Saturday Links: Stottlemyre, Betances, Didi, Mock Drafts

Stottlemyre during his playing days. (Presswire)
Stottlemyre during his playing days. (Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees are playing a Saturday night game this week, though at least this one is on the East Coast. Including tonight, their next three and four of their next five Saturday games are night games. Blah. Anyway, here are some links to hold you over until the Yankees and Angels resume their series later tonight.

Mel Stottlemyre Battling Cancer Again

Former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is again battling cancer, reports John Harper. The 73-year-old Stottlemyre was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, while on Joe Torre’s staff back in 2000, and he was told he only had 3-5 years to live. He’s outshot that projection by a decade, but the cancer returned in late-2011 and he has been undergoing treatment since.

“It’s been tough because so much of my life is controlled by doctors, by the cancer. And the side effects of the treatment have been nasty, there’s no getting around it. But I’m determined that I can beat this thing. There are times when I have my doubts but it’s not going to get me down,” said Stottlemyre to Harper. Among the side effects from the medication are heart and thyroid conditions, and a form of diabetes. He also has an Achilles tendon issue, but can’t undergo surgery due to chemotherapy.

Despite the cancer and the treatment, Stottlemyre said he is going to try to make it to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers’ Day later this month. “I want to be there in the worst way,” he said. His wife Jean said they are going to try to attend as well, though the travel from their home in Washington might be too much. Either way, let’s hope for the best for Stottlemyre, a longtime cancer survivor who is trying to do it again.

Betances Gets Pointers From Rivera

Earlier this season, when Dellin Betances was really struggling with his command, the big right-hander got some pointers from Mariano Rivera, writes Kevin Kernan. “Towards the beginning of the season when I was struggling early on, Mo told me a couple of pointers that really helped,” said Betances. “He told me he felt like my front shoulder was flying open and he offered some tips. I dropped the shoulder a little bit to stay within a straight line and have a good direction towards home, and I think that has helped me be more successful and more consistent.’’

Betances said Rivera also reminded him to “stay locked in and have confidence,” even while struggling. “Hearing that from him makes such a difference. I’ve been able to use that advice to my advantage,” he added. Dellin’s numbers since his early-April struggles are insane — he went into last night’s game with five hits and six walks allowed in his last 24 innings, with 43 strikeouts. Bonkers. Somehow Betances has been even better than last year. If only Rivera’s words had that much of an impact on everyone.

Gregorius Gets Pointers From A-Rod, Beltran

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Meanwhile, the Yankees have turned to two current veteran players to help shortstop Didi Gregorius, who has improved at the plate lately but has struggled overall. In addition to hitting coach Jeff Pentland and assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell, both Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran have been helping Gregorius in recent weeks, reports George King. “Alex and Carlos had a big hand in talking to Didi,’’ said Pentland.

“You have to have the same approach in the batting cage that you do in the game, and that was something that was missing to me. He is the guy who has to go out and do it. Hopefully he has found something to work with,” said Beltran, who added he considers helping young players part of a veteran’s job. Both Beltran and A-Rod encouraged Gregorius to be “more selective in the (strike) zone” as well. This is the second time Rodriguez has lent a hand coaching Didi — he worked with him at shortstop a few weeks go.

Yankees Invite Whitley For Private Workout

According to Dan Zielinksi, the Yankees had New York HS OF Garrett Whitley in for a private workout before Monday’s draft. (Whitley said he worked out for the Braves and Brewers as well.) I’m not sure if the workout took place in Yankee Stadium or in Tampa, but that doesn’t really matter. Here’s my profile on Whitley, a projected first round pick and one of the highest upside players in the draft. Pre-draft workouts are not uncommon but teams don’t invite just anyone either — they’re usually reserved for players clubs have significant interest in, and, more than anything, the workout is so more members of the brain trust can see the player, including the higher ups. There’s no word on who else the Yankees brought in for a pre-draft workout.

Baseball Prospectus’ Mock Draft v2.0

Over at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d), Chris Crawford posted his second mock draft yesterday, and, like everyone else, he has the Diamondbacks taking Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick. That’s not set in stone just yet, but it sure looks like Arizona is leaning in that direction. Crawford has the Yankees selecting Whitley and California HS C Chris Betts with their top two picks, 16th and 30th overall, respectively. Here’s my profile on Betts. (The Whitley profile is linked above.) The Yankees have been connected to both players for weeks now. There’s a decent chance Whitley will be off the board by time that 16th pick comes around, but Betts should still be available.

MLB.com’s Mock Draft v4.0

Meanwhile, Jim Callis posted his latest mock draft yesterday as well. He also has the D’Backs taking Swanson with the top pick. As for the Yankees, Callis has them picking UCLA RHP James Kaprielian and Betts with those 16th and 30th overall picks, respectively. Here’s my profile on Kaprielian. (Again, the Betts profile is linked above.) Callis says the Yankees “want a college pitcher,” but we’ve also heard they want a bat, so who really knows. This draft is very deep in right-handed pitchers, both high school and college, so the best available player for that 16th pick could easily be an arm.

Four Players To Attend 2015 Draft

According to MLB, four players will be at the MLB Network studios for the draft broadcast on Monday: Whitley, Florida HS SS Brendan Rodgers, Indiana HS RHP Ashe Russell, and Pennsylvania HS RH Mike Nikorak. Rodgers is a likely top five pick — he was a candidate to go first overall, but apparently the D’Backs want a quick moving college player — while the Yankees have been connected to the other three guys at various points these last few weeks. Here are my profiles for Russell and Nikorak. Look up a few paragraphs for the Whitley profile. It would be pretty neat if the Yankees drafted a kid who was actually in the studio, wouldn’t it?

Ibanez Changes Agents

Free agent Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez recently changed agents, according to Ben Badler. Ibanez left Praver Shapiro Sports Management and is now represented by Relativity Sports. He has been eligible to sign since February, but Badler says Ibanez is likely to wait to sign until after July 2nd so his bonus (and penalties) get pushed to the 2015-16 signing period. The Yankees have shown some interest in Ibanez, a 22-year-old light hitting/good fielding second baseman, but if he waits until July 2nd, they’ll have no shot to sign him. Part of the penalties for last year’s international spending spree is a bonus cap of $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, and $300,000 won’t be enough for Ibanez.

Sunday Links: A-Rod Promo, Eddy Julio Martinez, Drew

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees and Rangers wrap-up their three-game series later tonight with the ESPN Sunday Night Game. Sigh. Getting sick of all these late Sunday games. Anyway, here are a handful of links to hold you over until first pitch.

Minor league team apologizes for A-Rod “juice” box promotion

On Friday, the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays) scheduled an Alex Rodriguez “juice” box promotion for their game against the Tampa Yankees. The team was going to hand out juice boxes labeled “The Sports Drink: 100% Juiced. Side Affects include: tainted records, inflated ego, omission from the Hall of Fame, and more!”

First of all, an A-Rod steroids joke? I award you no points for creativity. Secondly, Marc Topkin reports both the Yankees and Rays objected to the promotion, so it was cancelled. The Stone Crabs then issued an apology, according to Topkin. Here’s part of the text:

“On behalf of our entire organization I apologize to the New York Yankees, our affiliate club the Tampa Bay Rays, and all fans who may have taken offense,” said Stone Crabs General Manager, Jared Forma.  “While our intent was to raise awareness for the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition and the Salvation Army, we realize this promotion may have been offensive to many and for that we are sorry and have decided to cancel the promotion.  The Stone Crabs organization has the utmost respect for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays organizations and wishes both organizations only the best in the future.”

Yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea. It’s fine to hate A-Rod, most do, but an affiliated minor league club scheduling a promotion mocking an active player? That’s not going to sit well with the team, the league, and the MLBPA. Better luck next time.

Yankees among teams interested in Cuban OF Eddy Julio Martinez

According to Jesse Sanchez, the Yankees are one of several teams interested in free agent Cuban center fielder Eddy Julio Martinez, who has already been cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Sanchez says Martinez is in showcase mode right now — he’s held several workouts for scouts and has a few more scheduled.

Martinez, 20, has been described as an “impact talent” according to Kiley McDaniel, who says he has 70 speed and 50 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. Jeff Passan hears Martinez’s signing bonus could approach $10M. There’s no indication whether Martinez is ready to sign, but he is subject to the international spending pools, so the Yankees can offer him any amount until June 25th, the final day of the 2014-15 signing period. If Martinez doesn’t sign by then, New York can only offer him $300,000 due to the penalties from last year’s international spending spree.

I don’t know much about Martinez at all, just what’s in this post basically, but, as always, I am pro adding young up-the-middle talent at all times. The Yankees have dipped their toe in the Cuban market the last few years but have yet to dive in — they attend showcases and invite players in for private workouts, but have yet to pull the trigger and sign one. Their last notable Cuban signing was Jose Contreras more than a decade ago.

(In other Cuban player news, Ben Badler reports highly touted 21-year RHP Norge Ruiz has left the island, but the Yankees won’t have a shot to sign him because he won’t be cleared until well after June 25th.)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

For first time, Cashman noncommittal about Drew’s job security

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Drew was scuffling offensively but playing solid defense, Brian Cashman told Andrew Marchand the team was not considering a change at second base. “No. I think Drew’s been fine,” said the GM. “Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew. I’m surprised you asked the question.”

Now, in late-May, Drew is still scuffling at the plate and playing solid defense, and, for the first time, Cashman indicated Drew’s job may not be set in stone. “(Drew has) got rope, but if someone pushes his way into the mix, so be it,” said Cashman to Joel Sherman yesterday. “I am open to having Drew all year or someone else taking this if they can. I can’t predict what is going to happen.”

That someone would be Rob Refsnyder, who continues to tear the cover off the ball for Triple-A Scranton after shaking off his slow start. His defense is pretty bad, so he’d fit right in with the Yankees (hardy har har), but at least there’s a shot at an offensive upgrade. Drew’s been terrible at the plate, has been going back to last season, and his leash shouldn’t be all that long. Slade Heathcott is doing well in his very (very) limited big league cameo. Maybe that will make the Yankees more willing to roll with another young player.

Yankees held private workout for Andy Ibanez in Tampa this week

Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

According to George King and Dan Martin, the Yankees held a private workout for free agent Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez at their complex in Tampa earlier this week. The team also scouted him during a workout in Miami last month.

Ibanez, 21, has already been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by a Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he is free to sign at any time. King and Martin say he is expected to get a bonus in the $10M neighborhood, which would be taxed at 100% regardless of which team signs him. That would exceed all 30 bonus pools.

Before defecting, Ibanez hit .283/.348/.419 with 60 doubles and 13 home runs in 242 games in the Cuban league. He was on Cuba’s roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but rode the bench in the deference to their veteran infielders. Here’s a scouting report from Ben Badler:

At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Ibanez has a thicker build for a middle infielder but he’s athletic and has good body control. With fringy speed and an average arm at best, Ibanez isn’t flashy, but he has a good internal clock and a high baseball IQ, fitting best at second base. Ibanez’s power is mostly to the gaps, projecting as a doubles hitters rather than a big home run threat, but what’s sold some scouts on him is his bat.

“He’s a strong guy who doesn’t have your prototype, ideal body for a second baseman, but he moves around well for his stature,” said another scout. “And he performs. He’s a good hitter. I liked his swing and the way he manipulated the bat.”

Ibanez is subject to the international spending restrictions, so the Yankees are free to sign him for any amount prior to June 25th. But, after that, they will only be able to offer him $300,000 as a result of the penalties from last July’s international spending spree. I’m not sure why Ibanez is waiting to sign. You’d think he’d want to sign quickly and start playing in the minors to get his career underway.

Inviting Ibanez in for a private workout really doesn’t mean much of anything. The Yankees had Aledmys Diaz in for a private workout last year and they had Yoan Moncada in for three separate private workouts this offseason, but didn’t sign either player. It’s been a while since the Yankees signed a premium Cuban player. Jose Contreras was the last.

Ibanez is not on the same level as Moncada but he has some ability and is expected to be able to help at the MLB level in the near future. Accumulating middle infield depth is always a good thing, and that goes double for the Yankees, since it’s unclear if they have a long-term shortstop or second baseman in the organization right now. (The jury is still out on Didi Gregorius and Rob Refsnyder.)

Until the Yankees actually step up and sign a top Cuban free agent, I won’t expect them to do it. They’ve done the song and dance with several players in recent years — Diaz, Moncada, Yasmany Tomas, Yoan Lopez, and others — but didn’t sign any of them. These private workouts are fake interest until they sign one of these guys, as far as I’m concerned.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, YES, NYCFC, Nicaragua, Mustaches

Bern baby Bern. (Presswire)
Bern baby Bern. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Mets resume the Subway Series later this afternoon at Yankee Stadium. It’s a 4pm ET start. Blah. Until then, here are some stray links I had lying around to hold you over.

How the Yankees will fight A-Rod‘s home run bonuses

Back in Spring Training we heard the Yankees were “confident” they could get out of paying Alex Rodriguez his home run milestone bonuses. Now that the season is underway and A-Rod is mashing taters, the breaking point is rapidly approaching. He is two shy of tying Willie Mays on the all-time home run list with 660 dingers, so it could happen any game now and trigger the first $6M bonus.

Ken Davidoff and Joel Sherman have the breakdown of exactly how the Yankees plan to get out of the bonuses, which are part of a separate marketing contract, not Rodriguez’s player contract. Here’s the nuts and bolts of their report:

According to two sources familiar with the situation, when Rodriguez goes deep with number 660, the Yankees will have a precise period of time — two weeks, as per one of the sources — to declare this as a marketable milestone. If they were to do this, then Rodriguez would sign over the rights to his image and associated branding for the price of $6 million.

Once the Yankees formalize this decision, then A-Rod has a set period of time — 30 days, according to one source — to file a grievance. Though Rodriguez has shied away from publicly discussing this, every indication is that he will challenge the Yankees’ interpretation of the side deal.

The Yankees will have to prove they utilized good faith in declining to declare A-Rod’s 660th homer a milestone. They’ve gone so far as to not include A-Rod in the “Upcoming Milestones” section of their daily press notes.

I dunno, seems like a lot of work to save $6M. They really can’t slap together some generic AROD660 shirts, call them official, and at least break even? Besides, you know they were hoping he didn’t hit the two homers in Detroit just so they could get the attendance boost on the homestand.

YES Network ratings down 21% so far in 2015

According to Richard Sandomir, YES Network ratings have dropped a staggering 21% so far this season, down to 267,000 viewers per game. Woof. The report is from Thursday, so it doesn’t include the last few games of this little hit streak. YES averaged over 400,000 viewers per game when it first launched and 355,000 as recently as 2012. Viewership fell to 244,000 per game in 2013 and rebounded to 288,000 per game last year thanks to Derek Jeter‘s retirement. There are still 145 games left to play, so there’s plenty of time for ratings to increase, but still. That’s a big drop. I imagine it would have been even worse if a whole bunch of people weren’t tuning in to hate-watch A-Rod.

No stadium deal for NYCFC on the horizon

New York City Football Club, the expansion MLS franchise that is doing the pro sports team version of crashing on the couch at Yankee Stadium this year, is not any closer to securing their own stadium. “We’re recognizing it’s probably going to take longer than we thought,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber to the Associated Press yesterday.

”There hasn’t been too much buzz about playing in Yankee Stadium or a baseball stadium yet,” said Garber, referring to problems with the field. ”That will happen soon, after somebody trips on a divot perhaps and perhaps misses a ground ball, but we hope that doesn’t happen.” Uh, yeah. Me too.

When we first learned NYCFC would call Yankee Stadium home, it was reported they would play their home games in the Bronx for three years (!). They still need to find a stadium location, build the place, and move in. So yeah, NYCFC isn’t going anywhere for a while. They’re 1-4-3 on the season and 1-2-1 at Yankee Stadium, in case you’re wondering. They’re playing like an expansion team.

MLB announces new amateur prospect league in Nicaragua

Earlier this month MLB announced a new amateur prospect league will be launched in Nicaragua this summer to provide scouts with “neutral in-game scouting opportunities of unsigned prospects.” This is baseball’s second amateur prospect league — they launched one in the Dominican Republic back in 2012. The league will run until July 4th, and there will be another “season” starting in September.

The press release says 46 players from Nicaragua have signed with MLB teams since 2010 and right now there are 31 Nicaraguan players under contract in MLB or the minors. Everth Cabrera and Erasmo Ramirez are the only players from Nicaragua in the big leagues at the moment. By far the best player to ever come out of the country is Dennis Martinez. (Vicente Padilla and Marvin Bernard are distant runners-up.) I’m glad MLB is branching out and giving young kids a chance to show their stuff. Hopefully they open more prospect leagues in other Latin American countries soon.

The Yankees are growing mustaches, for some reason

And finally, you may have noticed during last night’s game that several Yankees are growing — or attempting to grow, anyway — mustaches. Apparently it is part of some kind of team unity thing. Marly Rivera says Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, Esmil Rogers, Dellin Betances, Garrett Jones, and Stephen Drew are among those growing mustaches, and during the game last night it looked like Jacoby Ellsbury is trying to get in on the act as well. This is either going to be very good or very bad. Maybe a little of both.

Slot bonus values for 2015 draft and 2015-16 international signing period

This year it'll be Rob Manfred at the podium. (Getty)
Rob Manfred will be at the podium this year. (Getty)

Last summer the Yankees made up for their lack of high draft picks with an unprecedented international spending spree that saw them hand out more than $17M in bonuses along, according to Ben Badler. This summer they will have to do the opposite and make up for a lack of international spending ability with their two first round draft picks, Nos. 16 and 30 overall. (No. 30 is the compensation pick for David Robertson.)

So, with both the draft and the 2015-16 international signing period slowly but steadily approaching, let’s look at the team’s draft pool situations for both. Here is a breakdown of the overall pool situations and all important slot values.

2015 Amateur Draft

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees will have a $7.885M bonus pool for the top ten rounds of the 2015 draft. That’s the sixth largest pool in baseball thanks to Robertson pick. Four of the five teams with larger bonus pools are the teams with the top four picks (Astros, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rockies) and the fifth is the Braves, who have an extra pick for Ervin Santana plus two Competitive Balance Picks.

The bonus pool applies to the top ten rounds — any money over $100,000 given to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the pool as well — and teams can pay one pick an overslot bonus and save money by paying another underslot. If a team fails to sign a player, they lose the bonus money associated with that pick, which is pretty significant. Here are New York’s slot values according to Baseball America:

2015 Draft Slots

The bonus pools have gone up considerably this year, roughly 9%, so New York has three seven-figure slots. That’s pretty cool. That 16th overall pick is the Yankees’ highest pick since they selected RHP Matt Drews out of a Florida high school in 1993. This will also be the first time the team has two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they had three of the top 30 picks.

The Yankees will have the option this year of going big and signing one top talent to a huge overslot bonus (Brady Aiken? Mike Matuella?) and signing cheaper players elsewhere, or they could spread the money around and select several solid but not top prospects. Both are viable strategies and it depends on how the draft shakes out as much as anything. There might not be an Aiken or Matuella available for that 16th pick.

Last year scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings the Yankees lean towards college players these days because “we’re getting some college guys up there a little quicker and through the system a little quicker,” and this draft is loaded with college pitching. Really pitching in general, high school and college. The consensus is there is a lack of quality bats this year. But it’s only April. A lot will change between now and June.

2015-2016 International Signing Period

Because of the penalties associated with last summer’s spending spree, the Yankees can not sign an international amateur to a bonus larger than $300,000 during the 2015-16 signing period. (And 2016-17 as well.) They do still have a regular sized bonus pool, however. Back in February we heard New York has a $2.2628M pool for the upcoming signing period.

Each team gets a $700,000 bonus base plus four slot values for international free agency. Those four slots are tradeable — clubs can’t just trade X amount of international dollars, they have to trade the individual slots — however a team can only acquire 50% of its original draft pool. So the Yankees could only acquire another $1.1314M, for example. Here are New York’s individual international bonus slots, via Baseball America:

  • Slot No.18: $687,300
  • Slot No. 48: $414,700
  • Slot No. 78: $218,100
  • Slot No. 108: $180,700

Because the Yankees are limited to $300,000 bonuses, it would make sense to trade one or two of those bonus slots this year. Then again, that money doesn’t have a ton of value. The Marlins acquired a 25-year-old bullpen prospect (Matt Ramsey) for over $1M in international money over the winter, for example. Think of it as trading bonus slots Nos. 18 and 48 for another Branden Pinder.

The Yankees have done an excellent job of finding quality international prospects on the cheap over the last few years. Jorge Mateo ($250,000) and Luis Severino ($220,000) both signed for $300,000 or less in recent years, as did fellow top 30 prospects Abi Avelino ($300,000), Angel Aguilar ($60,000), and Thairo Estrada ($49,000). That $2.2628M bonus pool equals seven full $300,000 bonuses. The Yankees have shown they can turn relative small bonuses into quality prospects.

Sanchez: Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez planning showcases for scouts this month

Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

According to Jesse Sanchez, free agent Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez is planning to hold showcase events for scouts in Miami later this month. He was cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control back in February.

Ibanez, 21, hit .283/.348/.419 with 60 doubles and 13 home runs in 242 games in the Cuban league from 2011-13 before defecting. He was on Cuba’s roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but rode the bench in the deference to their veteran infielders. Here’s a mini-scouting report from Ben Badler:

At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Ibanez has a thicker build for a middle infielder but he’s athletic and has good body control. With fringy speed and an average arm at best, Ibanez isn’t flashy, but he has a good internal clock and a high baseball IQ, fitting best at second base. Ibanez’s power is mostly to the gaps, projecting as a doubles hitters rather than a big home run threat, but what’s sold some scouts on him is his bat.

“He’s a strong guy who doesn’t have your prototype, ideal body for a second baseman, but he moves around well for his stature,” said another scout. “And he performs. He’s a good hitter. I liked his swing and the way he manipulated the bat.”

The Yankees have been rumored to have interest in Ibanez and I’m sure they’ll attend his upcoming showcases. They seem to go to all of ’em. Ibanez is no budding star like Yoan Moncada, however. He’s looked at as more of a solid player going forward. A complementary piece, not a centerpiece. Think Adeiny Hechavarria or Jose Iglesias, not Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu. Then again, who knows. Cuban players have shown a knack for outperforming expectations.

Because of his age and limited experience in Cuba, Ibanez is subject to the international spending restrictions. The Yankees are free to sign him for any amount prior to June 25th, but, after that, they will only be able to offer him $300,000 as a result of the penalties from last July’s international spending spree. The Angels signed the less-heralded Roberto Baldoquin to an $8M bonus back in January, and I’m guessing it’ll take similar if not more money to get Ibanez.

As always, it makes sense for the Yankees to add talent whenever possible, and by all accounts Ibanez has some skills and will be able to help an MLB club in some capacity in the near future. The Yankees don’t have a long-term solution at second base — they might have one in Rob Refsnyder — and middle infield talent is hard to find in general. Of course, the Yankees always seem to stop just short of offering enough to sign a Cuban player. Enough to say we tried but not enough to get him. Until they buck the trend and sign one of these guys, I have no reason to think they’ll actually do it.

Isikoff: Cuban star Yulieski Gourriel wants to play for the Yankees, but won’t defect

Now here’s an interesting story. Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel, who has long been one of the best players in the country, wants to play for the Yankees because his favorite player is Alex Rodriguez, according to Michael Isikoff. Gourriel, however, is unwilling to defect and betray the government. He’ll only come to MLB if the U.S. lifts the embargo and the Cuban government lets him leave.

Gourriel, 30, played in Japan last season and was supposed to do so again this year, but the Yokohama BayStars terminated his contract last week, according to Ben Badler. Gourriel is reportedly nursing a hamstring injury and didn’t report to the team. Cuban players are allowed to play overseas during the Cuban league offseason, though the government negotiates the player’s contract and takes a nice big cut.

In 62 games with the BayStars last season, Gourriel hit .306/.349/.536 with 22 doubles and eleven home runs. He also hit .343/.432/.577 for Industriales in Cuba. Gourriel is a career .330/.412/.570 hitter with two MVP awards in parts of 14 seasons in Cuba. He’s been a beast. Badler (subs. req’d) called him the best player in the country last August. (Recent Dodgers signee Hector Olivera was sixth.) Here’s a snippet of the scouting report:

Gourriel is a lightning rod player for scouts, many of whom see him as a disinterested, Jekyll-and-Hyde player who can blow you away at times and make you scratch your head at others … Gourriel could step in and be an immediate all-star in Major League Baseball …  Gourriel has terrific bat speed, good hand-eye coordination and barrel control, which helps him make consistent contact. He does chase pitches at times but generally has a sound hitting approach, staying within the strike zone and using the middle of the field, with 65 raw power on the 20-80 scale.

Gourriel has played both second base and shortstop in the past, though he’s settled in as a third baseman recently. “Every time you see (Gourriel), you see something special,” said Rangers play-by-play man and Cuban baseball guru Eric Nadel to Isikoff. “He rises to the occasion in international tournaments. He’s no secret … He’s legitimately a Major Leaguer in any league.”

Back in December, President Barack Obama said he was taking steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, and reportedly the two countries started to discuss lifting the 50-year-old embargo in late-January. I have no idea if or when it will be lifted, and until it happens, the Yankees have no shot at acquiring Gourriel. “(We) are ready when they say we have permission to play. We are ready for the lifting of the blockade. Then we can come play,” he said to Isikoff.

I thought it was pretty neat Gourriel’s favorite player is A-Rod. They’re similar in a lot of ways — Gourriel is the biggest name in Cuba and he’s a very polarizing player, with lots of fans and lots of people who love to hate him. He’s already 30, so his best years are likely behind him, and since it doesn’t seem the embargo will be lifted anytime soon, it’s unlikely Gourriel will ever wear pinstripes. It sure would be fun though. He’d be one exciting player to follow.