Lefthander Adrian Morejon, one of the most promising young Cuban pitchers off the island, signed with the Padres today for $11 million, boosting an already formidable international signing class for the organization. Since the Padres have already exceeded their international bonus pool and will have to pay a 100 percent overage tax next year, signing Morejon will essentially cost the Padres $22 million. MLB.com first reported the signing.
If Morejon (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) had been in the United States, his talent likely would have made him a first-round pick. The caveat there is that he’s only 17, so he’s still the same age as the rising high school seniors who will get picked in next year’s draft.
Since Morejon is 17, he could start playing right away. However, his contract is structured as a 2017 contract, which means he won’t pitch in any official games this season. Instead, for the next two months, Morejon will pitch in simulated games against hitters at the Padres’ academy in the Dominican Republic—with plenty of talented hitters for him to face from their big July 2 class—before heading to Arizona in September for instructional league. By signing Morejon to a 2017 contract, the Padres will have an extra year before they will have to make a decision on whether to place him on the 40-man roster, and since Morejon won’t be playing any games in the U.S. this year, he should save a substantial amount of money in taxes. Morejon should be ready to make his official pro debut in a full-season league next year, likely at one of the Class A levels.
Morejon, who became a free agent on Wednesday, pitched in Cuba’s 15U national league for Mayabeque in 2014. He was by far the league leader in strikeouts with 113 in 68 innings (15.0 K/9) and posted a 1.93 ERA with 40 walks. Then in August that year, Morejon was the MVP of the 15U World Cup in Mexico, where he was teammates with outfielders Lazaro Armenteros and Jonatan Machado. In that tournament, Morejon threw 124 pitches in a complete-game, 6-3 victory over the United States in the gold medal game with 12 strikeouts and one walk.
At that time, Morejon was a 15-year-old impressed scouts with his easy delivery and feel for pitching, with a fastball that mostly sat in the upper-80s and touched 91 along with the ability to spin a good curveball for his cage. Since arriving in the Dominican Republic, Morejon has seen his fastball increase to sit in the low-90s and touch 95 mph, showing good feel for both his curveball and changeup, with a chance for both offspeed pitches to develop into above-average offerings. He technically throws two different types of changeups, one of which is a knuckle-change with late diving action, while the other is a more traditional changeup with sink and run. It’s a repertoire to profile as a starter with a smooth delivery and clean arm action.
“I think he’s pretty close to mature physically, but there’s definitely some polish and stuff there,” said one international director. “It’s evident how controlled that is, the fluidity to his delivery. You don’t usually see that much ease to repeat at that age. The stuff is pretty good too. He’s got very good feel for a breaking ball and a changeup that’s good too.”
The Padres skyrocketed past their international bonus pool when the 2016-17 signing period opened on July 2. The organization signed eight of Baseball America’s Top 50 international prospects, including three of the top six. Dominican shortstop Luis Almanzar (No. 2), Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Arias (No. 4) and Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario (No. 6) were their most prominent signings.
The Padres are also the favorites to sign 20-year-old Cuban right fielder Jorge Ona, who has been training with Morejon. Ona is still waiting for Major League Baseball to clear him to sign.