The July 2 international signing period is approaching, and although the Royals are hamstrung in their ability to sign most international free agents, they are still looking for ways to add talent. Jon Heyman reports the Royals are looking at Cuban free agent second baseman Jose Miguel Fernandez.
The Royals are one of a few teams that are not allowed to spend more than $300,000 on an international signing bonus for any one player this year, as punishment for exceeding their bonus pool in 2015. By virtue of their record last year, they have just $2.081 million total to spend on international players, the fourth-lowest bonus pool in baseball.
However Cuban players at least 23 years of age with at least five seasons of experience in the Cuban leagues are exempt from bonus limitations and are free to sign at any time. The 28-year old Fernandez spent eight years playing in Cuban leagues before defecting in 2015. He can sign at any time and has already drawn interest from the Dodgers and Twins.
Fernandez is called an "on-base machine" by Heyman. In his last four seasons in Cuba, he hit well over .300 each season, with an on-base percentage well over .400 each year. Fernandez hardly ever strikes out, and he performed well in international competition as well, hitting .524/.545/.667 in 21 at-bats in the World Baseball Classic without striking out.
With his bat-to-ball skills and ability to manage the strike zone, Fernandez is a potential high OBP threat in the major leagues, although his power is below-average. Speed isn’t part of Fernandez’s game, and his thickening lower half (listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds) has hampered his range at second base, where he’s at best an adequate defender. Fernandez also spent time at third base during the 2013-14 season, though his arm strength is better suited at second.
-Ben Badler, Baseball America
The left-handed hitter is considered close to Major League-ready, although he has been away from baseball for over a year and will need time to get back into the game. His agent, Alan Nero, is billing Fernandez as a Ben Zobrist-type player who can hit at the top of a lineup.
The Royals currently have second baseman Omar Infante signed through the 2017 season, with Christian Colon as an option, and Whit Merrifield has impressed through a handful of games. Top prospect Raul Mondesi has played some second base as well, and could compete for a starting job next year.