International Signing Period Chat with Ben Badler




Q:  Deywane from Memphis asks:
Where do Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez start next season (Low A or rookie)?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Hi everyone. If you're a baseball fan and the No. 1 thing on your mind in mid-October is recently-signed prospects from Latin America, then you're OK in my book.

Ben Badler: Low-A seems unlikely for those two players given their ages and skill sets. The DSL is possible, but Duran played this year, and given their pedigrees my bet is that they spend 2009 in extended spring training, then finish the year in the GCL, where at 16 years old they'll be probably the youngest players in the league.

 Q:  Andrew from Toronto asks:
With the Jays signing of Gustavo Pierre, SS... It is well documentated that he has a below average arm... The Jays have struggled to develop a good SS in the past years and the main issue has been throwing (see Russ Adams). Should I be worried about Gustavo's arm?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Scouts from outside the organization call it below-average or fringy, but from within the organization I've heard it called at least average. We're talking about a 16-year-old kid, so it's possible that he's gained some arm strength, but I'm inclined to go with fringy at this point. The scouts I've talked to think he'll end up in the outfield, but scouts know how difficult it is for them to project this kind of stuff for a 16-year-old kid. Hanley Ramirez played second base in the DSL when he was 17, and now he's a big league shortstop. I'm not saying he's any great shakes there, just that it's difficult to make accurate future position projections for players this young. There's probably about six years between now and the point when we can think about Pierre making a big league impact, so the Jays surely aren't counting on him to step in at SS for them any time soon.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Do you think that Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez were first or second round talents?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I have a feeling this may turn into a Reds-centric chat, if only because of the interest in Duran and Rodriguez and the amount of money they spend this year. I don't think anyone in this market, save for maybe Inoa, is a 2008 first-round talent. I wouldn't buy any of the rhetoric a team sends out about "we paid him $X million, which is the equivalent of a top 15 overall draft pick" or anything of that ilk. Maybe in 2010 if these kids were eligible for the draft they could be first-round picks, but I highly, highly doubt that these teams would spend a first-round pick on one of these players this year with enough high-ceiling, lower risk players with more extensive track records from the college, high school and Juco ranks available for the taking.

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
How would you rate the Braves' class? It seems that they are avoiding million dollar bonuses the past few years.
 A: 

Ben Badler: A pretty good group with some depth. I agree that they are avoiding the million-dollar bonuses, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily shying away from the elite players, just staying out of the higher-powered bidding wars. The Braves aren't going over slot much in the draft, so they rely on a strong group of scouts to scour Latin America for amateur talent.

 Q:  Mark from Queens asks:
Ben, if you are looking to next year, is there one international player from this years' group that will emerge like Wilmer Flores did this year? If so, who do you predict?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Roberto De La Cruz gets a lot of praise for his bat from scouts, as does Julio Morban. They each have a strong present feel for hitting, which should help them get off to strong starts as professionals.

 Q:  John from Grand Rapids asks:
Which of the Tigers' signees received the most buzz in scouting circles?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Azcona has a good package of tools. Moya was a guy that other teams were interested in, and if it ever all comes together for him, he could be a dangerous power hitter. The Tigers' signing class from last year had some strong performers in the DSL this year too.

 Q:  Shae from Upstate NY asks:
Ben, With Wright entrenched at 3b and Reyes at SS, where do you think Wilmer Flores will end up? Is there any chance they move Reyes to 2nd or try Flores at 2b, or is the OF more likely for him?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Way, way, way, way too early to be worrying about Flores' position based on the presence of anyone on the big league roster.

 Q:  Joseph Wall from Fort Worth, TX asks:
What is your opinion of Escobar, the LHP the Rangers signed? I read that he can already touch 92 mph and has good feel for a curve and change. That velocity seems pretty impressive to me for a lefty his age. Thanks for the chat.
 A: 

Ben Badler: A good lefty, good bloodlines and reasonably priced. The body is a little more mature than most Latin Americans his age, and he's usually working more in the high-80s. That is good velo for a lefty his age, and he shows the ability to spin his breaking ball already, which is obviously a good sign at that age.

 Q:  Greg from LA asks:
Has anyone ever done a statistical analysis to determine whether it makes more sense to pay for one $10M FA (say a 35 year old pitcher for a 4/$40 contract), 20 of Scott Boras' clients or 40 16 year old Dominicans?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I'm sure teams have done this analysis. However, any analysis of Latin American amateur free agents likely requires data going back to 1998, as those players would now be 26-27 years old. The problem is that the market for talent and the resources devoted to scouting in Latin America has changed so drastically in the last 10 years—and even in the last five years and the last year alone—that I would be extremely, extremely hesitant to draw any conclusions from that data or any signing bonus-based study. You can't just take the results of your regression analysis as gospel without thinking critically about the changing environment.

Ben Badler: The abridged version of the best way I think statistical analysis could help a club make better decisions in this market is to compile a database of old scouting reports of 16-year-old players based on physical attributes, health and component tools and skills, and make projections and valuations based off that, rather than analyzing players as generic widgets and estimating talent only based on old signing bonuses. Even then I'm not sold that such a method would be better than hiring good, veteran scouts and trusting their wealth of knowledge when it comes to projecting 16-year-olds.

Ben Badler: For the part about comparing Latin American free agents to major league free agents, we have some more reliable information. We know that $10 million in the major free agent market generally buys a team two marginal wins; that part is relatively easy to determine. So now you have to determine if $10 million worth of Latin American 16-year-olds is going to return more than two marginal wins in the future, which is what you get from an average player in one season. But of course, a team retains the rights to a player for his first six years of service time (including the first three years at the minimum salary). So if a team hits on one Latin American player who turns into an average big leaguer for six years, his surplus value (which is another calculation, and this is already getting long) gives the franchise a significant ROI even if it misses on the other guys it signed to get to that $10 million in spending. That doesn't mean you avoid major league free agents entirely and put all your chips into amateur talent acquisitions, but if I'm rooting for the Mariners I would have liked to have seen Bob Engel get another $3 million to spend rather than spend rather than make Carlos Silva $48 million richer. I'll add that these are far more sophisticated questions that require more care than my five-minute bulldozed chat answer, of course.

 Q:  Brandon from Charleston, WV asks:
Any word on Luis Mateo or Ismael Guillon? Are the Reds interested?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Mateo's a free agent again. I don't know how much the medical is going to affect his signing bonus, but I know there are a few teams that had pretty strong interest in him before he signed with the Giants on July 2. The word I've heard on Guillon is that he switched buscones to one of the more powerful buscones in the industry and is now looking for a whole lot more money than I thought he'd ever get. Before July 2, I thought he was going to get around $500K. Now I'm hearing he's turned down at least $800K and is looking for at least $1 million, and that's probably being conservative. The latest I've heard is that he's still unsigned, but that could change quickly.

 Q:  Mike Marinaro from Tampa, FL asks:
Is there still a major concern about the age validation of these international players?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Not as much as it used to be, but yes, this is still a very real concern, even for players who get through the document validation process. There are players from this year's class who I know some scouts are convinced are older than they purport to be because they showed up at a tryout camp two years ago saying they were 16 at the time. And it's the same for some young Latin American prospects already in the minor leagues. I'm not going to brand anyone with a Scarlet A based on rumors from scouts, but the probability of a player being older than his listed age gets weighted into any projection or evaluation I make.

 Q:  Norberto Paulino from New York asks:
Boston didn't spend as much money as they did last year, any reasons as to why Boston decided not go after the top guys? Also the young Catcher they signed, Oscar Perez, can you give us a quick scouting report on him? Thank Ben.
 A: 

Ben Badler: Well they spent $10 million in the draft and more than $1 million in Latin America, so they weren't exactly bashful in procuring amateur talent this year, though most of that distribution of bonus money leaned domestic rather than international this year. Perez gets good reviews for his defensive skills The bat has some projection but is further away.

 Q:  Henry T from Tiburon. CA asks:
Is it reasonable to expect Villalona to put up a .300 30 hr 100 rbi season with a 300/370/530 line at San Jose?
 A: 

Ben Badler: No, not in 2009.

 Q:  steve from glenville ny asks:
why is the international market up so much this year
 A: 

Ben Badler: More resources dedicated to scouting, more agents, more teams involved in the market and likely more teams realizing that the $5 million they would spend in the major league free agent market to get from 73 to 74 wins might be better invested in procuring $5 million worth of amateur talent.

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
Why don't more 20-23 year old Latin prospects sign? It seems as if there would be some guys who are not good enough to sign as teenagers, but improve enough in their home countries to get looks.
 A: 

Ben Badler: It does happen, but the best of the bunch are usually all signed at age 16. Some players develop later... in fact, some agents deliberately have their clients not sign at 16 to try to get their fastball velocity up to increase their value ... but those who develop later are usually gobbled up by teams once they are 18 or 19. But it does happen. Radhames Liz is a guy who signed with the Orioles a few months before he turned 20.

 Q:  Mitchell from NYC asks:
What's your thoughts on the futures for the Yankees 2007 signees??
 A: 

Ben Badler: The Yankees' 2007 class looks pretty good. Kelvin De Leon had a monster year and looks like he has a bright future ahead of him, as does Vizcaino. Sosa should be productive as well, although De La Rosa certainly didn't do much to inspire confidence this year.

 Q:  Mitch Dowden from Leesville, Louisiana asks:
How would you rank the Astro's haul of international players this year? And since they have a lack of outstanding infield prospects in their system, how would you rank 3rd baseman Darwin Garcia and Shortstop Alejandro De la Rosa? Do they have a chance to be good to great players down the road? Thank you so much for your time! Baseball America rocks!!!
 A: 

Ben Badler: We've given the Astros plenty of heat here at BA for their farm system, but I'll give them some credit for at least being active in Latin America. Remember, this is the same organization that signed Bobby Abreu, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora and Johan Santana out of Venezuela, though the man largely credited with those signings is Andres Reiner, who is now with the Rays. It's a thin farm system, so I could see a guy like Rivera, Gonzalez or Genoves cracking their Top 30 for the Prospect Handbook, probably in the 15 to 30 range, though I doubt they'd make the 30 in almost any other system.

 Q:  Bill from White Plains asks:
Had does the Yankees International Signings rank this year and is there any other prospects that still might sign
 A: 

Ben Badler: They did well for themselves, though I think the plan was to sign Inoa and that never materialized. The one player that they signed who gets the most positive reviews from the scouts I've spoken with is Flores. A lot of scouts were surprised at how much money the Yankees gave some of the players they signed. On the other hand, they're almost always surprised at how much money a player gets... if they thought they were worth that much, they'd have signed him themselves, budget permitting.

 Q:  Deywane from Memphis asks:
Do you believe that some of the new teams that spent a lot of money this year will continue that trend next year?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Maybe. I THINK the Reds and Padres will continue to have a strong presence in Latin America, but that could easily change. The Nationals were the new big players on the scene after signing Esmailyn Gonzalez a couple years ago, but they're not too active right now. The Brewers signed Rolando Pascual for a boatload of money a few years ago and spent $450K on Hitaniel Arias last year, but they had a bunch of draft picks this year that probably took a sizable chunk out of their budget in Latin America. Circumstances always change, and I'm sure teams will be carefully reevaluating the market for 2009 after seeing all the money spent in 2008.

 Q:  Mike from Chicago asks:
Do you think it is wise that the Cubs are spending more in the Pacific Rim and not in Latin America. I tend to think the best prospects come from Latin America, what do you think?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I'd be a huge fraud to claim I know which country is best for an individual team to be investing its resources; I don't have the means to analyze the various international talent markets. I'm sure the Cubs have, though, and if they have decided that having a strong scouting presence in the Pacific Rim should be one of their core competencies, I'm fine with that, judging from my seat.

 Q:  Brandon from Charleston, WV asks:
Was the Reds International class among the best in baseball?
 A: 

Ben Badler: (Dollar) signs point to yes

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phx, AZ asks:
What can be attributed to the huge jump in bonuses? Other than Inoa this didn't seem to much different than most years. Did Inoa's price just force everyone elses up? Also, will this trend continue or with a bad economy and the controversy that occured with skimming will bonuses come back down to earth?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I hit on this question a little earlier, but there's more to it. Inoa might have driven up some prices, but he's also a special player. Nobody says anything bad about this kid, other than nitpicky stuff, which is unbelievable for a 16-year-old Dominican kid. But one other thing driving up bonuses is bonus skimming. Scouts would inflate their evaluations of a player and say he's worth more than they truly believe, often working in cahoots with the player's buscone. So now that player is getting a bonus of, say, $300,000 instead of something much less. So now every agent or buscone is using that player as a benchmark, saying that if he got $300,000, then my guy is worth $400,000. So that inflates the market for everyone, which is infuriating for international scouting directors who do things the right way. And in a really, really twisted way, bonus skimming is putting more money in players' pockets in the aggregate because it is inflating the market for their services. I'm not condoning bonus skimming in any way, because I think it's disgusting, but the reality is that it has inflated the market, and I'm not certain that the market will "correct" itself by going back down. If anything, I'd forecast (admittedly based mostly on gut feel) a continued rise in the market.

 Q:  Dave from San Diego asks:
Do you think the Padres' new complex will really be a large factor in signing the Dominicans?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Probably less so for the high-profile players, but it's a huge step for the Padres. If you don't have an academy, you have to push your players more aggressively to the United States. You can also get better looks at players who could potentially sign for lower five-figure bonuses, which is a tremendous competitive advantage to be able to get those extra evaluations of players in that market. We're going to focus on the higher profile players to write about here at BA for obvious practical reasons, but there are plenty of talented players available to sign for less money if you have good scouts and a strong development program for Latin America kids, and an academy lends a huge advantage for doing so.

 Q:  Butch Smith from New York asks:
Whats your opinion of buscones as a whole? It seems that this days they are in the spotlight because of all the controversies. I think that sometimes people forget this guys provide housing and food to the player so I guess that they should get some of the pie.
 A: 

Ben Badler: Absolutely. They provide a service and deserve to be compensated. Like in any industry, some are better than others. Everyone needs to be evaluated on an individual basis.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Is it true that Yorman Rodriguez can't hit anything over 85 miles an hour? That might not work out, because the Reds only face Jamie Moyer twice in one season.
 A: 

Ben Badler: For just the raw physical package and pure athleticism, Yorman is as good as anyone you will find from this year's IFA class. But there are a whole bunch of scouts who wonder whether he'll be able to hit in game situations. Obviously the Reds see things a bit differently. I don't know what will happen. I've never seen him play in person, and even if I did, I wouldn't know jack about how to project a kid who just turned 16 two months ago, and neither would you (unless you're a scout, which if you're reading this, there's a chance you are ... in which case, call me, let's schmooze). I just talk to scouts and try to piece everything together, and through doing that, I pass along those concerns. We're Baseball America, so we're always going to present strengths and weaknesses for a player, but keep in mind with all these 16-year-olds, we're essentially talking about children. These children happen to sometimes be million dollar and multi-million dollar commodities, but they are children. So let's just give them some time to develop.

 Q:  steve from glenville ny asks:
the mets never spend the most money but always wound up with some of the best players why is that
 A: 

Ben Badler: The Mets usually do spend pretty decent coin in Latin America. Fernando Martinez, Deolis Guerra, Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte, Cesar Puello... all those guys were among the highest paid players in their July 2 signing class. But if your point is that they do an outstanding job scouting Latin America, then yes, I agree.

 Q:  Ellot from Youngstown OH asks:
Indians fans were excited about the prospects of signing Salcedo, one of the best Latin American player, and then he sort of disappeared. What happened?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I wrote back, geez, it feels like forever ago, that the Indians had no comment because he wasn't a part of their organization (aka unsigned), that no official signing has ever come across the transactions wire, and that international scouting community consensus was that he's no longer a guy with any buzz. He's a real person, he exists, he's just not a guy on anyone's radar right now.

 Q:  Elliot from Youngstown OH asks:
Abner Abreu was the slugging star of the GCL this summer, leading the league in SLG, HR, 2B, TB. His younger brother was supposed to be better. Is he and has he signed?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Yes, his younger brother Esdras signed with the Rangers. They sound like similar players, including both the raw power and the strong questions that Abner will have to answer about his plate discipline.

 Q:  Doug from Flushing asks:
So who ends up a better pro- Inoa or Matusz(just the comparison because he was the first pitcher in the draft)?
 A: 

Ben Badler: Odds are Matusz. If Matusz were a free agent, his signing bonus would dwarf Inoa's.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Do you think it is worth the risk for the Reds to invest 2 million dollars in such raw talents? Have their investments made up for their lack of a second rounder in your opinion?
 A: 

Ben Badler: I talk about evaluating players on an individual basis to break it down on a more granular level, but sometimes you do have to judge these investments in the aggregate. So if Duran or Yorman Rodriguez doesn't work out, does that make them bad signings? Maybe, maybe not. If, for example, neither of those guys turn into big leaguers but Junior Arias turns into a perennial all-star shortstop, I'd say it's worth all the money the Reds invested in Latin America this year. It's a little bit like poker. Who cares if you lose 95 percent of the hands you're dealt if at the end of the day you're walking away with more money than you came into the game with? And maybe now's not a great time for a financial analogy, but would you yell at your broker and complain about the individual stocks in the mutual fund that are losing money when the fund itself is up and beating the market? Probably not. It's easy to sit back and point to the ones who missed, but if you hit on at least one of these guys... cha-ching!

Ben Badler: Thanks for all the questions. With the Prospect Handbook just two months away from deadline, I'm not sure what we have in store for upcoming international coverage, but we'll do our best to keep it coming. Have a great weekend!