Tomas a good signing for D-backs, but expectations should be curtailed
Yasmany Tomas, the most highly sought-after Cuban defector among this offseason’s free agents, has come to terms with the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Tomas’ contract with Arizona is worth $68.5 million over six years, a half-million more than Jose Abreu’s deal with the White Sox signed last October, but includes an opt-out after the fourth year, which Tomas, who just turned 24 last week, will be able to use after his age-27 season.
A powerful outfielder, Tomas has been viewed as the next in an increasingly impressive line of hitters to defect from Cuba, following Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Abreu, and Cubs rookie Jorge Soler. All of them are hitters with significant power and all but first baseman Abreu are corner outfielders. Despite the similarity in their contracts, however, Tomas does not arrive in the United States with Abreu’s bona fides as a hitter.
Abreu, who picked up the sobriquet “The Cuban Barry Bonds” before his defection, put up absurd numbers in his native country, including a .453/.597/.986 line with 33 home runs in 293 plate appearances in the 2010-11 Serie Nacional season. By comparison, Tomas hit a far more human .289/.364/.538 with 15 homers in 324 PA in the 2012-13 season before an even weaker showing the following season, his last in Cuba. True, Tomas only just turned 24, but Abreu turned 24 in the middle of his ridiculous 2010-11 season. Abreu, as he proved this past season, is one of the best hitters on the planet. Anyone expecting a comparable performance from Tomas is going to be disappointed.
Tomas also lacks Puig’s all-around athleticism. Whereas fellow outfielders Cespedes, Puig and Soler are often referred to as having the build and athleticism of running backs, drawing Bo Jackson comparisons, the 6-foot-1 Tomas, who is listed at 230 pounds, is also big and powerful but has less lean muscle mass. He will develop a gut if he’s not careful and has a physique that’s more reminiscent of Miguel Cabrera’s; powerful but soft. He’s athletic enough to play either outfield corner and some teams even tried him out at third base this fall, but he won’t make a contribution on defense except perhaps with his arm. Rather, his major league success will be almost entirely dependent on his bat.
That doesn’t mean that Tomas isn’t a legitimate prospect. He has been on my radar since he hit .376/.412/.813 as a 22-year-old in the 2013 World Baseball Classic when he outhit teammate Abreu, albeit in an admittedly miniscule sample (just six games). He was hotly pursued by multiple teams this offseason, with the Phillies, Padres, Giants and Braves all known to have made him offers, per Sanchez. However, with his opt-out, he offers the Diamondbacks just four guaranteed years, and it’s no sure thing that he will be able to make the jump directly to the major leagues. In fact, the only Cuban defectors to do so have been Abreu, Cespedes and White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, all of whom turned 26 before making their major league debuts.
As much power as exists in Tomas’ swing, he hit just six home runs in 257 plate appearances in his final season in Cuba and there are concerns about his plate discipline. Such concerns are voiced so often about Cuban players that they ring hollow at this point, but the combination of his youth, his poor final season in Cuba, his ensuing time away from the game following his June defection* and those concerns about his approach all point toward a likely start in the minor leagues in 2015.
Whenever Tomas does arrive, he will occupy rightfield for the Diamondbacks, giving Arizona an impressive trio of right-handed power hitters in the middle of their order with Tomas joining first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and "leftfielder" Mark Trumbo in a home-run-friendly ballpark. However, Tomas could more easily resemble Trumbo at the plate, a poor hitter with big power, than Goldschmidt, one of the best hitters in the game, though he’s most likely to fall somewhere in between. The addition of Tomas thus tilts Arizona’s lineup heavily to the right side, with catcher Miguel Montero, who is on the trading block, and rookie third baseman Jake Lamb, who may not occupy that position on Opening Day, the only lefties in the D-backs’ projected lineup.
That points to the fact that the Diamondbacks are likely far from done this offseason. Arizona enjoyed impressive debuts from lefty outfield bats David Peralta, an independent-league find, and Ender Inciarte, an outstanding defensive centerfielder, this past season, so they could trade from what is now a glut of outfielders, with the defense- and on-base-challenged Trumbo a player they’d likely be better without. They also have a surplus of sorts at shortstop: Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius continue to vie for playing time, with Owings spending some time at second base, while veteran Cliff Pennington and rookie Nick Ahmed add clutter to the roster. Mix in the fact that Arizona is shopping Montero and effectively has an opening at third base, and first-time general manager Dave Stewart, for whom Tomas is his first big signing, should stay plenty busy this winter.
*The Serie Nacional season ends in February, meaning Tomas will have been away from meaningful game action for more than a calendar year by the time of the Diamondbacks’ first spring training game on March 3.