OAKLAND, Calif. – Dale Sveum licked his fingers and spun the NFL football in his hands, flicking it up in the air. On the Fourth of July, the Cubs manager sat in an office desk chair and remembered coming here to the Oakland Coliseum to play for a title as a Pinole Valley High School quarterback.
“28-nothing. Butt-whupping,” Sveum said. “My 16th birthday that day. Got my license, won the championship and then my dad made me go right straight home.”
That would be the same age as Eloy Jimenez, Baseball America’s No. 1 international prospect who’s reportedly finalizing a $2.8 million deal with the Cubs. This is where the franchise is trying to make a splash.
“How things have changed,” Sveum said with a laugh. “I was a first-round pick and got a hundred grand and had all kinds of bargaining power.”
Sveum grew up in the East Bay as a huge Raiders fan. He turned down a scholarship to play two sports at Arizona State University and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers after being chosen 25th overall in the 1982 draft.
Leading up to other major personnel decisions, Sveum has watched video of players targeted by the front office, such as $30 million Cuban defector Jorge Soler and this year’s No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant. But the manager hasn’t seen anything on these Latin American prospects.
Beyond Jimenez, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound outfielder in the Dominican Republic, the Cubs have also reportedly reached an agreement with Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres ($1.7 million), the No. 2 prospect on Baseball America’s list.
This class is viewed as talented and deep enough that the Cubs traded for almost $1 million in additional signing bonus pool money through a series of deals this week.
“It’s like a whole ‘nother draft to be able to pick the best international players,” Sveum said, “knowing supposedly there’s some really, really special talent out there right now. To be able to spend the money and get those guys, it’s kind of like what we just went through with the draft. The difference is you can take 16-year-old kids.”
It will take years before anyone has an idea of whether or not these kids can play at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs are making their bets in Latin America.