|THIS YEAR’S CROP|
|*****||One for the
|**||Not up to
|*||Nothing to see
In 1994, Puerto Rico produced two first-round picks and a second-rounder. Six Puerto Ricans were drafted in the first five rounds in 2003. Those are the two best performances by the island in the draft in the last 15 years, but it looks like this year’s class could rival them.
The reaction from scouts after the wide-scale February workout that served as an unofficial kickoff to the amateur scouting season suggested this year’s class could be promising.
“It ranks up there,” said a scout with an American League team. “It’s probably one of the better years since I’ve been covering the area (about 10 years) . . . There are a lot of position guys this year. The pitching hasn’t been that great–just four or five guys that would be perfect draft-and-follows, 86-90 righthanders with fringy breaking balls.”
Of course, the draft-and-follow process will become a thing of the past thanks to the Aug. 15 signing date, so the number of players signed out of Puerto Rico is almost certain to increase this year, regardless of how good the talent is. But most scouts agree the talent level is on the upswing.
“The talent went through a down cycle a couple of years ago, but I think it’s starting to get better a little bit,” one scout said.
It’s the island’s impact potential that makes this year exciting, however. The consensus is that as many as five players could be drafted in the top six rounds, and unlike years past when Puerto Rican players were overdrafted as bargain picks, players such as Angel Morales, Neftali Soto and Reynaldo Navarro have the tools and ability to warrant a high pick.
The class could get even better, as teams were waiting to hear the status of a 17-year-old switch-hitting infielder named Fernando Cruz. Cruz has been home-schooled and is a junior by classification, but he has petitioned the commissioner’™s office to enter the draft this year. If he’s successful, he not only would add to the trio of premium talent, but he also could be the most talented player of the bunch.
“If he’s not eligible, he’s going to be a first- or second-round follow going into spring of next year,” said another AL scout who attended a May combine in Puerto Rico where Cruz had his coming-out party in front of more than 50 scouts. Cruz is more physically mature than most other Puerto Rican prospects, and scouts project him to hit for at least average power with an above-average arm and solid-average defensive skills, profiling at third base.
|National Top 200
|Other Prospects Of
4. Emmanuel Quiles, c, Jose Siverio Delgado
5. Efrain Nieves, lhp, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
6. Juan Garcia, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
7. Alexis Oliveras, of, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
8. Gaspar Santiago, lhp, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
9. Joel Morales, rhp, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
10. Jonathan Rodriguez, 3b, Padre Rufo HS
|1. Reynaldo Navarro,
ss (National rank:
Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
Report: A February workout in Puerto Rico drew several
dozen scouts, and Angel Morales and Neftali Soto were the two prospects
to show the most potential. But when even more scouts showed up for a
predraft workout on the island in May, it was the slick-fielding
Navarro who earned accolades. He swings the bat with authority, hitting
line drives to left field with plus bat speed. He is susceptible to
balls on the outer half, as he tends to cheat on the inside pitch, but
he shows a willingness to spread out and use the middle of the field
with two strikes, so it’s reasonable to think Navarro can refine his
overall approach. He has flashy, natural actions up the middle, and
other than improving his consistency on routine, Navarro’s defensive
package is his most appealing asset. He has a fringe-average arm. He’s
a solid-average runner. Navarro could be drafted as early as the second
|2. Neftali Soto, 3b
Colegio Marista HS, Manati, P.R. Class:
Report: Of Puerto Rico’s three most established
prospects, Soto has the best present hitting ability, showing more
power than Reynoldo Navarro and making better contact than Angel
Morales. Unlike those two, Soto isn’™t expected to stay in the middle of
the diamond. He’s an adequate defender with solid-average arm strength
who has improved his lateral quickness and running since last fall, but
ultimately Soto’s bat is going to have to carry him. He has a
rudimentary feel for the strike zone, with a willingness to work
counts. He has a whippy swing with plus bat speed, though his swing
gets long at times. Balls jump off his barrel, and if he can continue
to make adjustments he might develop into a heart-of-the-order slugger
with lots of doubles and 25 home runs a
|3. Angel Morales, of
Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
Report: Morales raised his profile when he performed
well at a pair of Perfect Game events in Florida, first in Jupiter in
October and again in January in Fort Myers. He was the talk of Puerto
Rico a month later when a bevy of scouts attended a workout in
February, but the more he has been evaluated, the less certain scouts
become about his swing and future as a hitter. He approach changes from
at-bat to at-bat. He leaks out on his front side, flies open and has a
huge hole on the outer half of the strike zone. His pitch recognition
and plate discipline are below-average. He does, however, have good bat
speed, and when he squares up balls they jump off his bat. He’s further
along in center field, where his above-average speed and graceful
actions profile well. He has a 55 arm on the 20-80 scale. Teams that
believe Morales can make strides at the plate could show interest in
drafting him as early as the second round, though his holes make him
more of a fourth-round
Because of Emmanuel Quiles’
strong catch and throw skills, he was on the cusp of cracking BA’s Top
200 Prospects list, and he could be drafted in the fifth to eighth
He has both strength and flexibility in his compact frame, which looks
right at home in catcher’s gear. He has a plus arm, and his throws have
carry through the bag at second base. His transfer can be clumsy,
usually when he tries to make it too quickly, but he trusts his hands
and receives well. Of Puerto Rico’s top talent this year, only
Soto stands out as a hitter with discipline and feel for the
strike zone, and Quiles is like most of his peers in that he’s a free
swinger. He has some pop, and sent one fastball about 390 feet during
the May combine.
Lefthanders Efrain Nieves and Gaspar Santiago are
the top two pitchers in the class. Santiago threw well at the World
Wood Bat fall championship in Jupiter, Fla., last fall, and again at a
Baseball Factory showcase in Phoenix in January, but he has backed up
since. His fastball ranges from 86-90 mph and his breaking ball is
loopy and soft. He has some effort to his delivery and his command is
below-average. Nieves, meanwhile, shows a controlled delivery with tempo and rhythm.
His fastball was clocked at 86-88 mph during an impressive outing in
May that raised his stock. He has a slider that shows occasional plus
break and a usable changeup.