Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo’s trip to the Dominican Republic this week to watch Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes has been well publicized. But Rizzo had more on his to-do list in the Dominican than just watching Cespedes.
Rizzo also watched and evaluated multiple other Cuban prospects who defected this year and are expected to become free agents by the end of December, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The standout of the bunch was Jorge Soler, a 19-year-old the Nationals have scouted for years, including a game he played in Mexico against Bryce Harper.
Soler would need probably 800 to 1,000 minor league at-bats before he reaches the major league, and as such is not considered a potential solution to the Nationals’ search for a center fielder. But Soler has the raw potential and body type – he’s 6-foot-3 – to hit for considerable power. He would probably command a contract similar to, but richer than, the five-year, $15.5 million deal Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin signed with the Texas Rangers last year.
Rizzo also checked in on Armando Rivero, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, and Henry Urrutia, 24-year-old corner outfielder. Both players have played on the Cuban national team, the highest level a player can reach in the country.
Rivero throws his fastball between 94 and 96 miles per hour and could project as either a starter or reliever. The team that signs him will need to give him more time to develop in the minors if they want to make a starter compared to relieving. In his Cuban career, Urrutia has consistently hit for a high average and gap-to-gap power.
It’s worth remembering: Rizzo watching the players does not necessarily signify high interest (although Soler has high-impact potential and has been on their radar for some time). But it’s notable that Rizzo is taking the step as the team tries to rebuild its international efforts.