GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The prolific Cuban connection developed within the White Sox organization grew even stronger on Friday, as the team agreed to terms with right-hander Norge Vera, including a $1.5 million signing bonus.
Vera, 20, is ranked No. 15 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 30 international prospects. The White Sox reached a deal for $2.05 million with the No. 1 player on the list, outfielder Yoelqui Céspedes -- a fellow Cuban and the younger half-brother of Yoenis Céspedes -- last month. Cespedes is currently taking part in the White Sox Minor League mini-camp, which is running alongside the big league camp at Camelback Ranch.
This duo joins fellow Cuban-born players such as reigning American League Most Valuable Player José Abreu, Gold Glove-winning center fielder Luis Robert, third baseman Yoán Moncada and catcher Yasmani Grandal on the current squad. The club’s history with Cuban players dates to 1951, when Minnie Miñoso was acquired from Cleveland and became the organization’s first Black player, and eventually, a franchise legend. The list also includes top contributors such as Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, and of course, José Contreras and Orlando "El Duque” Hernandez, who were integral parts of the team’s 2005 World Series championship.
That Cuban lineage made a difference to Cespedes and it had the same positive effect on Vera, as he expressed Friday.
“It was something that made me feel comfortable,” Vera said through interpreter Billy Russo. “I’ve been following the team for a couple of years because of all the Cuban players they have.”
“Having the amount of Cuban players in our system, not only at the big league level, but at the Minor League level, it creates more awareness and guys are more inclined to like what we do and how we do it,” said Marco Paddy, the White Sox special assistant to the general manager/international operations during a Friday conference call. “We've been able to evaluate them and make comparisons from Day 1 to current evaluation, and put it together. It helps tremendously having that publicity of these guys and how well they've done with our Major League club.”
Bringing in Vera marked the culmination of five years of White Sox interest, said Paddy. Vera, the son of Cuban baseball star Norge Luis Vera, defected from Cuba in the summer of 2019, and he was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball the following January. He played one season (2018-19) for Santiago de Cuba in the Cuban Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league, producing a 2-3 record with a 3.79 ERA.
Paddy described the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Vera as a very advanced three-pitch pitcher, but said his changeup is still a work in progress.
“He knows how to pitch. He knows how to locate. He knows how to work hitters,” Paddy said. “The one pitch still developing is his changeup, because he implemented it last year, but from the slider and the fastball standpoint, he’s ready. He’s very advanced.”
Vera’s addition enhances a talented young group of White Sox starting pitchers behind Major Leaguers Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Garrett Crochet, a list that includes Jared Kelley, Jonathan Stiever, Matthew Thompson, Jimmy Lambert and Andrew Dalquist. Chicago also announced agreements with outfielder/first baseman Darío Borrero, right-handers Adrián Gil and Carlos Hinestroza, catcher Manuel Guarimán, outfielder Carlos Jiménez and third baseman Víctor Quezada on Friday.
Here’s a comment or two from Paddy on each:
Borrero, 17, Valencia, Venezuela
Bats and throws left-handed
“When we first saw him, he was 6-3, maybe, 175 pounds. Now, he's 6-5, almost 200 pounds. He's going to have a lot of power. The intriguing part about Borrero is he can hit line to line. He handles pitchers, goes the other way when he has to, reads the breaking ball very well. He's a very impressive kid.”
Gil, 17, Barcelona, Venezuela
Trained by Freddy Garcia
“Gil was quite a surprise. When we saw Adrián Gil, immediately, [we knew] how advanced he is, power fastball. He's a guy who kind of looks like a Kelvim Escobar type of body. Strong, very good breaking ball, command is very advanced.”
Hinestroza, 18, Panama
“He has a good arm, good body, 6-foot-1. Everything comes out easy. Those guys have very good projections. They have the tools. They have the ability. Time will determine how far, how quick, how soon they get to where they need to go.”
Guarimán, 17, Barcelona, Venezuela
Bats and throws right-handed
“We compared him to Salvador Pérez. He's 6-foot-1, almost 200 pounds. He's an offensive catcher that has a lot of power to any side of the field. He can really throw and handle pitches well. He's a guy I think is going to be a pleasant surprise.”
Jiménez, 19, Panama
Throws and bats left-handed
“Lots of power, good athlete that can run very well.”
Quezada, 17, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Bats and throws right-handed
“Lots of power, third baseman. He was originally a shortstop. He outgrew that position. He's got tremendous power, plus arm. We're excited about his power, too. It's a combination of guys that we feel have the potential to grow into our system and hopefully develop to a Major League level.”