D-backs’ Tomas only looks forward
PHOENIX — Like other Cuban emigres, Yasmany Tomas moved by boat from his homeland to Haiti, in this case, for sanctuary. The trip was "uncomfortable," he shared. That was then.
This is now. In black trainers, a small band around his right wrist and gray D-backs t-shirt that bulged in places you might expect from a power hitter, Tomas did not elaborate further on his defection during his first meeting with local media since he signed a six-year, $68.5 million contract in December.
Let the assimilation begin.
Tomas is the latest in the line of recent Cuban power prospects that includes Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. But he hardly considers that a burden. Quite the opposite.
"I believe I have no pressure at all," Tomas, 24, said through interpreter Ariel Prieto, who joined the D-backs’ coaching staff this season "I believe the team signed me with that kind of money because they believe in me, so I’m going to try to give them my best.
"I want to try to follow those guys, because they already have some results here. I want to do the same thing. I have a goal, and my goal is to have the same result they have before."
Tomas had 16 and 15 home runs in 2012 and 2013 before dropping to six last season before leaving in June. A reported wrist injury could have affected his production. One of the youngest of the power group, Tomas will play the entire 2015 season at 24. Puig signed at 21 and made his major league debut in 2013 at 22.
Cespedes played his first season with the A’s at 26 and Abreu was 27 last year, when he hit 36 homers as the American League rookie of the year.
"That’s my focus. That’s what I try to do," Tomas said of Abreu.
Stewart is taking it slower, reiterating again Thursday that Tomas could open the season in the minor leagues if necessary.
"I don’t really want to place expectations on him," Stewart said. "What I’d like for him to do is do what he is capable of doing. If he does what he is capable of doing, then we are going to be fine. To place expectations on a young player coming in here for the first time, I think that is unfair to the player.
"What we have to do is get him adjusted, get him into spring training, see what he does in spring training and then go from there. We want him to play in the big leagues for us coming out of spring training, but once again we’re not opposed to him getting some adjustment time at the minor league level if we have to. But we want him to be on our big league team."
Tomas played third base, DH and both corner outfield positions during his 4-1/2 seasons with the Industriales of the top Cuban league Serie Nacional, and the D-backs will give him a long look at third base, where he took ground balls during his first two days at the D-backs’ Salt River Fields training complex.
Stewart said he was impressed with Tomas’ actions at the position during two trips to observe his workouts in the Dominican Republic, where Tomas settled after leaving Haiti. Manager Chip Hale, coaches Andy Green and Dave McKay and minor league infield instructor Tony Perezchica will help with the details.
"Since we’ve been here and had our guys have their hands on him and their eyes on him, he’s made adjustments," Stewart said. "He’s a very, very smart man. He’s really taking in the information that is being given to him and applying it immediately. We don’t think it is going to be an easy transition, but we think he’s going to be able to play the position. What we are seeing at this moment is promising."
At the same time, the D-backs will not force the fit, Stewart said, even though it works best on a roster that already have five proven outfielders.
"What we don’t want to do is have his hitting suffer because he is concentrating on being a third baseman," Stewart said. "If we feel in any way that his offense is going to lack because he is so focused on playing third base, then that is not a good decision for us as an organization. We think if the progression continues, he will be able to play third base. The true test is going to be playing games."
The D-backs understand the assimilation process will take time, but Stewart said he is confident that Tomas will handle it well.
"This kid doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke," Stewart said. "From what I know just being around maybe half a dozen times, not just at the ballpark but away from the ballpark, he’s a great young man. Mature, in my opinion, past 24 years old.
"There is a support system for him. I think any time you come here … if I went to Cuba and it was just me, I’d need something, a crutch to lean on. I think Ariel will serve as that crutch, but this kid is a very well-rounded young man. Getting here was an experience in himself."