“This should be a destination spot for every Latin player, amateur or professional,’’ Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said last month. “They should want to play here. It’s a great city and a great ballpark, and they’re going to want to be a part of what we’re building.’’
Those words were spoken directly to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, but they were intended for Victor Victor Mesa. The 22-year-old outfielder is widely regarded as the top available player in the 2018-19 international signing period (began on July 2).
Most of the other desirable prospects have already signed professional contracts. After defecting from Cuba in May and establishing residency in a new country, Victor Victor can finally do the same, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez:
Source: International prospects Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. have been declared free agents and are eligible to sign. #Cuba— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) September 14, 2018
Legitimizing the report, Victor Victor retweeted it from his official account. The race is on.
The Marlins and Orioles are believed to be the two most aggressive suitors. Not coincidentally, they have the largest international bonus pools among all MLB teams during the current signing period. Sanchez estimates that Miami has $4.3 million remaining, dwarfed by Baltimore at more than $6.7 million. It represents a dramatic change in approach for the O’s, who ignored Latin American talent throughout the previous decade (and took a lot of flack for it).
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that the Cardinals would make a push for Victor Victor next year if he’s willing to wait—they are not allowed to offer more than $300,000 to him after exceeding their spending limit in 2017-18. Seven other clubs face that same issue.
Under league rules, his earnings are capped because of his lack of age and experience, unlike fellow Cuban stars like Yoenis Céspedes, José Abreu and Yuli Gurriel, who were each guaranteed tens of millions of dollars when moving to the U.S.
Victor Victor began playing in the Cuban National Series at age 16 and batted .275/.334/.378 in parts of six seasons. His best production came in 2016-17: .354/.399/.539, 7 HR, 40 SB in 70 G.
He also competed for Cuba in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
From a scouting perspective, Victor Victor’s loudest tools are his speed and throwing arm. The biggest question mark is his bat. He likely wouldn’t make the leap directly to a 2019 Opening Day roster, regardless of which team signs him. Expect a stint in the high minors. Keep in mind that he missed out on everyday reps this past summer during the complicated free agent process.
Victor Mesa Jr. is much more of an unknown. The 17-year-old lacks his older brother track record against professional players, but he’s no stranger to international competition:
Jesse Sanchez confirms an earlier report from Craig Mish of SiriusXM that the brothers expect to hold a showcase for all 30 teams sometime this fall.
The Marlins have no surefire starting outfielders in their organization at the moment. Preseason top prospect Lewis Brinson is trying to salvage his rookie campaign with a strong September, but the overall production has been discouraging (.203/.245/.355, 61 wRC+, -0.7 fWAR). And he’s already 24 years old. Magneuris Sierra is struggling even more at the plate. Current No. 1 farmhand Monte Harrison was stuck at Double-A Jacksonville for the whole season because of an obscene strikeout rate. Other notables like Austin Dean, Brian Miller and John Norwood lack exciting upside.
So despite all of the internal options, Victor Victor is a worthwhile target who could quickly climb up the Marlins depth target and captivate a dormant baseball market.