State Report: Puerto Rico

Son of a big leaguer leads decent group of players






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
With talk of an international draft possibly being on the horizon, opponents of the idea often point to Puerto Rico as evidence that it would be bad for the sport in a country that becomes subject to a draft. Until 1989, Puerto Rican players signed on the open market, as players do now in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other foreign countries. The change was made in an effort to curb bonus payments to Puerto Rican players, and while it accomplished that goal, many in the game cited it as a reason for a decline in the talent Puerto Rico has produced since then.

Puerto Rico had 55 players drafted in 1989, and has had 26, 22 and 17 players selected in each of the last three drafts. The island has certainly produced its share of standout big leaguers, however, including Jose Vidro, Javier Vazquez, the Molina brothers, Carlos Beltran, Alexis Rios, Edwin Encarnacion and Geovany Soto. And the reasons for baseball's decline are probably more complex than simply whether players have been drafted or not.

While 2010 is not a great year for Puerto Rican talent, scouts did find plenty of interesting storylines and tools, including a son of a former big leaguer as the top prospect.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Dickie Joe Thon, ss, Academia del Perpetuo Socorro HS, San Juan (National rank: 199)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

2. Eddie Rosario, of, Rafael Lopez Landron HS, Guayama
3. Henry Ramos, of, Alfonso Casta Martinez HS, Maunabo
4. Omar Cotto, of, Bonneville School, Bayamon
5. Roberto Pena, c, Eloisa Pascual HS, Caguas
6. Noel Cuevas, of, Universidad Interamericana JC
7. Alexander Claudio, lhp, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos
8. Yadiel Rivera. ss, Manuel Toro HS, Caguas
9. Ivan DeJesus, of, Cupeyville School, San Juan
10. Kelvin Rivas, rhp, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo
11. Luis Benitez, rhp, Next Level America Academy, San Juan
12. Anthony Feliciano, rhp, no school
13. Kaleth Fradera, rhp, Universidad de Puerto Rico
14. Osvaldo Cortes, of, Puerto Rico  Baseball Academy, Gurabo
15. Marcos Derkes, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo

SCOUTING REPORTS

Dickie Joe Thon, ss
Academia Perpetio Socorro, San Juan, P.R.

The best player in Puerto Rico has a familiar name in shortstop Dickie Joe Thon. The son of the former big leaguer, the younger Thon is a little bigger than his father at 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. Thon was born in Houston and grew up there before moving to Puerto Rico for high school. Despite being the son of a big leaguer, he isn't the polished product some may expect. That's because he hasn't focused solely on baseball yet. Thon is a great athlete who also competes in basketball, volleyball and track and field. He isn't a flashy defender, but makes all the routine plays. He has good feet, soft hands and an above-average arm. His bat is a little inconsistent right now, but he profiles as a good top-of-the-order hitter. He has gap power and could grow into some home run power as he continues to fill out and drives more balls. Thon is an average runner out of the box, but is above-average under way. He has good baseball instincts and projects to steal 20-30 bases a year. Signability is the biggest question with Thon because his father apparently wants him to attend Rice. It could take seven figures to buy him out of school, so teams could just wait to see if Thon will blossom into a first-rounder three years from now.

Hitters Make Scouts Look Into Their Crystal Balls

Outfielder Eddie Rosario is the best pure hitter on the island. Rosario, who is 6 feet, 170 pounds, will get a shot to go out as a center fielder, but profiles better in a corner. He's an average runner with a strong arm, and his lefthanded bat will play enough for right field. He has a sound approach at the plate, drawing one comparison to Bobby Abreu. Rosario won't be a huge power hitter, but could hit 12-15 home runs a year when he fills out and gets stronger.

While Rosario is the best pure hitter, the best power belongs to switch-hitting outfielder Henry Ramos, who stands 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds with a strong, athletic frame. He is relatively new to baseball, spending most of his youth as a soccer player, and his power shows up more during batting practice than in games. When he connects the ball jumps off his bat and goes a long way. Rosario is a below-average runner but is athletic enough and has the arm strength to play right field. He has good makeup and just needs to play every day in order to turn his tools into performance.

Center fielder Omar Cotto has blazing speed, regarded by scouts as a legitimate 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. At the island's annual Excellence Tournament in May, Cotto ran a 6.29-second 60-yard dash. But speed and defense are his only standout tools at the moment. He has a below-average arm and is a weak hitter. If he learns how to put the ball in play consistently he'll be an offensive threat, though, because of his game-changing speed. He is a switch-hitter and shows some bat speed from the right side of the plate, while he's more of a slap hitter from the left. Cotto made a late commitment to Southern California.

Puerto Rico is known for its long lineage of catching talent, and Roberto Pena is the best catcher this year. A converted shortstop, he has been behind the dish for two years now and is already an advanced defender. He can really catch and throw with quick feet, a smooth transfer and above-average pop times down to second base. Pena's father Bert spent six seasons in the big leagues with the Astros as a teammate of Dickie Thon (whose son is the island's top prospect this year). Another switch-hitter, Pena is better from the right side, but some scouts say he won't hit enough to be a regular. His defensive skills mean he could at least be a backup. He plays hard, shows good leadership and enjoys playing. Pena profiles as a seventh-  to 10th-rounder on talent, but he could go higher because of his defensive skills, signability and position scarcity.

A year older than most as the rare junior college prospect from Puerto Rico, 6-foot-2, 190-pound Noel Cuevas offers intriguing raw power. He has holes in his swing, so his thump doesn't always show up in games, but he can put on a show in batting practice. He's an above-average runner but has a below-average arm, meaning he's likely destined for left field. He's a hard worker with great makeup, and like many players from Puerto Rico just needs to get more at-bats and learn how to handle better pitching.

Yadiel Rivera has a lean, athletic 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame. He's a legitimate shortstop with great range and smooth actions. He's an average runner and his arm is a little light for the left side of the infield, but he shows slick glovework. His swing is inconsistent and he doesn't have much strength yet, but his bat could come around when he adds muscle to his projectable frame. His offensive growth will determine whether he can start up the middle or serve as a reserve or utilityman.

Angel Gomez is a strong, 6-foot-2, 170-pound switch-hitter with some power. He has played right field and third base, but profiles as a left fielder because he's not a standout runner or thrower. He has a slight uppercut to his swing and can get a little long, but the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact.

Center fielder Ivan DeJesus doesn't have one standout tool but can do a little bit of everything, with average tools across the board. He's a good athlete at 6 feet and 170 pounds and can play all three outfield spots. He's a gap hitter now, and he offers some projection as he gains strength. DeJesus is a hard worker who has committed to Alabama-Birmingham.

While the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy has produced 61 draft picks over the past decade, it doesn't offer as much this year. Outfielder Osvaldo Cortes and second baseman Marcos Derkes are the school's top prospects and have a chance to be late-round picks. Cortes is a 6.6-second runner in the 60 and a good defender in center field. He's a switch-hitter who has been concentrating on the left side to get the most out of his quickness. Derekes is rail thin and another above-average runner with a chance to hit as he fills out. He's another switch-hitter who is better from the left side, and he could move to center field as a pro.

Not Much Velocity Or Polish Among Arms

It's not a good year for pitching in Puerto Rico. The most complete pitcher is lefthander Alexander Claudio. He's a string bean at 6-foot-3 and 160 pounds, but scouts see projection in his build. He has a quiet, controlled delivery and currently sits 84-85 mph, touching 87. His changeup is a decent pitch now, while his curveball is a little loopy and needs to be tightened up. If Claudio puts some meat on his bones and the added strength shows up on the mound, he could have a chance.

Among other intriguing arms on the island, righthander Anthony Feliciano was passed over as a third baseman last year and is now trying his hand at pitching. Understandably, he's just a thrower at this point, but has plenty of arm strength and reaches back for 94 mph on occasion.

Luis Benitez is in the same boat. He's also a third baseman and he prefers to be a position player, but scouts like his arm on the mound. He is also just an arm-strength guy at this point, and he can dial it up to 93 mph. His father Luis spent three years in the minor leagues, mostly with the Cubs.

Kelvin Rivas is a physically mature 6-foot-2, 220-pound righthander. He dealt with a sore arm this year, but was up to 88 mph with average secondary stuff.

Six-foot-3 righthander Kaleth Fradera was a 36th-round draft pick by the Marlins last year out of Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, but he did not sign. He has a fringy fastball and below-average secondary offerings, and he did not take a significant step forward this year so he should get drafted in the same area.