July 2 Preview: Yorman and Rafael Rodriguez




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While Michel Inoa headlines this year's international signing period, which begins on July 2, the 16-year-old righthander isn't the only Latin American teenager who might break bonus records.

Nationals outfielder Wily Mo Pena, who in 1999 received a $2.44 million bonus as part of his major league contract with the Yankees, holds the current record for a bonus given to a Latin American player, excluding Cuban defectors.

The player who seems certain to break Pena's bonus record is Rafael Rodriguez, an outfielder from Bani in the Dominican Republic.

The team that has been strongly linked to Rodriguez has been the Giants, with several international sources saying that Rodriguez will likely sign with San Francisco for $2.5 million.

Rodriguez, who will be eligible to sign when he turns 16 on July 13, draws universal praise for his athleticism, raw power, running ability and his projectable 6-foot-5, 198-pound frame. There is some length to the swing, but he has good bat speed with excellent raw power.

"Bodywise, he looks like Dave Winfield," said one international scouting director. "But he's also a guy with a lot of skills."

Rodriguez still elicits mixed reviews from scouts who see a player with a questionable feel for hitting.

"He needs to improve his approach," said one international scouting director. "He's a front-foot hitter who doesn't load at all in the front half. The bat is very, very questionable. He's a good fastball hitter, but the bat is very, very questionable. He's OK, but to me he's not as good as Yorman Rodriguez. He'll fill out a little bit, but I've seen him several times—there's too much risk there now."

"He can run and he's a good athlete," said another international scouting director, "but the bottom line is you've got to be able to hit."

Like Rafael Rodriguez, Yorman Rodriguez also draws positive reviews for his athleticism and speed, but scouts are mixed on his ability to hit. Yorman Rodriguez has been strongly linked to the Mariners, though the Reds, Yankees and Red Sox have also been rumored to have strong interest. The Cardinals have also emerged as a serious contender for Rodriguez's services. When he finally signs, there's a chance that Rodriguez's bonus could surpass the $1.9 million that Miguel Cabrera received from the Marlins in 1999, a record for a Venezuelan player.

Rodriguez attracts scouts with his athleticism, running 6.4 and 6.5 60-times. His speed and raw power both rate as 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale, but the hit tool has come into question.

"He collapses his front foot and reaches for the ball, where he lunges out front," said an international scout. "Sometimes kids adjust, but you have to hope that he eventually hits the breaking pitch."

"That guy can run," said another international scout. "He's got a good body—very lean and athletic—but he's never hit with good competition in any place I've seen him, and the best I've seen him hit against was 82-83 (mph). I'll sign him for $300,000 or $400,000, but that's it. I won't go any higher than that because he's a good batting practice guy, but even in BP he shows you a lot of flaws. He's kind of choppy and he's not consistent. In BP the ball carries, but even then you'd like to see some consistency."