- Tomas, one of the top young power hitters in Cuba and a member of the national team, left the island to pursue a contract with a Major League team.
Yasmany played five seasons in Serie Nacional, so he was exempt from the international bonus pools—even when the new rules kicked in on July 2, 2014, which require five seasons instead of three for pool exemption.
Tomas was arguably one of the top 10 players left in Cuba in terms of Major League potential, and one of the top half dozen players who meet MLB’s 23-and-5 rules, the sweet spot for a signing unencumbered by the pools.
In 2013, Tomas was 6-for-16 (.375) for Cuba with two homers and 5 RBIs in the World Baseball Classic.
In the spring of 2015, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Tomas as the 4th-best prospect in the D'Backs organization.
In his first Major League season (2015), Tomas got extra work in the cage with hitting coach Turner Ward, and Dave McKay has worked with him on his outfield play. In addition, the athletic training staff has him on a workout program they hope will help him with his agility.
The transition from Cuba to professional baseball was not an easy one. First there's learning a new culture and a language barrier. On top of that, the way they prepare for games in Cuba is much different.
In the U.S., players arrive early in the clubhouse—some have argued too early—and wind up spending a lot of time watching movies, playing video games or reading. "In Cuba, they go to the field one hour before batting practice," said Tomas's translator, Ariel Prieto, who pitched in Cuba before spending six years in the Majors. "They do everything one thing after the other. They get there, they get dressed, stretch, batting practice, and then right into the game."
Prieto helped ease the transition for Yoenis Cespedes when he joined the A's in 2012, when Chip Hale served as bench coach. That gives Hale a little bit more of an understanding about what Tomas is dealing with, but he cautions that the two are different people and Cespedes was 26 when he came over, while Tomas is 24.
The increased time spent at the field and the longer season took its toll on Cespedes in his first year with the A's. So if Tomas plays less right now, maybe it will be a good thing.
"That was one thing with Yoenis in Oakland: After about 100 games in his first year, it was really tough on him," Hale said. "This way, I guess we're going to get the back 100 games with Yasmany. He's learning the routine and he's learning to be a big league player. He'll have a little easier time than Yoenis did because he was thrown right into the lineup." (Gilbert - mlb.com - 4/19/15)
In 2015, when Tomas reported for his first Major League Spring Training, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said he "needs to get in better shape."
Tomas lost his starting third-baseman job to Jake Lamb and was subsequently optioned to Triple-A Reno in order to get more at-bats. Looking to play the outfield, Tomas spent his offseason in Arizona to achieve his goal. The 25-year-old came into his second spring looking slimmer, a direct result of the workouts. It's something that has encouraged Hale. After spending time at first base, third base, left field, and right field as a rookie, Tomas is expected to primarily play left field in 2016.
"I wouldn't even call it weight loss," Hale said. "I would simply call it weight redistribution. He's a very strong human being. He's moving better. A lot of that was the agility drills he did, and a lot of that is just being comfortable out in the outfield."
Tomas tailed off towards the end of 2015, with his batting average and overall production dropping off in each month from July through the end of the season. Some of it is understandable—after all, it can take a newcomer a while to adjust to a full, 162-game schedule. Another part of it, and something Hale said Tomas will work on, is conditioning.
"[First-base coach] Dave [McKay] and [assistant hitting coach Mark Grace] really got to him," Hale said. "They worked really hard in the pregame workouts at getting his stance more into his legs and more balanced, where he can see the ball better and not strike out because he puts the barrel on the ball." (F Ardaya - MLB.com - March 26, 2016)
Yasmany's 25-minute drive west to Chase Field from his home in the suburbs begins around five hours before the first pitch and starts with a phone call to Havana, Cuba, two minutes into the ride. Tomas says he's usually silent for the first 30 seconds of the call.
"Yasme," the voice on the other end of the line often says, "I'm glad you called. Today will be better than yesterday. Tomorrow will be better than today. Don't worry, Yasmito, everything is going to be OK. You just need to be more patient at the plate. And why haven't you called me in two days?"
"Sorry, Mom," Tomas usually answers. "We've been on the road and we got in late." The D-backs outfielder and his mother Melba Rosa Bacallao are separated by hundreds and often thousands of miles. But the pair remains connected with afternoon phone calls from Tomas while he cruises the Arizona highways and with video chats from the slugger's kitchen in Chandler, Ariz., or from hotel rooms when the D-backs are on the road.
Tomas has not seen his mother since her month-long stay in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in December 2014. The plan was for Melba to be by her son's side when he signed the six-year, $68.5 million deal with the D-backs, but her flight from Havana was delayed and she didn't arrive until a few hours after the deal was made official.
"I wanted her to be there to see her son make his dream come true," Tomas said in Spanish. "She raised me and did everything for me. I wanted her to see that I made the right decision to leave Cuba."
"One of the hardest things about leaving my country behind is not being to see my family and hug my mother," Tomas said. "Imagine somebody that raised you since you were a baby, watched all of your baseball games since you were five years old, and loved you unconditionally. Then not seeing that person anymore or having that person at your games. It's very hard, but that's part of life and the path I chose to be here."
Tomas' cellphone is filled with photos of his mother. "Of course, I want to see her in person as soon as I can and I'm hopeful that this is the year it happens," Tomas said. "I'm becoming a resident of the United States and maybe that will help. It looks like things are improving between Cuba and the United States and maybe it will be easier to go back to Cuba in the future so I'm keeping an eye on that. I really don't know, but I hope to know more after the season ends."
Tomas's wife Melissa gave birth to their daughter Mia Isabella in November 2015. He also has a young daughter named Analia back in Cuba from a previous relationship. He can't wait for the day Melba holds Mia Isabella in her arms.
"I think my mother is proud of the man I have become," Tomas said. "She tells me all the time that I have my own family and my own kids. And to be a good father because that's my most important job. She's right. I have been listening to her advice my entire life." (Sanchez - MLB.com - 5/5/16)
November 27, 2014: At age 24, Tomas signed with the Diamondbacks, a six-year, $68.5 million contract, via scout De Jon Watson.
Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart says, "The opportunity to find a power bat like Tomas does not come along very often and we are extremely excited for him to join the D-backs. We believe that he can have a real impact on our lineup in the years to come."
The pact includes an opt-out clause after four years.
In total dollars among Cuban players, Tomas's deal falls just short of the $72.5 million, seven-year contract agreed to in August between Rusney Castillo and the Boston Red Sox. Tomas's $11.4 million average is about the same as Jose Abreu's $11.3 million average in the $68 million, six-year deal he agreed to with the White Sox in October 2011.