Mar 1, 2014; Melbourne, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella (84) slides and knocks the ball loose from Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton (59) during the fourth at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Finalizing Deal With Cuban Prospect Bello?

According to a tweet around 10:15 PM CST, from the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s David O’Brien, the Atlanta Braves may be finalizing a minor league deal for Cuban prospect, Yenier Bello.  The minor league deal is rumored to include a signing bonus, and an invitation to Spring Training.

According to an article posted around the same time as the tweet, Jesse Sanchez of confirmed the rumor, which while not yet definitively confirmed by the Atlanta Braves, is a rumor from an uknown industry source.

Yenier Bello (29 years old)  is a 5 foot, 11 inch, 225 pound Cuban catching prospect, who hit for an .274 batting average and 13 homers with the La Serie Nacional league, which is was reported to be Cuba’s best baseball league in 2011. According to Sanchez, Bello homered 75 times with almost 300 RBI’s in his last five seasons in Cuba, primarily while playing catcher for the 0ancti Spíritus team.

You may recall that in a recent Spring Training game in Florida, catcher Gerald Laird suffered a lower back strain, an injury that has been a periodic problem for the veteran catcher, who platooned a great deal with Brian McCann in 2013.  His back strain alone wouldn’t be the reason for the Braves’ shopping Bello, but Atlanta is certainly looking and thinking long-term these days.

It’s a given (barring injury or some unexpected lack of performance) that Evan Gattis will catch the majority of games for the Braves in the 2014 season, but with Laird’s injury, and Christian Bethancourt vying for a spot in Spring Training, the Braves will certainly want some insurance at the catching position, at least for now on the minor league level.  Bello is most likely to play the 2014 season fully in the minors, but with Laird’s days likely numbered with Atlanta, and questions about how well Gattis will develop as a full-time catcher, Bello could make a major league appearance in a few years (or sooner) if he plays well.

According to Sanchez’ article, Bello was…

Suspended from baseball in Cuba and had his passport confiscated after he was caught attempting to leave the island in 2012. Last spring, he retired from baseball and traveled to Ecuador, and he reaquired his passport. Bello never returned to Cuba and later established residency in Mexico, the first step to being declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. He was cleared by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control last month. He is represented by Bryce Dixon of the Primo Sports Group.

There has been an influx of Cuban talent making its way into Major League Baseball for a number of years now, and with many restrictions lifted, and political roadblocks being slowly torn asunder, the future looks bright for any number of great Cuban ball players.  There’s still a great many roadblocks still in place, but efforts are being made each year to open up opportunities for Cuban players.  Bello may well have gotten his opportunity, and that may bode well for the Atlanta Braves in the future.  As we find out more about the Bello rumor, and get confirmation from the Braves, we’ll report.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided Yenier Bello

  • Ryan Cothran

    Chalk this one up to another one of those “they must know more than I do” moves. A 29-year old catcher from Cuba whose career slash line is .276/.324/.458 in a league of which all the real talent defects and plays elsewhere seems hardly promising. In scouting reports dating back to November of last year, Bello was said to be “solid” behind the plate. Here are his career stats:

    Here are some positives after looking at the data (remember, take these with a grain of salt as the Cuban league has been recently compared to the talent level of High-A ball):
    1. The first thing that jumps off the page at me is his CS%, 50% for his CAREER! That’s very good in any league.
    2. His K rate is low for a power hitter, only striking out about 1 out of every 10 plate appearances.
    3. I’d be willing to bet his up and down OPS year to year has more to do with BABIP differentiation, not actual hot and cold streaks.
    4. The seasons are much shorter so looking at the data compiled over the last 6 years and averaging that out to a 130-game regular season (about 500 PA and probably about the amount of games a starting catcher would catch), you get this:
    .281/.329/.468 with 18 doubles, 2 triples, 22 HR 84 RBI
    That’s a good line for a catcher, but put those numbers in your back pocket for now. His last year playing in the Cuban League, he was 28, so that means he was 23 when he started catching regularly. If the above info about the Cuban League being equivalent to High-A ball are accurate, those numbers are very difficult to really get a gauge on what kind of player Bello could be. I have to say I’m a little more excited than I was when I started posting this piece, a little…
    The Braves have an uncanny ability to find talent others look over. Could this be another example?

    • Sealift67

      I don’t think FO cares much about his age. Every few years they sign a
      back up catcher. Doumit is not viable in this role. I am going to check into
      his defense stats and scouting reports, as it appears the FO views
      Bello as an experienced backstop who can handle pitchers.

  • fireboss

    It seems we suddenly have a catcher fetish. Doumit is essentially an emergency catcher, they signed Steven Lerud who looks a lot like Bello on paper considering the decline of the Cuban league as Ryan noted below. You might say the same of Braeden Schlehuber working his way up the minors and at Mississippi the latter part or last year and they have career minor leaguer Jose Yepez who catches well enough but can’t hit a lick. In 2011 they drafted 5 catchers including Troy Snitker who they released and hit 353 last year in Independent league ball last year,. In 2012 they drafted 4 and in 2013 another 4 though Caratini was always going to be a third baseman. If Bello is indeed a minor league level player at 29 he’s not cover for Gattis, Laird or Bethancourt. After passing on involvement for Jorge Solar who has a big upside a couple of years ago it’s odd they would seek a player who looks to be essentially minor league depth.

  • Chris Headrick

    Trying to reply to both comments below by Fred and Ryan, I figured I’d just comment up top :) I think this is simply a case of “potentially” good scouting. I’ve heard the rumor too that many players in the Cuban leagues are comparable to HIgh A ball, but there have been a number of gems that stand out (despite their Cuban numbers), and it’s great to have a scout down there getting a good eye test on players like Bello. I know we are fast becoming a “numbers” oriented league, but let us never forget some things can be seen by observation, that cannot be fully discerned by mere numbers. The scouts must have seen something in Bello to make such a deal, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bello in Atlanta after a few years of developmental ball. Either way, interesting move for a pretty big backstop.

    • fireboss

      He plays at 29 this year and a few years (3?) of developmental ball would see him as a 32 yea old rookie. From 2003 -2007 he hit .233 and slugged .362 as a backup 08-09 was his best season – .286/~.317/.528 with 13 HR in 199 AB- but 09-10 slip to .253/.304/.415. I don’t care that they signed

      signed him it’s an interesting aside in an otherwise exciting signing period and reminds me of FW’s reject bin shopping of past seasons.

      • Ryan Cothran

        I think they signed him in hopes that he’ll be ready soon.

    • Ryan Cothran

      Agreed. The Braves have been superb at looking past the numbers: Luis Avilan, Jonny Venters, and Eric O’Flaherty are just a few that had underwhelming numbers in the Minors that have had serious success in the Majors.

  • carpengui

    Put me into a camp thinking Bello is a “very young 29″ for a catcher. I doubt he’s been playing very much over the past couple of years – at least. That, of course, should raise the next question: just how rusty is he? I think we’ll just have to watch closely… and certainly the staff will get to do just that since they gave him a spring ticket.