The Padres are preparing to go well beyond their international bonus pool this year, with a mixture of million-dollar 16-year-old signings from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela as well as an aggressive push into the Cuban market.
There are two Cuban players in particular that the Padres are likely to sign once they become free agents: right fielder Jorge Ona and lefthander Adrian Morejon. Both players performed well in the Cuban junior leagues, dominated at their most recent international tournaments before leaving Cuba and are among the top young Cuban prospects off the island right now. Since the Padres are planning to over their international bonus pool when the 2016-17 period opens on July 2, Ona and Morejon would have to wait until July 2 to officially sign with San Diego.
Ona, 19, crushed the COPABE 18U Pan American Championship in September 2014 in Mexico, where he hit four homers in eight games and went 14-for-22 to lead the tournament in batting average (.636) and slugging (1.364) and also walked eight times. At around 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Ona has a compact righthanded swing with good bat speed and plus raw power, showing the ability to drive the ball with authority to all fields. His arm is another above-average tool that fits well in right field. Given his present ability, Ona would likely be ready to go to a low Class A team.
While the Cubs were once seen as the favorites to sign Morejon, that no longer appears to be the case with the Padres jumping into the mix. Even though Morejon is just 16 (he turns 17 at the end of the month), he’s expected to command an even bigger bonus than Ona. Morejon would easily be the best pitching prospect on the traditional July 2 market if he were from Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, standing out for his combination of stuff and feel for pitching well beyond his years. Despite his youth, he’s advanced enough to pitch in a Rookie-level complex league in the United States right now and could move quickly due to his relative polish.
Morejon is only around 5-foot-11, but his fastball recently has been consistently in the low-90s, backing it up with a curveball that could become a plus pitch and a changeup he has quickly shown feel for already, along with a good delivery. In Cuba’s 15U league in 2014, Morejon led the league by far in strikeouts with 113 in 68 innings, posting a 1.93 ERA and 40 walks. Later that year, Morejon was the MVP of the 15U World Cup in Mexico after throwing a complete game with 12 strikeouts and one walk in Cuba’s 6-3 victory over the United States in the gold-medal game. There’s a video of Morejon here with highlights from that tournament.
Adding Ona, Morejon, potentially other Cuban players and a strong haul from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela would be a major boost to the Padres’ farm system, which ranks No. 25 in baseball. When the 2016-17 signing period opens on July 2, Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario and Venezuelan shortstops Gabriel Arias, Justin Lopez and Livan Soto are all expected to sign with the Padres for bonuses of at least $1 million. The Nationals, Braves and Cardinals are also among the other teams expected to surpass their 2016-17 international bonus pools.