State Report: Caribbean

Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands could produce rare premium arm




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THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Rating compares this year's group to what a state typically produces, not to other states
Puerto Rico, as well as Canada and other U.S. possessions such as the Virgin Islands, became part of the draft in 1989, and scouts have long lamented the downward spiral of the quality of amateur talent from the commonwealth ever since.

However, Puerto Rico has produced plenty of talent for the 2011 draft. It's just that the two top Puerto Rican prospects, shortstops Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, both moved to Florida and will be drafted as the Sunshine State's top prospects.

Righthander Jorge Lopez is left behind as the island's top draft prospect, with outfielder Gabriel Rosa moving into consideration for the first three or four rounds. Rosa plays at the International Baseball Academy, a new rival to the more established, MLB-sponsored Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. The IBA has two of the better prospects in this year's class, while the PRBA has greater depth. Other than Lopez and Rosa, however, most players were considered 10th-round or later selections.

Scouts who have Puerto Rico also often cover the Virgin Islands, which produced a 10th-round pick last year in righthander Akeel Morris, who signed with the Mets. This year, the Virgin Islands have a similar arm in righthander Richard White, who could go in the same range as Morris.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Jorge Lopez, rhp, Academia de Milagrosa, Cayey, P.R. (National Rank: 39)
2. Gabriel Rosa, of, International Baseball Academy, Cieba, P.R. (National Rank: 118)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Michael Perez, c, Francisco Oller HS, Catano, P.R.
4. Yackel Rios, rhp, Conchita Cuevas HS, Gurabo, P.R.
5. Richard White, rhp, St. Croix Educational HS, St. Thomas, V.I.
6. Jean Delgado, ss, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos, P.R.
7. Neftali Rosario, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
8. Ismael Salgado, of, International Baseball Academy, Cieba, P.R.
9. Cristian Otero, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
10. Cesar Ogando, lhp, Caribbean JC
11. Vimeal Machin, if, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
12. Christian Diaz, of, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
13. Edwin Diaz, rhp, Santana Vocational HS, Fajardo, P.R.
14. Richard Gonzalez, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
15. Mikael Cintron, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
16. Malcon Diaz, rhp, International Baseball Academy, Cieba, P.R.
17. Joshua Correa, rhp/of, Caguas Military Academy, Caguas, P.R.
18. Victor Reyes, rhp, Asuncion Rodriguez de Sala HS, Guayanilla, P.R.

SCOUTING REPORTS

Jorge Lopez, rhp
Academia de Milagrosa, Cayey, P.R.

Lopez is the best prospect in Puerto Rico and could be the island's highest-drafted pitcher ever. (The current record-holder is Luis Atilano, 35th overall in 2003.) A volleyball player and track participant in the past, Lopez is a fine athlete who has plenty of projection remaining in his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame. He's lanky, long and loose, with a fastball that sits 89-91 mph and touches 93 regularly. Lopez also stands out for having one of the best breaking balls scouts can recall for a Puerto Rican pitcher. He has flashed an above-average curve, which doesn't have true 12-to-6 rotation but isn't far off. At times it's short and tight, and he has a feel for it that belies his age and inexperience. Lopez's athletic ability has scouts optimistic about his ability to pick up larger improvements such as a changeup as well as nuances like fielding his position. He'll have to get stronger to make good on the projections scouts have for him.

Gabriel Rosa, of
International Baseball Academy, Cieba, P.R.

The top position player in Puerto Rico in 2011, Rosa has committed to Bethune-Cookman. Scouts didn't expect him to reach college, though, as he has enough present tools to go out in the first four rounds. Two scouts compared him to former big league outfielder Juan Encarnacion for his rangy frame and solid all-around tools. He has a loose body with projection and should fill out his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame. Some scouts believe he'll have to move to a corner, while others believe the current shortstop can stay in center field. He has solid raw power and is a plus runner, though he's no burner. Rosa has bad timing habits that tend to cause him to lead with his shoulder and open up too early in his swing in an attempt to pull the ball. His swing path has some inconsistencies as well, and he doesn't keep his bat in the hitting zone long enough. Rosa's arm plays average. He had the kind of raw power that could allow him to wow a team at a pre-draft workout and push him up a team's draft board.

Intriguing Power Arms Get Attention

Jorge Lopez stands out from the pack because of his combination of arm strength, projection and breaking ball. Three pitchers in the area throw harder than Lopez, however.

Yackel Rios is just 17 and has a projectable 6-foot-4 frame. Scouts have seen the righthander sit in the 90-93 mph range for short spurts. He's a converted third baseman who hasn't been pitching for long, as shown by his inconsistent, below-average breaking ball and nascent changeup.

Lefthander Cesar Ogando is a physical 6-foot-3 18-year-old who was eligible for the draft last year but wasn't selected. He's playing at a local junior college and touched 94 mph in the Excellence Games, a showcase event, in early May.

The Virgin Islands' top talent, righthander Richard White, has a lot of effort in his delivery but has a loose, quick arm that has helped him touch 94 mph. He more regularly sits in the 90-91 mph range. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, he's a slightly more physical version of Akeel Morris, the Mets 10th-rounder out of the Virgin Islands last year.

Outfielder Ismael Salgado is the island's fastest player, having turned in 3.7-second times to first on drag bunts. He's wiry at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds and his overall game resembles that of Adrian Ortiz, who was a two-time fifth-round pick both out of Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and later out of Pepperdine. Salgado doesn't figure to go as high as he lacks present strength, making evaluations about his bat all projection.

Puerto Rico's top infield prospects are Jean Delgado and Cristian Otero. Delgado is smallish at 5-foot-11, 150 pounds and has middle infield actions. He lacks strength, but that doesn't stop him from taking a big hack and showing solid bat speed as well as good barrel awareness. His arm strength makes him profile better at second base than shortstop long term. Otero has a better chance to stay at short, has good fundamentals with his footwork and soft hands, and shows the ability to use the whole field. That's his best attribute offensively, as he shows little power.

Ten of the 26 active Puerto Ricans in the major leagues as of June 1 were catchers, and the island has a pair of catchers for 2011. Michael Perez has an attractive profile as a lefthanded-hitting backstop with a plus arm. He's relatively new to catching, so his receiving skills are raw, and he doesn't have a lot of experience catching premium stuff. However, he has a short stroke and solid bat speed, and was the most likely Puerto Rico player to challenge Lopez and Rosa for single-digit draft round consideration. Neftali Rosario has a good throwing arm, showing 1.9-second pop times, a solid body at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, and surprising power, as he hit eight home runs this spring.