For some time now I have been putting off writing a Transaction Analysis article on César Prieto signing with Olmecas de Tabasco of Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. I kept telling myself I had plenty of time to get to it, especially when it was announced that Prieto would be late in joining his new club thanks to commitments in May/June for the Cuban national team. Turns out I had even more time than that because this past week Prieto used a stop in Florida with the Cuban team as a chance to defect. The question is no longer what Prieto will bring to the Olmecas, but rather whether or not he’s worth a Major League Baseball roster spot?
If all we were doing was examining Prieto’s raw baseball skill the easy answer to the above question would be, yes. Of course, any MLB team would be lucky to have a contact-driven hitter of Prieto’s caliber. His career numbers in Serie Nacional de Béisbol have been nothing but amazing. Year in and year out he has been one of the best hitters in all of Cuba and after his 2020-2021 campaign he cemented his name as perhaps the best young hitter in all of Cuba. At only twenty-two years old MLB teams should be chomping at the bit to sign the second baseman.
Throughout his four-year professional career, Prieto has steadily progressed as a hitter. He is an extreme contact-driven bat. The Cienfuegos native isn’t about to take a walk, but the trade-off is that he doesn’t strike out much and he makes very good contact. Last season he struck out 11 times to 33 walks. Low numbers in both regards but when you manage a .403/.463/.579 slash line in 360 plate appearances, it’s okay that you don’t walk all that much. The reason Prieto doesn’t walk is that he has an incredible gift for getting the barrel of his bat through the zone and making purposeful contact with pitches at every level and area of said zone.
If an MLB team is willing to sign Prieto, and I imagine more than a few will be, they will have to understand what they are getting. The Slugging Percentage listed above is somewhat deceiving because it hides the fact that Prieto has very little home run power. His power comes in the form of line drives that split the gaps or in his ability to leg out hustle doubles and triples. The 2020-2021 season saw him hit 21 doubles, seven triples, and seven home runs. That player should appeal to any baseball executive, but in the case of MLB the type of player Prieto has become comes with a huge caveat.
There isn’t some hidden wealth of power waiting to be sprung from Prieto’s bat. He will always be, at most, a single-digit home run hitter. In today’s MLB game that’s not what front offices want. They look at the skills Prieto brings to the table and search for ways to change what he does so as to unlock power. The plight of Rusney Castillo is one to keep in mind when discussing Prieto’s possible future in MLB. Castillo and Prieto aren’t exactly comparable players except for the fact that Castillo was never going to be a huge power hitter. The Boston Red Sox were bound and determined to turn him into one. The danger with Prieto is that he will get signed by an organization that overlooks his actual skills in search of power that doesn’t exist.
In a perfect world, an MLB club would sign Prieto and let him be himself. They’d tweak things here and there to improve the natural skillset and baseball acumen he already possesses. That approach would likely lead to Prieto having a long and successful MLB career. We don’t live in a perfect world and today’s MLB is all about power and power alone. That fills me with plenty of trepidation about Prieto’s chances to succeed in the modern MLB landscape and I wish that weren’t the case.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Cubadebate