International Signing Period Starts

The beginning of the international signing period is like the draft was 25 years ago, shrouded in secrecy even on the opening day, when players 16 years old and up all over the globe can sign with clubs.

Only the players have no known statistics, and scouts in the Dominican and Venezuela sometimes only bear down on a player for three or four days before reaching a decision to sign them. There are exceptions, such as when clubs find a way to hide players at their academies, but that’s another story.

Either way the international scene takes scouting to a whole new level. So let’™s get to some names for an update on what’™s happening:

Dominican outfielder Kelvin DeLeon has signed with the Yankees as expected, for a bonus between $1.6 and $1.8 million according to several sources. Yankees officials did not immediately return calls to confirm the signing.

Colombian righthander Julio Teheran is still considered the top pitcher in this year’™s international class and remains linked to the Braves. The 16-year-old righthander pounds the zone with an 88-91 mph fastball, and also features an above-average curveball and plus changeup–which is easily his best offering.

The Braves have also been on the elusive lefthander Carlos Flores, who we originally reported on Friday as a 16-year-old from Barquisimeto. But according to several scouts based in Venezuela, Flores is 19 or possibly 20 years old and his buscone, Martin Hernandez, claims that the lefthander and his parents had a parting of ways and moved Flores to Fort Lauderdale so more teams could see him.

But the Braves are the only club in on Flores, according to one source, and he could command close to $2 million. “We call him ‘˜Fantasma’™ because that’™s exactly what he is–he’™s a Phantom,” one international scouting director said. “We’™ve followed up and tried to see him, but it’™s always met with some kind of opposition. That’™s one way of how you know a deal is done with somebody down here.”

Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez is actually 16 and unlike Flores, a lot of teams know he actually exists. Reports have varied on Perez, however, with some scouts saying his fastball was 89-90 with a solid-average curveball and others saying he was 82-86 with a 62 mph curve.

The Red Sox were in on Dominican shortstop/third baseman Michael Almanzar all spring and are reportedly set to sign the 16-year-old offensive-minded third baseman, who projects to hit for plus power. The Sox declined comment Sunday regarding Almanzar, though according to several sources the deal is done for $1.5 million.

The Yankees were also on Asuni Baez, but the Dominican shortstop reportedly changed his name after it was revealed he was 18 and posing as a 16-year-old. “He’™s got a great body, good hands and range, but after they found out he was older they dropped the bonus money,” another scout in the Dominican Republic said. Baez’™s buscone was looking for a signing bonus in the $1.8-1.9 million range.

The largest players on the international market were also after 16-year-old outfielder Henry Pena. The lefthanded-hitting Pena has a thick lower half, which will relegate him to a corner spot almost immediately, but has above-average power potential.

Clubs were also all over Dominican third baseman Bernardo Villar, a thick-bodied 5-foot-9 infielder with a nice, short line-drive stroke. Villar played his amateur career in the D.R. as a catcher, but several teams like him better on the corner.

“He’™s got a nice, easy swing,” an international scouting director from an American League club said. “The ball really gets off his bat and he can use the whole field, which is something advanced at this stage. His body kind of looks like someone sawed him in half–(he’™s) real stocky. But I like his approach and the way he goes about it. Big arm strength, OK hands and I think power could come.”

The latest name to jump on the radar is Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Noriega. The Reds were reportedly in on Noriega early, but the Mariners upped the offer to $800,000.

“He’™s got a 60 arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with good hands,” another scout based in Venezuela said. “I have a feeling he’™s going to get big. He’™s 5-foot-11, 180 pounds now, but I just think he’™s going to thicken out and move to third base or maybe even first. His body looks like (Orioles first baseman) Chris Gomez right now. He takes a nice BP, but doesn’™t carry that over into games. He needs to learn some pitch recognition, like big time.”

We’™ll update international signings as they happen, and if you have any questions or comments, please e-mail chriskline@baseballamerica.com.

International | #2007 #International Affairs

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