Things have been a little bit different since Theo Epstein left the Cubs. During his time as president of baseball operations, Epstein tended to do most of the talking when it came to addressing the media. You would hear Jed Hoyer on the radio or see him on TV from time to time, but it was rare to hear anyone else other from the organization other than maybe Jason McLeod. The three amigos used to provide all the soundbites, with one voice easily talking most and loudest.
As the organization shifts around in the wake of Epstein’s departure, however, we’re already starting to hear from more of the individuals in charge of various segments. Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ vice president of player development, has dished on various prospects and plans as a regular guest on podcasts and radio shows. Assistant general manager and vice president of pitching Craig Breslow has also been making the rounds.
On Saturday morning, Louie Eljaua, the Cubs‘ director of international operations, appeared on 670 The Score’s “Inside the Clubhouse“ to talk about the recent class of international free agent signings headlined by Cristian Hernandez. It was quite an entertaining interview and offered insight into the international market in the time of COVID-19.
According to Eljaua, who has 29 years of experience and was responsible for signing Miguel Cabrera to the Marlins out of Venezuela, the Cubs have 24 verbal commitments from international players so far. Some of them have not been signed in large part due to travel restrictions that have prevented them from taking physicals. Though that number is much higher than what’s been reported so far, the Cubs usually sign 30-40 players during a given year. Most of those sign for such low sums that they barely register on most radars.
Bruce Levine asked about left-handed pitcher Carlos Cabrera, but Eljaua could not talk about him because Cabrera has not officially signed…yet. Matt Spiegel then wasted no time getting to Hernandez and the Alex Rodriguez comps some have put out there.
Eljaua chose not to run with the comparison, but admitted that Hernandez physically resembles A-Rod to an extent. His body structure is kind of a cross between Rodriguez and Manny Machado, and he’s got plenty of room to grow into that frame as he just turned 17 in December. Hernandez’s skills “just jump off the page” and the Cubs are “as excited with signing him as anybody” in Eljaua’s tenure.
Even if Hernandez makes good on his physical projection, the thought right now is that his athleticism will allow him to stay at shortstop. As is true for many Latin ballplayers, Hernandez has grown up idolizing Javy Báez. In fact, the first question Hernandez had during his recruiting process was about Javy.
“It’s crazy how Javy is a silent recruiter for us,” Eljaua said.
Cubs have high hopes for international signing Cristian Hernandez
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) January 21, 2021
Eljaua also talked about Moises Ballesteros, a catcher from Venezuela, gushing about how the young man never had a bad day at the plate every time the Cubs saw him. He was consistent, a little flashy, had great at-bats, and “showed everything we wanted to see from a kid his age and even beyond.”
Ballesteros also had consistent pop times of 1.85-1.95 seconds, for those who want to know a little bit about his defensive work.
Daniel Ferreira, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, was compared to a young Raul Mondesi. Eljaua said the 5-foot-11 Ferreira will probably stay in center right now, but could easily move to the corners. His bat has a lot of potential as he matures and he’s already producing some of the highest exit velocities of anybody the Cubs scouted this past year.
Two sleepers I liked when I saw them early on who signed today.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) January 15, 2021
As noted above, it could be a while before we get the final total of international free agents the Cubs have brought into the fold. Most of the players signed will head to the Cubs’ Dominican facility and have their spring training down there. I expect to see Hernandez and possibly Ballesteros and Ferreira receive invites to Mesa, where they will participate in extended spring training with the possibility of debuting in the Arizona Rookie League at 17 years old.
The youth of these players puts their impact way out on the horizon, but it’s not as though the Cubs are doing much to get us excited about the team in Chicago in the near future.