Pirates Prospects has learned that the Pittsburgh Pirates have signed 28-year-old Cuban right-handed pitcher Yoandy Fernandez to a minor league contract. Neal Huntington confirmed to Tim Williams on Monday morning that the deal was in the final stages, and we learned that the deal was finalized on Monday. Fernandez has reported to Extended Spring Training so the Pirates can further evaluate him.

Fernandez pitched in Cuba from 2007 until 2013, before defecting from Cuba to Mexico in late 2014. He entered the U.S. the following January and was declared eligible for the 2015 draft, but no one took him. The reasoning at the time was that he was looking for a two-year deal and didn’t want to be tied to a team for six full seasons like a standard contract signed by draft picks. He turned down some offers during the second day of the draft (rounds 3-10). MLB cleared him afterwards to sign with any team.

Fernandez was a relief pitcher in Cuba. In the U.S. in early 2015, he was training in Tampa and the scouting reports had him throwing 89-92 MPH, with a slider, curve and a sinker. He has also added a cutter since then. Instead of reaching a deal with an MLB team, Fernandez signed with the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League after not being drafted, and he had an 8.25 ERA over 12 innings in seven appearances.

Since then, Fernandez has been training in Tampa and playing in a local men’s league, where the Pirates scouted him last Sunday. Last week, he struck out 14 batters during a five inning appearance for the Dade City Brewers, then had five strikeouts over two innings in front of the Pirates, with Rene Gayo as the person who recommended him to Huntington. Recent velocity numbers have him sitting 91-92 with his sinker, topping out at 93 MPH.

He’s the second Cuban player the Pirates have signed recently, after the Pirates signed 25-year-old Dany Hernandez last month. The tryout for Hernandez was in the Dominican Republic, so it seems like it’s more of a coincidence than a pattern.

**In other transaction news, the Pirates have released minor league right-handers Adrian Grullon, Francis Rodriguez, Robbie Coursel, and left-hander Nestor Oronel. All four were being used as lower level depth, with Grullon the only one who had a shot at being a prospect before Tommy John derailed his chances.

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  1. Given his age and coming from Cuba, why was he put in the 2015 draft rather than just declared a free agent?

    • Because he was living in the United States at the time. Same thing happened with Jose Fernandez and Yunel Escobar

      • Late on this. But just to clarify, it’s not where a player is living but rather where he gets legal residency when he defects from Cuba. Most go to the Dominican Republic or a similar country, so they don’t have to go through the draft. Fernandez was younger and came to the U.S. Went to HS in Miami. Thus was eligible for the draft.

        • I was just putting players from Cuba who were in the draft, but my answer was specific to Yoandy Fernandez first, then found two Cubans who went through the draft after leaving their country.

  2. Standard questions concerning this signing;
    Any guesses to how long of an evaluation will EST last;
    Is EST to determine his level of placement and/or allow him to get stretched out a bit and build up his arm strength;
    starter or bullpen;
    past results (good or bad?);
    does he hold any future relevancy?

    • EST is so they can find the right level/role for him. He is already stretched out, he’s been pitching regularly in Tampa, throwing seven innings over a four-day span last week. His trainer has worked with some Major Leaguers and had very high praise for him yesterday, so we will see.

    • Well, let’s see:
      First step is pessimism: check
      step 2: find someone from the same country who was also a veteran: check
      step 3: Did you make sure the player from step 2 was also with the Pirates! check
      Looks like we have a match. Fernandez will make five starts for the Pirates next year and that’s all we will see from him.

        • You’re wrong. Herrera made five starts in his second season with the Pirates. Look at the checklist, everything has been checked.

            • Oh, didn’t realize you were being serious in response to a non-serious post, sorry. Yes, of course he is a long way from five starts right now because we know almost nothing about him other than he went Cy Young on a bunch of former college players in Tampa with 19 strikeouts in 7 innings last week.

              Someone from the league said he had no business being there because no one could touch him. How his two years of training and some success against amateur players translates into pro ball is something that is impossible to guess. The Pirates don’t even know, which is why he’s at Pirate City for the time being.

              It would be irresponsible to even hazard a guess as to where he ends up. His trainer has been at it a long time and threw out some impressive comparisons to his former talent, and this was after he signed so he didn’t need to sell him to me. I won’t do that though until we see him.

              Assuming he stays at Pirate City for at least a couple weeks, Tim will likely see him and get some type of report. Or we will get eyes on him wherever he ends up.

              • OK, cracking me up before actually answering the question, is great stuff.
                Seems like he can be a mid level reliever that we can ship to the Brewers ….

              • Now I see why I have been skipping the Comments here much of the time. Some of these are as bad as those In the PG.

    • A few years ago when there was a hitting prospect emerging, the question was “Can he pitch?”

      These things run in cycles. You’re never going to have a farm system that has every single thing at every single level. And they’re not really in desperate need for young hitters or hitting prospects right now.

      • Very rational and balanced reply Tim. But I want it all now. 🙂 The Pirates prospect development has been pretty impressive the last few years. There is some significant hitting talent. The hard to quantify part is the major league seasoning time. Just feels like after following these stud prospects for years and they finally get to the majors and I irrationally expect immediate high-level production. Hard to balance that patience with desire to beat the super Cubs win the division. Its tough keeping that championship competitive window always open, still feels like were a few years away from being able to win and replenish and be consistently championship caliber per Huntington’s goal.

        • Yea you kind of long for young productive bats when you get beat opening day by a kid who never took an at bat in AAA and, your established “star” strikes out 3 times. Not to mention the Cubs young bats are now unstoppable essentially creating a wildcard best case scenario. Pretty frustrating to know you have some talent coming but, it’s just not enough not even by a close margin.

          • Are you referring to the reigning MVP Bryant striking out three times on openin day? Because he’s clearly going to do that all 162 games. Not sure who never had an at bat in AAA, is it the same guy that had over 100 plate appearances in MLB last year?

          • I agree, I could see this team being pretty darn good, but most everyone would have to play near their ceiling. We keep having pieces of the puzzle arrive from the minors, but then they take a few years to develop, and then major league pieces leave or retire or underperform. Just never feels complete, which is probably normal except for th Cubs problem. I don’t see a path or plan or vision to where we can realistically compete with the Cubs. I think once this current crop fully arrives (Meadows, Newman, maybe Kingham then Keller), it’ll be a very talented group. But will it be better than the Cubs? Is the plan just to hope everyone always plays to their ceiling and pray we make the wild card and then get lucky? Maybe we hope they underperform for a year or two. Do we make a drastic move (Quintana) that could really damage us if it goes south. I think Huntington’s plan and model are good, but neither can account for the Cubs. It’s just a really tough spot with no clear solution on the horizon. But, I’ll still enjoy watching the young talent and cheering on the Bucs as they compete. If we get the wild card I’m saying there’s a chance.

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