No. 2 int'l prospect Vaquero wows with tools

January 19th, 2022

WASHINGTON – Cristhian Vaquero quickly approached the outfield fence as he continued running after catching a ball in the gap. He had pulled off head-turning defensive plays before, like diving, behind-the-back catches, but surely he would slow down as he neared the obstacle in his path, right? Instead, the athletic teenager hurdled over it.

“I’ve never seen that,” Nationals vice president, assistant general manager of international operations Johnny DiPuglia said. “He just jumped over the fence and came back like it was nothing. … He does some UFO-type stuff out there.”

Like he did on that defensive play, the 17-year-old center fielder from Cuba soared to the peak of the international prospect rankings. Vaquero landed at the No. 2 spot on’s top 50 list and was lauded as one of the most dynamic international prospects. On Saturday, he signed a deal with the Nationals worth $4,925,000, according to industry sources, when the 2021-22 international signing period began. 

“We liked the skillset because he’s a very athletic kid,” said DiPuglia. “He’s got really good speed, really good body control, a plus arm [and] he’s a switch-hitter now.”

Vaquero, listed at 6-foot-3 and nearing 190 pounds, is revered as a potential five-tool player. He transitioned to hitting from the left side to both sides of the plate because he is naturally right-side dominant with his throwing arm. In center field, he possesses the speed to cover expansive ground – the slowest DiPuglia has seen Vaquero run a 60-yard dash is 6.5 seconds. Looking at his total skillset, Vaquero’s overall scouting grade checks in at 55 (hit 55, power 60, run 65, arm 55, field 55).

“He’s made plays in center field like I saw [José] Iglesias make plays at shortstop when I first started scouting him with Boston,” DiPuglia said, adding, “He’s definitely a different kind of bird out there in center field with some of the stuff he does.”

The son of former Olympic judo and swimming athletes, Vaquero has more than just athletic abilities in his family – he possesses work ethic, too. DiPuglia recounted checking in with Vaquero every now and then around 7:30 in the morning while he trained at an academy in a rural farm setting. By that time, the teenager was getting a head start on his day.

“He was already working on his trade,” DiPuglia said.

For all of the talent Vaquero has exhibited at his young age, there is a long road of work ahead of him to get to the big leagues. He will be tasked with honing his baseball IQ, slowing the game down and recovering from a full season.

“You could be the number one prospect in the world, but it doesn't mean that you're going to be able to simulate game-type experience,” DiPuglia said. “And that’s what he needs, he just needs to play.”

Vaquero is the latest young talent the Nationals have acquired through international free agency. They inked right-hander Andry Lara and shortstop Armando Cruz – their Nos. 4 and 5 prospects per MLB Pipeline, respectively – in the past two signing periods. DiPuglia credited the veteran leadership as well as the growing, young talent within the Nationals' scouting department for their work in evaluating and signing these emerging prospects.

“It's a free-agent market, and if you keep continuing to be able to get top 10 players coming out of the Latin American market, year by year, you're going to have a pretty good, fertile farm system,” he said.