The farms of the MLB teams have been filled in recent years with Cuban prospects. The vast majority of these young people —and it is a percentage that is on the rise— who join the well-known Minor League system, have not even played in the National Series, since they left their country as teenagers with a clear objective: to pursue the dream of signing with organizations of BigShow.
The development of these talents takes place above all in baseball academies in the Dominican Republic or Mexico, where they have the opportunity to polish their tools and work on the basic fundamentals of the game, the latter aspect in which they usually present gaps due to the competitive deficit that drag from the minor categories in Cuba.
And right in Dominican and Mexican lands, an important group of the first professional contracts in the careers of West Indian talents are gestated, who go through the periods of signing international prospects and then advance, little by little, towards insertion in the system. Major League Baseball in the United States.
Routes of this type are becoming more and more common for Cuban baseball players, which will place us, in less than a rooster sings, at the gates of a very new phenomenon: many boys who never got to have a turn in the tournaments Nationals will be our Major League representatives in the future.
The time when stars like “Pito” Abreu, Yuli Gurriel or Yoennis Céspedes —just to mention a few— left Cuba and immediately made their successful debut in MLB is close to ending, in fact, there are already men who were barely seen on the diamonds of the Island and now triumph in the United States, like Yordan Álvarez, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert or Adolis García.
Precisely, in this space we are going to discover the profiles of the new batch of hundreds of Cuban prospects who move in the different levels of the Minor Leagues, fighting to progress and get promoted to MLB.
To start, we bring you Guantanamo infielder Yorlis Luis Rodríguez (22 years old), who is playing this season with the San José Giants, a team affiliated with the San Francisco Giants in the Class A category.
A native of Baracoa, Yorlis was a member of the national team that participated in and won the 2014 U-15 World Championship in Mazatlán, Mexico, where he scored ten runs. He then left Cuba and, in 2017, got a contract with San Francisco for a $300,000 bonus during the international signing period.
At that time, the Guantanamo player played at shortstop. In early evaluations of him, scouts placed him as a mid-range power player with a high-caliber arm and silken hands on defense. At that point, he was considered a 17-year-old diamond ready to be polished.
A bead!!!! Yorlis taking BP with the U-15 National Team!!!!!! The “leg kick” was born on his way to the Minors!!! pic.twitter.com/fkPp4AnXp6
– Jesus Fernandez 🇨🇺⚾️ (@jesusLCA2017) May 21, 2022
Time has passed since then and Yorlis has experienced a turn in his career. To begin with, he has not played a single game as a shortstop in the Minor Leagues, where he has received chances at third (76 games and 644 innings) and second (47-395.2). Like many players of his generation, his development was interrupted by the lost season due to the pandemic, but he has managed to have more continuity between 2021 and 2022, in which he has experienced a qualitative progression.
Yorlis began his journey in the Minors since 2018 in the Rookie category, where he hit .323/.409/.445 (Average/On-Base Average/Slugging), with 30 runs scored, 26 RBIs, 50 hits and 13 extra-base hits in 41 games. . In 2019 he started at the same level, but quickly moved up to Class A (short) and the change was felt as his OPS dropped to .636 after the .854 he posted in 2018.
It was then that the abrupt stoppage came due to the pandemic, which caused a competitive gap of a year and a half. The return to action took place last year, alternating again between the Rookie and Class A categories, in which he was not bad (18 extra-base hits, 32 runs scored, 21 RBIs and .778 OPS in 52 games) after so much time without activity. .
Thanks to this performance, Yorlis has managed to maintain a qualitative development, because he has been rising in the complex network of Minor League categories. This 2022 began in the San José Giants of Class A, where until now his performance has been unstable.
Yorlis Rodriguez was 3 for 4 with a double (103mph EV) and two runs scored in Friday’s victory over Lake Elsinore pic.twitter.com/GUzD1mGJfR
— SFGProspects (@SFGProspects) May 18, 2022
To give you an idea, his OPS through May 20 was .843, but he finished last weekend at .658, down almost 200 points. In the first 27 games of the contest he had 35 hits in 114 valid opportunities, with four home runs, seven doubles, one triple, 14 RBIs and 17 runs scored.
If we take Yorlis’ performance up to that day on May 20 as a reference, there are clear signs of sporting maturity and a more refined batting technique. His evolution since he was a member of the Cuban national team of minor categories until the present is aimed at giving more strength to the connections and making the whole body the protagonist of the hits.
The result is in sight. In 2021, the Guantanamo hit 18 extra-base hits in 210 appearances (one every 11.66), while in the first stretch of the current season (until May 20) he hit 15 in 122 (one every 8.13).
Home run hits have also been part of the metamorphosis. Between 2018 and 2019 he only managed to hit four home runs in 398 trips to the plate. In 2021 he hit six in 210 appearances and in 2022 he had four in 122, but he already has 76 online offensive at-bats without homers.
Yorlis Rodriguez was 1 for 3 with a home run and a walk vs Modesto on Sunday pic.twitter.com/KOtuUCNA55
— SFGProspects (@SFGProspects) May 4, 2022
On the other hand, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .315 in 2021, up to .397 in the first 27 games of 2022 and has dropped to .307 after a very low June. performance.
In a general sense, Yorlis has shown signs of adaptation, progress and instability. For example, in April of this year he hit .245 with no homers and 20 strikeouts in 57 appearances, in May he improved to .275, with four homers (including a two-game) and 23 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances, but in June he has experienced his greatest decline, as he bats .147, without homers and only two RBIs after 34 official at-bats.
Another important point to take into account when assessing his progress is discipline at the plate. Although he has increased the frequency of strikeouts (17.6% in 2021 vs. 25% in 2022) and decreased the frequency of walks (6.2% in 2021 vs. 4.3% in 2022), he has increased from 1.71 pitches seen per at-bat at bat in 2018 to 3,339 in 2022.
Strikeouts are increased as part of the dynamic set to hit the ball harder, as well as changing its average launch angle. In 2021 he gave up seven grounding outs for every 10 fly balls, while in 2022 he dropped to five ground outs. Evidently, he has modified his swing to put more balls in the danger zone and has seen a result in the process.
Giants 6 | Storm 4
A Yorlis Rodriguez RBI triple and a Dilan Rosario sac fly puts the Giants in the lead! pic.twitter.com/OXNDyg9oAn
— San Jose Giants (@SJGiants) May 13, 2022
If something has not changed since its signing, it is speed. He is capable of turning a single into a double or reaching third with a lost connection to the outfield. He just needs to put some of that pepper in terms of winning extra bases (10 stolen bases in 19 attempts throughout his still short career).
Yorlis Luis Rodríguez is a Cuban prospect who already had the first breakout of his career last May. He has changed the position on the box, the swing and is having a cup of coffee every turn before producing. His connections go faster and he keeps running the bases as if his life depended on it.
In the process, he’s made the hot corner of Excite Ballpark, a park with more than 75 years of baseball history, his nightly home. So did Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey more than a decade ago, two of the Giants’ legendary figures.
The talent is there and what we could see in May speaks of discipline and commitment to their future. Of Yorlis, surely, we will have to continue talking, because he may become the 17th Cuban to play with the San Francisco Giants and the first since Álex Sánchez did it in 2005.