Miami – The Braves might not be sure yet what they have in newly-signed 30-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasser Gomez, but shortstop Yunel Escobar does.
Escobar, 27, said Thursday he has been friends with Gomez since he was 8-years old and roomed with him every year that they both played for the Cuban national team.
“He was the best player on the team,” Escobar said through an interpreter. “A lot of talent with the bat.”
Gomez started in center field on the 2000 Cuban Olympic team in Sydney. Escobar compared him to Boston left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a .295 hitter in his fourth season with the Red Sox.
Gomez defected from Cuba in 2008 through Mexico to California. He traveled to New York and ultimately to Miami, where he lived with Escobar. He’s now in the Dominican Republic where he hit .311 in winter ball there this past winter.
Escobar said Gomez told him now, looking back, he wish he had defected sooner.
“If he would have listened to me, he would have been here many years before,” said Escobar, who defected from Cuba in 2004 at age 21.
The Braves signed Gomez for $20,000. The club hasn’t yet secured a visa for him to get back to the United States, nor decided where he will play. The Braves are thin in the outfield in Triple-A Gwinnett after both Brent Clevlen (now on the disabled list with a sprained big toe) and Gregor Blanco recently called up to Atlanta to fill in for the injured Matt Diaz.