Scouting the Mesa Brothers

On Monday, the Marlins officially signed Cuban OFs Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. for approximately $5 million and $1 million, respectively, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Below is a post published earlier this month featuring scouting information on each of them — plus pitcher Sandy Gaston — sourced from clubs who attended their lone stateside workout.

Marlins Park hosted three Cuban prospects — CF Victor Victor Mesa (our No. 1 international free agent on THE BOARD), RHP Sandy Gaston (No. 20), and OF Victor Mesa, Jr. (not ranked) — for a workout on Friday. The media was not allowed at this scouts-only event, but we’ve collected thoughts from some evaluators who attended the showcase, which featured a standard array of activities for a baseball workout, including a 60-yard dash, outfield drills, and some reps against live, Marlins instructional league pitching. We’ve compiled some thoughts from people who attended the workout below, as well as some of our own thoughts on what kind of bonuses talents like this typically command on the pool-capped, international-free-agent market.

Cuban prospects have sometimes undergone drastic physical transformations between the point at which they’ve last been observed in Cuba and their workouts for teams. Sometimes these changes are positive (as with Luis Robert, who looked like an Ancient Greek sculpture when he worked out for teams in the Dominican Republic in 2017) and sometimes they are not (Yasiel Puig’s living conditions made it impossible for him to remain in baseball shape for his eventual workout in Mexico), but this was not the case on Friday. Victor Victor Mesa, 22, looks to have retained the sort of physicality he possessed the last several years in Cuba. He ran his 60-yard dash in about 6.5 seconds (give or take a few hundredths of a second, depending on the stopwatch), which is in the 65-70 range on the 20-80 scale, and he’s a 60 runner in games as he was in the past, while his arm remains above average.

Mesa hit some balls out to his pull side during batting practice, showing 50-grade raw power, but he has a linear, contact-oriented swing that we think will lead to below-average power output in games. There’s no question he can hit, defend, and add value on the bases, but there’s real doubt about the game application of his power. In aggregate, it looks like an average to slightly below-average offensive profile on an above-average defender at a premium position. Scouts think Mesa is a low-risk, moderate impact prospect who should be ready for the big leagues relatively soon. He garners frequent comparisons to Cubs CF Albert Almora. There’s a chance Mesa has a three-win season or two at peak, but expectations are more of a solid 1.5- to 2.0-win type player. He’s a 45+ FV on our July 2nd version of THE BOARD, which would be somewhere in the 130 to 175 range overall in the minors.

Mesa’s talent would typically be valued between $5 million and $10 million (depending on market conditions when he became a free agent) in the prior, non-pooled international environment, and that would come with a matching tax for exceeding pool limitations, so call it about $15 million in a total outlay. That kind of money isn’t available on the July 2 market anymore. The lack of comparable talents still available at this point, however, could help Mesa earn a larger bonus than Shohei Ohtani ($2.3 mil) did last year, even though Mesa isn’t nearly as talented, because everyone with money left wants to land him. We consider the Marlins the favorites to do so.

Cuban righty Sandy Gaston, just 16, ranked 20th on our July 2nd board as the lowest 40 FV, and he was the clear second-most interesting prospect at the event. Kiley saw him in February when he topped out at 97 mph and flashed an average curve and change, but Gaston also sent four balls to the backstop in a one-inning showcase against other 16-year-olds. Last Friday, Gaston worked 94-97 with similar secondary stuff, but with better feel, particularly in his first inning. There’s still a reliever look to him due to his delivery and mature physicality, but at age 16, so much will change that you can’t project that with certainty at this point, and Gaston has one of the most talented pure arms in the world at his age.

There generally is not a market for $2-plus million bonuses for 16-year-old pitchers, as teams tend to spend more on hitters. The track record of flame-throwing teenagers is not good. We consider Gaston to be a seven-figure talent but think many teams probably have him valued a bit lower than that because of the risk associated with his demographic. New Phillies RHP Starlyn Castillo is pretty similar to Gaston (we ranked Castillo 18th in the most recent July 2nd class) and he got $1.5 million, which is close to where we think Gaston’s bonus will be if teams engage in a bidding war for him after Mesa signs. Gaston was rumored to have a deal for that much or more with the Marlins around July 2nd, but it never materialized.

Victor Mesa, Jr. ran his 60-yard dash in the 6.9 second, which is average. He also showed a 55 arm and a linear swing geared more for contact. He’s 17, so there’s still room to project improvement based on maturing physicality, but he’s currently a tweener with hit and throw being his only above-average tools — and some scouts lower than that on the hit tool. On talent, we think he fits in the low, six-figure range.

Reading the Market

So what teams are best positioned to sign these guys? A glance at the market reveals that the Orioles have the biggest hard-capped pool amount remaining at about $6.7 million. That’s the most anyone can offer a single player, making any price that a team pays for Victor Victor a bargain compared to what he’d get in an open market. The Orioles ($6.7 mil) and Marlins — who just traded fringe pitching prospect Ryan Lillie to Cincinnati and reliever Kyle Barraclough to Washington in exchange for pool money — can offer the most at this point.

For reference, Jon Jay is a past-his-prime version of Mesa, and he garnered $4.4 million in 2018 ($3 mil plus what he earned in attained incentives) for his age-33 season. Victor Victor will likely get close to that amount, but represents six years of similar production instead of one and, at age 22, also possesses the possibility of turning into a better player than we’re projecting, He’d also be very marketable in Miami.

The Marlins, as noted, have made some moves to increase their pool size, and buzz among scouts and executives is that they’re looking to add all three players (the Mesa’s are likely to sign with the same team), which would cost at least $5 million, possibly over $6 million. The Orioles are obviously already in position to offer something like that, but that organization is currently in a state of flux due to the recent departures of the manager and GM, and you’d understand if the three Cubans would prefer a comparable offer from the Marlins. Thus, it seems reasonable that they’ll wait and see how much the Marlins can add to their pool.

As for what will be left over for the clubs that don’t land these Cubans, there’s some chatter among scouts that some clubs have deals with Mexican prospects who aren’t eligible to sign at the moment, as MLB has shut down the country to clubs for an unspecified period. If it doesn’t open before next July 2nd, then those clubs would have to find somewhere else to spend their pool money. We think they’d try to spread it around across several six-figure talents and that prospects in Asia may be targets.

There’s more intrigue surrounding this process due to the recent Sports Illustrated report regarding the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of MLB affairs in foreign countries. All three of these Cuban players are represented by Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver of Magnus Sports Agency. Praver and Shapiro once employed Bart Hernandez who in 2017 was convicted of illegally smuggling Cuban ballplayers to the U.S. via other countries.

We hoped you liked reading Scouting the Mesa Brothers by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel!

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Wait, the Marlins traded Barraclough for international bonus money? After they refused to deal him at the deadline for unless they got an organization’s top prospect? This is the second time (Bour being the first) where the Marlins have refused to sell a guy when he had value and then, instead of sticking with their initial assessment, sold low on him later.