The hype surrounding Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman has been amazing, as he projects to receive one of the highest contracts this off-season. The following are five other foreign players who would generate similar buzz if they pursued free agency in the United States.
1. Yu Darvish (P, Japan)—Darvish is a prospect on the level of A-Rod, Griffey, Strasburg, etc. The 23 year-old has been the best player in the Japanese league over the last three seasons and would arguably immediately rank as the #1 prospect in the game (over Strasburg) once he signed. If he ever came to America, expect a contract paying more than double what Chapman receives.
2. Alfredo DeSpainge (CF, Cuba)—DeSpainge has arguably surpassed Yulieski Gourriel as the #1 prospect in Cuba. After a terrific season in the Cuban League, Despaigne dominated international competition over the summer, managing to tie team USA’s Justin Smoak with 9 home runs. An impressive feat considering DeSpaigne is a Centerfielder with great speed who hits around .400 in the Cuban League (about equal to low-A/AA).
3. Yulieski Gourriel (2B, Cuba)—Gourriel is a Cuban infielder who has been the country’s best player since approximately 2003 (when he was 19). He is a “five tool” second baseman can post a solid batting average along with impressive power (MLB comparison: Chase Utley). Gourriel would have commanded an amazing bidding war had he defected during the height of his popularity considering he is an exceptionally impressive all-around player during a time where there are few great players at his position. Nevertheless, he chose remain in Cuba, and it looks less likely (he’s now 26) he’ll play in America during the prime of his career.
4. Norichika Aoki (OF, Japan)—Aoki is a talented Japanese outfielder who should come to America in the near future. His playing style is similar to Ichiro in that he relies on getting on base. While he’s probably less talented than Ichiro, I would place his potential impact somewhere on the level of Hideki Matsui.
5. Alexei Bell (OF, Cuba)—like DeSpaigne, Bell is becoming one of the best players in Cuba. He is a power hitter and recently made headlines in Cuba for hitting two grand slams in the first inning of opening day.