White Sox sign top int'l prospect Céspedes

OF: 'I'm a person that sets high expectations for myself'

January 19th, 2021

Yoelqui Céspedes, MLB.com’s No. 1 international prospect -- and the younger half-brother of free-agent outfielder -- has agreed to a deal with the White Sox for $2.05 million, the team announced on Friday.

According to industry sources, the White Sox also agreed to a deal with right-handed pitcher Norge Vera of Santiago, Cuba, who ranks No. 15 on the list, for $1.5 million.

Céspedes, 23, who is considered a five-tool player with above-average tools across the board, defected from the Cuban National Team in June 2019 while participating in the Can-Am League in New York. He eventually established residency in the Bahamas. While in Cuba, the outfielder played for his country’s World Baseball Classic and Caribbean Series teams. He also starred for Granma in Cuba’s Serie Nacional from 2015-17.

"When you're talking about a player, you never want to put a timetable on his arrival," said Marco Paddy, a special assistant to the general manager who leads international signing efforts. "But from a baseball standpoint, he's very close. He's advanced, he knows how to play the game. ... It's just a matter of him getting adjusted and doing the things that he needs to do to advance. He's very close to the Major Leagues."

Céspedes hasn't played organized baseball since he defected, but he said on a conference call Friday that he has added power to his swing in the weight room and has tried to spend time improving his pitch recognition, baserunning and defense. He has already been in touch with rookie phenom Luis Robert and noted that the organization's emphasis on finding and developing Cuban talent played a factor in his decision to join the White Sox.

"My goal is to play every day and to play free of injury," Céspedes said. "I know if I can do that, I'm going to be able to show what I can do. And if I do, I'm going to move up pretty quickly in the organization. That's my goal. I'm a person that sets high expectations for myself, and every time I reach one, I put another one there. Right now, my expectation and my goal for this year is just to play 100 percent healthy and not have any health issues."

The son of Cuban baseball star Norge Luis Vera, the younger Vera has impressed evaluators with a fastball in the 94-to-97 mph range and emerging command. He has a chance to be a starter at the top of the rotation because of his projectable body, arm action and demeanor on the mound. He also features a slider, curveball and changeup.

"He's got the potential to be a frontline starter in the big leagues," Paddy said. "He commands the strike zone and has great feel for pitching. Vera's still growing. He's a kid that still has room to add 20, 25 pounds. Everything he does is fairly easy. So very mature, a good head on his shoulders, knows how to pitch, a very good competitor. We are very excited about that possibility."

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According to the rules established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Draft have the most money to spend on international prospects, with a pool of $6,431,000. Clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Draft receive the second most at $5,889,600.

The White Sox have a bonus pool of $5,348,100.

Unlike in previous years, teams are not allowed to trade any of their international pool money. Signing bonuses of $10,000 or less do not count toward a club's bonus pool, and foreign professional players who are at least 25 years of age and have played in a foreign league for at least six seasons are also exempt.

"This class, we think, has a chance to be as good as any other class as we've had," Paddy said. "When you have a chance to sign two Cuban players with high ceilings in ability, and then combine with the younger kids from Venezuela and the Dominican and other Latin American countries, I think it's a good combination. So we have a chance to have a very good, strong class that we're going to be talking about for quite some time."