The Cuban National Team arrived in Miami on Wednesday afternoon. They will be competing in the America’s Olympic Qualifier. They will be competing without 22 year old second baseman César Prieto. The youngster from Cienfuegos got off the plane and into a waiting car. César Prieto leaves Team Cuba and now enters the Major League prospect pipeline. He will be highly coveted in the next signing period, which is likely to commence in January 2022.
The 5’8 left-handed batter is the most accomplished young hitter in the Cuban National Series. He appeared in 15 games for the Cienfuegos Elefantes in 2017-2018 but broke through the next year. He would break Kendrys Morale’s rookie record for hits while on loan to the Villa Clara Naranjas. César was named the Rookie of the Year for 2018-2019. Prieto would get better in each season as he led Cienfuegos back to respectability.
Perhaps no Cuban squad’s championship aspirations were torpedoed worse by players leaving Cuba than the Elefantes. In the early 2010s they were building a lineup around Yasiel Puig, Yoan Moncada and José Abreu. Prieto now joins them in a lineage of big name defections from Cienfuegos. Speculation will now turn to which organization will sign the youngster. Could he bound to join many of his fellow countrymen in Chicago?
The Matanzas Cocodrilos chose Prieto in the 59th National Series playoff dispersal draft. He would be a key addition in leading the Crocodiles to their first championship. He would hit .352 that season while cutting down on strike outs and adding patience and walks to his resume. Prieto is quick on the base paths if not fast and has stolen bases at roughly a 50% clip. Veteran hurlers who rely on guile often over stuff or speed lead the Cuban National Series. This manifests in half the squads in the league and many players walking more than they strike out. A comparative rarity in MLB these days. None the less Prieto’s Strike out to walk numbers are impressive. These numbers do need to be viewed in context of the National Series overall though.
César Prieto Leaves Team Cuba after his record setting 2020-2021 campaign. He would win his first batting title with a .403 average. The 60th Cuban National Series was a year for batters and the top 20 batters all hit over .340. Prieto eclipsing .400 is still impressive though as it has happened more recently in Cuba but is still a vaunted benchmark. Prieto would also become the Cuban Hitting streak record holder. The second baseman would collect hits in 45 straight games. Game 36 of the streak was suspended due to rain and resumed a few weeks later. Prieto would collect hits in the next 9 games before a makeup would affirm the continuity of the string.
Cuban managers also rely much less on hand on hand matchups and bullpen specialization. Prieto thus faced far fewer left handed hurlers than he might in America. He underperformed slightly in Cienfuegos’ playoff matchup vs Matanzas in the 2021 playoffs. Cocodrilos southpaws such as Yoennis Yera kept him off balance in the short series. Adjusting to these strategies matchups and increased velocities will be key in Prieto’s ascension.
César Prieto Leaves Team Cuba and now moves to the top of the International prospect list. He will likely join the group eligible to sign in mid January of 2022. His defection comes soon enough that teams will have money left in their budget to match the dollars he will command. For reference, The Chicago White Sox reportedly have a deal with fellow Cuban Oscar Colas for just over $2 Million. The White Sox will presumably be in on Prieto as well. The Colas, Norge Vera and Yoelqui Céspedes signings in the $1.5 to $2.5 million range set a realistic baseline. The Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds have also been aggressive in the Cuban signing market.