Last year, Cuban defector and right-handed pitching prospect Yoan Lopez established residency in Haiti with his father. Late in 2014, Major League Baseball declared him a free agent and so Lopez began the process to gain clearance from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. This week, it became legal for Lopez to be signed by MLB teams.
There is a generalization in baseball that high velocity is hard to come by in regards to pitchers with large stature. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 190 pounds, Lopez lays assumptions to rest. His fastball is known to reach speeds of 100 mph and tends to drift within the 93-95 mph range. He also commands a curveball, change-up, cutter, and slider. However, inability to keep control of his pitches sets him back in effectiveness. In his first two seasons in La Serie Nacional, Lopez has a walk rate of five per nine. In his final season (2013-14) he managed to cut his walk rate to just two per nine, starting seven games, posting a 3.12 ERA, 28 strikeouts, and 11 walks in 49 innings before defecting midway through the season.
The starter stated in an interview with Crono Deportes Online that he had been putting a lot of interest in his preparation time, prioritizing on strengthening his muscles and pitching mechanics in order to improve his control. Lopez was showcased in November for all teams in the Dominican Republic where he has continued training since leaving Cuba.
He has been the interest of several teams: The Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees. The Rays, Red Sox and Angels also have a reported interest. The 21-year-old is subject to international signing guidelines because of his age and not reaching the required five season playing time in a Cuban professional league. True to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team’s record in 2013 for the international signing period.
It is unsure how much Lopez could get signed for, but it’s promising that teams already being penalized for their spending (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels) could drop a pretty penny on baseball’s newest free agent.