Minnesota Twins: Why aren’t they going after Cuban talent?
The Minnesota Twins could be going after Cuban talent. Why aren’t they?
Once upon the time the Washington Senators ruled over Cuban baseball talent. Their legendary scout, Joe Cambria uncovered prospect after prospect for decades. For years the Senators, and eventually the Minnesota Twins benefited from Cambria’s findings in Cubans cities and countryside. Among those he recruited were would-be stars like Julio Becquer, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos and Tony Oliva.
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The case could be made that even before that, Clark Griffith’s team had been one of the first major leagues franchises to go after Cuban talent, when in 1913 they signed Cuban youngsters Baldomero “Merito” Acosta and Jacinto Calvo, both of whom played for the Senators for several years.
In 1959 Fidel Castro came to power and this long-standing relationship deteriorated quite quickly. In just over a year all baseball connections between Cuba and the United States were a thing of the past. When Cambria himself died in 1962, the last remaining link of communication was broken. For decades Cuban players went into the Cold War wilderness and away from the big show, until things started to change again in the 1990s.
During those years other Latin American countries, notably the neighboring Dominican Republic, replaced Cuba as the main exporters of ballplayers to the Majors. But as things change all the time, it now seems Cuban talent is fast coming back.
As I write these lines, the MLB list of the top 30 international prospects features five Cubans in the top five positions, and six among the top eight
As I write these lines, the MLB list of the top 30 international prospects features five Cubans in the top five positions, and six among the top eight. Of these, Yadier Alvarez and Yusniel Diaz have been signed by the Dodgers, while Eddy Martinez and Alfredo Rodriguez have joined the Cubs and the Reds. Probably the most talented of them all, Vladimir Gutierrez, is still unsigned, and so is promising outfielder Lazaro Armenteros, better known by now as Lazarito; a young kid out of Havana who has been wowing scouts since he got away from Cuba a few months ago.
So, back to my question, I wonder why aren’t the Minnesota Twins going after this sort of talent? Beyond the obvious historical connections that exist between this organization and Cuban baseball –there were times during WWII when the Senators’ line up was almost entirely formed by players from the Caribbean island– it is apparent that these players, in their majority, represent an excellent value for money. And no, I am not talking about all of them, but about those who sit at the top of the list.
So far, the Twins have signed one international agent from that list, Wander Javier, and I cannot help but thinking why didn’t they go after Yadiel Alvarez or Yusniel Diaz, players with a very high ceiling and very few chances of floundering. Although there are certainly more prospects to come from Cuba, both in the short and the long term, the Twins should be doing their best in pursuing and signing top of the list talent.
In particular, I would be thrilled if they could bring Lazarito to Minnesota. Comparisons with Miguel Sano aren’t out of order here. Players like Sano and Lazarito appear only once in a blue moon, and we have seen what getting one of them in the middle of your line-up can do to your expectations for October ball. Yes, there are many other teams interested in this phenom, but that was the case as well with Sano, and the Twins still managed to sign him.
Perhaps it is time Jim Pohlad finds his own Joe Cambria, and steals the march on the rest of the pack
Today we are constantly reminded that there are real quality players coming out of Cuba. Puig exploits in Los Angeles, Cespedes carrying the Mets to the World Series, Abreu peppering all sorts of pitchers, and Chapman becoming the most dominant and fastest closer since a certain No. 42 Yankee retired a while ago, are recurrent proofs that tapping on the Cuban market should become a priority for the Twins.
How to do so, is a different question for a different article, but the rapprochement between the United States and Cuban governments in the past couple of years would suggest that perhaps it is time to start planning for what it is to come. Perhaps it is time Jim Pohlad finds his own Joe Cambria, and steals the march on the rest of the pack. Certainly the common bond shared by the Twins and Cuban baseball is a good start of sorts, and an asset that could serve as an incentive to rekindle that 113 year-old relationship.