In recent years the Giants, under the direction of General Manager Brian Sabean and Assistant General Manager Bobby Evans, have switched their motivation from signing big-name free agents for large, long-term contracts (i.e. Barry Zito) to making a habit of finding low priced free agents and relying on Manager Bruce Bochy to coax high production out of them. From Aubrey Huff in 2010 to Michael Morse in 2014, each player has contributed in one way or another to the team’s overall success.
Last year, San Francisco made a different kind of splash in the free-agent market by signing outfielder Daniel Carbonell, a Cuban defector. The Giants’ front office gave Carbonell $1.4 million in guaranteed money with a $1 million bonus in conjunction with a four-year contract that will see the outfielder receive $100,000 per year if he is in the minor leagues. If Carbonell, who was placed on the San Francisco 40-man roster upon his signing, is promoted to the major leagues he will receive baseline salaries of $500,000, $525,000, $550,000 and $600,000. In total, Carbonell could make as much as $3.8 million over four years.
Considering the price tags for fellow Cuban defectors like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Moncada the Giants have taken a relatively small chance at hitting a potential home run for an organization starved for outfield talent within the levels of the organization.
The relatively low price for Carbonell could be traced to the fact that he was basically an unknown commodity in most baseball circles, with only the most arduous scouts knowing what his skill set consisted of. There was not much opportunity to see Carbonell play as he was never a member of the Cuban National Team and he did not receive a lot of playing time for Camaguey, his team in Cuba. Carbonell, who played four seasons with Camaguey, did not receive extensive playing time until after Dariel Alvarez and Dayron Varona both defected.
During his final professional season for Camaguey in 2012-13, Carbonell slashed .298/.369/.449 with five home runs while stealing nine bases in 13 attempts. His numbers were not exactly eye-popping and were nowhere close to rivaling the production of Puig or Yoenis Cespedes, Cuban outfielders who have made enormous impacts with their respective MLB organizations.
When scouts finally got a closer look at Carbonell after he defected from Cuba to Mexico, it became evident that the outfielder possessed world-class speed, which some talent evaluators have rated as high as 80 on the 20-80 scale. But, concerns over his mechanical swing and whether he could continue as a switch-hitter were expressed. He struggled to handle right-handed pitching and if he could not get on base it would be hard for Carbonell to use his speed on the offensive side of the game.
Carbonell’s speed plays well in the outfield, especially as a centerfielder, where he displays excellent range. He also showcases an above-average to sometimes plus arm, something that could allow him to be an excellent defender at the MLB level.
Despite the concerns, the Giants did not shy away from offering Carbonell a contract.
Knowing that the 6-foot-3, 196-pound outfielder was pretty raw, San Francisco sent him to Rookie ball in the Arizona League to get adjusted to the professional ranks in America. One of the first things that the organization had Carbonell do was scrap his switch-hitting approach, converting him to strictly a right-handed batter.
The switch seemed to alleviate some of the pressure at the plate while also helping to smooth out his swing. Instead of having to think about his swing at the plate, Carbonell was now reacting instinctively to the pitches he was seeing. During his 10-game stint in the Arizona League, Carbonell slashed .314/.368/.486 with three doubles, one home run and four stolen bases.
His next step was to High-A San Jose, where he put together a solid 21-game stretch. In 100 plate appearances, which included 93 official at-bats, Carbonell slashed .344/.390/.538 with three triples, three doubles, three home runs, 12 RBI and seven stolen bases.
While Carbonell’s performance during his initial foray into minor league baseball is impressive, it is important to remember that he was older than most of the pitchers he faced at both levels. He also had previous professional experience coming from his time in Cuba. Still, he performed admirably and the Giants decided to send their free-agent acquisition to the Arizona Fall League to play alongside and face some of the top prospects in the game.
Carbonell struggled during his 16 games in the AFL, hitting .190 with just two extra-base hits. It was the first time that he failed to make adjustments since playing in America, but a lot of players have struggled in the AFL and gone on to have successful careers.
The questions now are, what should the Giants expect during 2015 and how long before he reaches the major leagues?
Carbonell, who should start the year playing at Double-A Richmond in the Eastern League, appears to be providing a glimpse into answering the first question as he has enjoyed a successful first big-league camp with the Giants, playing in 19 Cactus League games. The 24-year-old outfielder has had a hot spring, slashing .333/.421/.733 with two home runs, five RBI and one stolen base. The power numbers are somewhat surprising as Carbonell is viewed as more of a gap-to-gap hitter, but as he receives instruction and knowledge from the Giants’ strength and conditioning coaches, his power potential could grow.
San Francisco should be happy with their relatively low investment on Carbonell after one season. It appears he is making adjustments to playing American professional baseball, which is an excellent sign for an organization lacking that lacks prospects at the outfield position. Sure, there is Mac Williamson, who elicits some excitement from the San Francisco faithful, but then there is a player like Gary Brown, a former first-round pick, who some Giant faithful are ready to give up on.
If Carbonell can build on his 2014 experience and parlay his spring performance into a hot start at Double-A, the Giants may have to take a look at promoting him to Triple-A Sacramento, where continued success could earn him a September call-up. If things go well from there, Carbonell could be used as a fourth outfielder for the Giants in 2016 and a starter by 2017.