By Peter C. Bjarkman*
HAVANA TIMES, April 1 – A posting in yesterday’s Miami Nuevo Herald, also carried on-line by ESPN Deportes (March 31, 2009), announced agent Jaime Torres’s latest miraculous find, recent Cuban “defector” Juan Yasser Serrano.
Serrano, who recently arrived in Miami after his “escape” from Cuba last month, is being sold to an unsuspecting public by the unscrupulous Torres, at least according this latest news report, as one of the most distinguished ballplayers in Cuba” and also as “one of the best Cubans who has ever arrived here.”
Obviously Mr. Torres knows something that Cuban baseball fans, league officials, and opposition batters do not. In reality what Jaime Torres knows is that he can distribute whatever outrageous falsehoods he wishes about his Cuban “prospects” and no one stateside will ever know the difference. Some salivating GM will most likely take him at his word and throw a million-dollar-plus contract at his latest second-coming of José Contreras or Omar Linares.
The stark truth (known by all close followers of Cuban baseball) is that Juan Yasser Serrano was a rather mediocre Cuban Leaguer whose 2007-2008 record was a below average 2-7 won-lost mark, further diminished by an elevated 6.46 ERA and a hefty .312 opponents’ batting average against his deliveries. And this, while hurling for one of the league’s very best teams, Villa Clara.
In the current 2008-2009 season Serrano only pitched 21 innings in five appearances, but did have a 4-0 record and a .343 ERA. He wasn’t even considered as material for Cuba’s national team.
Serrano’s three-year lifetime mark entering the current campaign was 14-16, with a 4.40 ERA for a club that captured division titles in all three seasons he labored there. It is hard to imagine a young prospect as being one of the most notable talents on the island when last season he posted the third worst ERA on his own team’s 15-man pitching staff.
Of course, such distortions from agent Torres are hardly anything new or in any way much of a surprise. Last fall this same agent peddled Villa Clara third base prospect Dayan Viciedo as a national team star and likely the best player to debut in the Cuban League since Omar Linares.
The reality in that case was that Viciedo was neither a national team player nor even a league all-star at his third base position. Nor had he finished the previous campaign among the 60-plus Cuban Leaguers batting over .300.
Viciedo was assuredly a genuine prospect with a possible major league future; but he was also a stagnating young player whose numbers had slid considerably after his promising rookie campaign and who was plagued by both poor physical conditioning and a highly questionable work ethical.
Viciedo may well have a big league future, yet he is neither Linares nor even Alexei Ramírez, and already has been dispatched this spring to the Chicago White Sox minor league camp for some much-needed seasoning.
In the current case of Serrano, the fabrications put out by Torres in his recent Nuevo Herald interview are even more egregious than in the case of Viciedo. Let’s cite only two relevant examples of “propaganda in search of a fat contract through deception and distortion.”
In the Nuevo Herald article penned by Jorge Ebro (who obviously did not do any fact checking on this one) it is claimed that Serrano teamed with Dayan Viciedo on the Cuban junior national team that won the 2007 Mexico-based Pan American Games, and furthermore that Serrano played a major role in a 2-1 championship victory over Team USA.
This is an outright falsehood since Juan Y. Serrano was not even on that particular junior level (sub-18-years-old) national squad. The Villa Clara hurler was already 19 at the time and thus too old to be eligible for the 2007 “juveniles” squad. The actual score of the reported game was 3-2 (a minor discrepancy) and the actual winning pitcher was Serrano’s Villa Clara teammate Freddy Asiel Alvarez (a major discrepancy), a player one year younger than Serrano. (Be it noted as an aside here that Freddy Alvarez might well be a more promising prospect than Serrano, given his better record last season in Villa Clara and his younger age.)
But it gets far worse (especially the issue of fact checking on the part of Jorge Ebro, who apparently is just as unscrupulous as a journalist as Torres is as a player agent). Straining for stardom by association, Torres reports (and Ebro repeats) that this 2007 Mexico gold medal Pan American squad that Serrano supposedly belonged to (but did not actually) featured a staff led by two current stars on the recent Cuban World Baseball Classic roster, ace lefty starter Aroldis Chapman of Holguín and top righty closer Vladimir Garcia of Ciego de Avila.
Here we have falsehood piled on top of falsehood. Neither Chapman nor García were on that team, as again both were one year beyond eligibility for the 18-and-under squad. The actual lefty ace on that 2007 team was not at all Chapman but rather former Habana Province prospect Noel Arguelles.
How much longer will general managers of big league clubs continue to put up with the distortions that Jaime Torres insists on peddling in the name of top dollar contracts for overvalued talent?
Certainly some of the players leaving the island of late–such as Santiago first baseman/outfielder Jose Julio Ruíz, who was one of last season’s league leaders in both stolen bases and base hits–are genuine prospects with professional futures. But why not honestly market them for what they are. (Don’t tell me, I know. You don’t make as much money that way.)
Not only are Torres’s abuses of the facts a great disservice to the actual realities of Cuban League baseball (something I am certain Torres cares nothing about) but they are also a very sad statement on the current status of major league baseball scouting and recruitment. It’s long past time to start setting the record straight. And with several good websites (try www.baseballdecuba.com) now available for updated information of Cuban League baseball, there is no longer much excuse for GMs or scouts pleading ignorance about the true credentials of departing Cuban Leaguers.