Scouting Reports: Puerto Rico

2007 MLB Draft 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.

*****One for the books
****Banner year
***Solid, not spectacular
**Not up to par
*Nothing to see here
"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 Prospects

1. Reynaldo Navarro, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.
2. Neftali Soto, 3b, Colegio Marista HS, Manati, P.R.
3. Angel Morales, of, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R.

Other Prospects Of Note

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

Scouting Reports

1. Reynaldo Navarro, ss (National rank: 134)
School: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R. Class: Sr.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 160. Birthdate: 12/22/89.
Scouting 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 round.

2. Neftali Soto, 3b (National rank: 140)
School: Colegio Marista HS, Manati, P.R. Class: Sr.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Birthdate: 2/28/89.
Scouting 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 year.

3. Angel Morales, of (National rank: 197)
School: Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Guaynabo, P.R. Class: Sr.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 187. Birthdate: 11/24/89.
Scouting 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 talent.

Supplemental Strength

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 round. 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.