There have been a number of Cuban defectors since I last checked in with a profile. I hope to get to each of them in time. Despite the Cub front office’s determination to do as little as possible this offseason, I do think there’s a good chance they make a run at one or more of them. Cuban free agents are rare in that many of them are still considerably younger than the average free agent, yet old enough to avoid spending restrictions imposed by the CBA.
Yenier Bello Veloso doesn’t really fit the bill, however. Bello is a catcher who left Cuba in July 2013, and was recently cleared to sign. He first attempted to defect in late 2012, and was caught and suspended. If Enrique Rojas is correct, he actually received permission from Cuba to travel in 2013, and elected not to return. Bello turns 29 in February, and his offensive production in Cuba’s National Series was unspectacular, but he would fill a position of need for the Cubs (who are interested).
Yenier Bello Stats
Bello first played in Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2003-2004, but had trouble getting onto the field for Sancti Spiritus due to the presence of incumbent Eriel Sanchez. Cuban higher-ups thought he had potential, however, and he was transferred to Camaguey. This type of thing is historically very rare. Most players play for the team in the province of their birth for their entire careers. After Sanchez aged a few years, Bello was transferred back to Sancti Spiritus and received regular playing time through the 2011-2012 season.
|Age||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||ISO||BB%||K%||dt AVG||dt OBP||dt SLG|
Clay Davenport's translations are indicated by the dt-prefix.
Typically in these profiles, I present a list of players for comparison. Bello, however, is the first catcher I’ve profiled, and is considerably older than previous subjects. I do care about you, however, so I’ve managed to round up some league-wide numbers to use in lieu of comps.
Yenier Bello’s bat is mediocre. However, his career caught stealing percentage is an astounding 50%. His four most recent seasons (2008-2012) are even better, at 53%. That makes Yadier Molina look like Koyie Hill. Unfortunately, when I first started writing these, one of the oddities I noticed is that caught stealing rates in Cuba tended to be high. I didn’t realize just how high, however, until wrangling the league-wide numbers. From 2007-2012 the average caught stealing rate in the National Series was just south of 48%! I can think of a half-dozen possible explanations for this off the top of my head (and am planning a post on the subject). Though none of them are great, the: “Cuban catchers are simply the worldwide elite at gunning baserunners” hypothesis ranks fairly low on the list. So while I’d expect Bello to be decent at controlling the running game (and am intrigued to watch him play if he makes the majors), I don't expect he's the modern Roy Campanella.
The combination of lack of playing time early in his career and his suspension/defection hiatus would seem to indicate that Bello has fewer miles on his legs than one might expect from a 29-year old. On the other hand, there was a reported knee surgery in the summer of 2009.
Major League Prospects
Intrepid international observer Ben Badler is dismissive.
No. Non-prospect. RT @RNewsX I know Y. Bello has a big arm & some pop. How is he behind the dish? Decent backup C prospect?
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) January 25, 2014
In fairness to Bello, probably very few Americans have ever actually seen him play. He was one of the last cuts from the 2009 WBC roster*, and defected prior to the 2013 edition. He did make the 2007 World Port Tournament roster, but played sparingly. He is a youtube ghost, having last played in the National Series two seasons ago. Given the lack of available information on him, it seems likely that interested teams would downplay it to the press. Multiple teams are interested, so there is probably some value there, at least defensively. As a hitter, however, I wouldn’t expect much better than replacement level production.
*This is likely somewhat reflective of his talent, though more than one observer has called it a snub.