tax. Despite this, it would be hard to imagine the Yankees suddenly becoming financially responsible when a player as potentially valuable as Moncada is available.