The first time I saw Cuban infielder César Prieto play; batting, fielding or running was not one of the first virtues that I loved about this talented player. His level of driving the game and his vision ahead of each situation were admirable for a player of only 18 years, as Prieto combined them with his inexhaustible energy. He was a natural leader, easy to notice in the infield of the team of Elefantes de Cienfuegos. He demonstrated more than his arm and reach as virtues, he also displayed the insight to place himself in the right spot on the field. So I delighted all afternoon watching one of the players who, shortly thereafter, became one of the most sensational prospects of current Cuban baseball.
But César, in addition to being one of the most sought-after prospects in Cuban baseball, is also one of those players who captivates the fans, they emerge as natural leaders within any team and, most importantly from my vision: They offer a special touch to the oft-criticized baseball pace of play issues worldwide. That has been seen by all his managers, especially Eduardo Paret, who had the smarts of choosing him as a reinforcement for Azucareros de Villa Clara in the 2018-2019 Serie Nacional de Béisbol. This was an especially thoughtful choice as, for the most part, César still had yet to shed his “rookie” label. With his typical jersey number “9”, the explosive infielder shone as a key piece leading the lineup of the Azucareros. Prieto took on the difficult challenge of playing in the short field. Thanks to that opportunity that Paret offered him, we were able to start enjoying Prieto’s great leap forward. Still a “rookie”, he had made a tremendous impact on the current level of the CNS.
Since then, Prieto’s “breakout” has been unstoppable, to the point of joining the Cuban national team. He’s bolstered his reputation by leading the last two CNS seasons with an impressive 230 hits. After all his CNS success Prieto is now shifting gears and heading to Liga Mexicana de Béisbol’s Olmecas de Tabasco.
Although players often suffer regressions in the second campaign of their career, the consistency of Prieto was evident throughout the 2019-2020 season. The areas he needed to improve upon coming out of his first full CNS season he worked to improve. Let’s analyze his 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 metrics:
Here we can easily appreciate the progress of Prieto on the plate. He improved his walk rate by 6.6%, extending his patient approach in all game situations. Prieto also increased nine points in slugging, downgraded his strikeouts by 3.3% and, raised his OBP to another level within the league (.440!) His OPS reached above the .900s as well. So, as you can see here, Prieto did not suffer alarming regressions throughout the regular season. In fact, he closed the second phase of the season with a .400 average and then crushed the Leñadores de Las Tunas pitching in the semifinals of the playoffs to the tune of .500.
Prieto fell into a “slump” in the finals. He showed an ability to rebound from adversity and kept his spot at the top of the Cocodrilos de Matanzas lineup. His numbers with runners in scoring position were especially illuminating in the way he was able to progress in a player in his sophomore season.
The differences show Prieto’s impact rather quickly. He improved in all his peripheral numbers with runners on base. The explosive second baseman maintained his discipline on the plate, obtaining many more walks than his strikeouts. Prieto had set a high bar for himself in the 2018-2019 season but he managed to blow past those results in 2019-2020. That is the sign of a truly talented player.
After starting the 2019-2020 final series 0-12, Prieto got back on track by crushing the pitchers of Toros de Camagüey by going 6-12, with 2 home runs and 5 RBIs. In those last at-bats, Prieto demonstrated once again another of his great virtues; the ability to quickly make adjustments. Throughout a campaign where Prieto averaged .352 and recorded 111 hits in 79 games (including the playoffs), he never gave up his diverse approach. He was patient or aggressive as the situation warranted, and he played each moment like a truly top talent.
Sometimes the statistics do not show the hidden value that a player can provide on the baseball field. This is especially true when a player is not producing. In that sense, Prieto is the typical player who provides positive value even when he isn’t producing in an obvious manner. If you see him play and perhaps that day he does not succeed (this honestly isn’t often the case) you will still come away appreciating the value of his presence on the field. Prieto always demonstrates his total mastery of the game, from communication with his teammates to having fun all the way to advising pitchers on how to approach certain hitters.
The type of teammate that Prieto is adds tremendous value to his team, both in his visible contributions and the intangibles. Thinking of it that way, Tabasco could not have made a better move than signing Prieto. At 20, Prieto is already a sought after international prospect and his game only projects to get better with no limit in sight.
Lead photo courtesy of Aslam Castellón – BaseballdeCuba