Baseball's Cuban influence resonates daily in the achievements of some wondrous talents in the field and on the mound. It's evident in Aroldis Chapman's triple-digit radar-gun readings in Cincinnati and Jose Fernandez's extraordinary four-pitch repertoire in Miami. Yasiel Puig is a magnet for attention and jersey sales in Los Angeles and Yoenis Cespedes has become a pivotal figure in the middle of Oakland's batting order. Jose Dariel Abreu the latest Cuban-born player intent on pursuing a new life in the majors defected in August and took up residence in the Dominican Republic. Now he's navigating the obligatory red tape with help from Bart Hernandez who has guided Jorge Soler Leonys Martin Adeiny Hechavarria and other Cuban players through the transition to the majors as an agent with the Praver-Shapiro group. Abreu 26 flirted with two Triple Crowns in the Cuban National Series league where he established his credentials as a 30-homer man and middle-of-the-order force. He hit .360 with three homers and nine RBIs in six games during the World Baseball Classic in March and the buzz has continued to grow in anticipation of the free-agent chase that's about to unfold. Sources told ESPN.com that he will begin auditioning for clubs in the Dominican later this month. Cespedes recently told USA Today that Abreu shares some attributes with Miguel Cabrera another former shortstop who outgrew the position and flourished as baseball's best hitter. "If he had just a tad more speed he would be a complete player" Cespedes told the paper. The scouting community is more restrained in its evaluation. We interviewed four talent evaluators with extensive international experience for this story. Speaking on the condition of anonymity they provided their takes on Abreu and the attributes he brings to the table. What kind of hitter is Abreu? Multiple scouts used the term "slider-speed bat" in reference to Abreu. Translation: He might be challenged against pitchers who can crowd him with fastballs on the inner half of the plate. But Abreu hangs in the box -- as evidenced by his Shin-Soo Choo-like HBP totals -- and his power is undeniable. He's not quite Giancarlo Stanton who merits a "90" on the 20-80 scouts scale as a long-ball threat. But his raw power compares favorably with Puig Cespedes and White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo who all have the ability to scatter clouds when they catch a ball just right. "He has monstrous power" said a scout who began following Abreu at the 2009 IBAF World Cup. One talent evaluator said Abreu could step into a big league lineup tomorrow and hit .260 with 25 home runs. That's not far from what Cespedes is doing in Oakland this season. Another expressed concern that Abreu looks "confused" against breaking balls and thought he could benefit from a little seasoning in the upper minors. Once Abreu gets the hang of major league pitching the consensus is that he has the strength to hit 30 homers by accident. "If you throw him 90-92 [mph] inside he gets beat a lot" said a scout for a National League club. "I don't think he's going to hit a good hard fastball in. But there's a lot of marginal pitching out there. The No. 1 and 2 starters are going to get him out but he's going to feast on the 3 4 and 5 guys. That's where he's going to make his money. "His swing is thick and sort of stiff. His front arm gets kind of rigid and it's more a strength swing than a real quick bat. But he's a smart hitter and he's not just up there swinging out of his butt. He's crafty. I think he'll make the adjustments." How do the other aspects of his game stack up? Abreu is a below-average runner and a base clogger. His arm is adequate and most scouts think he has the attributes to be a serviceable defensive first baseman. It's probably a stretch to think he can make the switch to third base or a corner outfield spot. "He's deceptive" said an NL scout. "He's a better athlete at first base than he looks like. He's fine with balls in the dirt and a little quicker and more agile than you'd expect. He could be a solid first baseman I think." Does Abreu have a major league comparable? This is a popular exercise with scouts who generally make comparisons based on a player's ethnicity body type or hitting mechanics. Naturally the Latin scouts who've seen Abreu are inclined to compare him to his fellow Cuban sluggers. "Hitting-wise he reminds me a lot of Dayan Viciedo" said a scout. "He's just not as athletic. This guy has more power than Kendrys Morales. But Morales is a better hitter for me." A second evaluator compares Abreu with Angels prospect C.J. Cron a former first-round pick who hit .274 with 14 home runs in the Double-A Texas League this season. And another scout told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Abreu has "Pedro Alvarez-type power with more hit-ability and the same body type too." Are there any red flags? Puig isn't especially popular in scouting circles because of his diva tendencies. Abreu is generally described as more grounded and a "good kid." The concerns about Abreu (beyond the debates over his ability) seem relatively minor. He displayed more patience at the plate in Cuba than he did against better pitching in high-profile international tournaments. And at 6-feet-2 258 pounds he's not going to be posing for any baseball swimsuit calendars. "He's a little bit of a dead-body guy" said a scout who saw Abreu in the WBC. It's noteworthy that the same concerns were expressed about Puig by critics who wondered why the Dodgers would give $42 million to an outfielder who was heavy and out of shape. As anyone who's seen Puig this summer will attest he's the furthest thing from out of shape. Abreu already appears to have ramped up his conditioning as a prelude to his late-September showcase. "He's a thick-framed guy" said a Latin scout for an NL club. "But I just saw him in person and he was in the best shape I've ever seen. He's trimmed down a lot."
Cuban slugger Abreu to begin MLB auditions later this month
ESPN | Sep 17