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.
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) March 2, 2014
According to an article posted around the same time as the tweet, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com 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.