International Signing Roundup: NL Central

Reds pull out the checkbook for Duran, Rodriguez




Ben Badler is rounding-up all of the significant signings during the international signing period. His report on the NL East signings can be found here. Six-figure signings and Top Bonus refer to players signed during the July 2 international signing period. The signings are sorted from highest to lowest signing bonuses.

NL CENTRAL


Chicago Cubs

Six-figure signings: 3B Joel Altagracia, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Carlos Henry, Dominican Republic, 16

Top Bonus: Altagracia, $140,000

Summary: Altagracia profiles at third base, with a good body at around 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with good agility. He has a strong arm, good hands and his feet work well. With his skill set, a move behind the plate is a possibility down the road if things don't work out well at third base for Altagracia, but the Cubs will develop the righthanded hitter as a third basemman. Henry has a athletic frame at 6-foot-1, 165 pounds. A lefthanded hitter, Henry has some balance at the plate and a good swing path, though like most young wiry shortstops from Latin America, he stands out in the field with his quickness, strong arm and running ability.

SPENDING SPREE
Team Money
Reds $5,705,000
A's $4,880,000
Padres $4,685,000
Yankees $4,250,000
Giants $2,750,000
Cardinals $2,685,000
Mariners $2,591,000
Braves $2,230,000
Indians $2,025,000
Rangers $1,625,000
Red Sox $1,382,500
Pirates $1,200,000
Astros $1,015,000
Tigers $783,000
Blue Jays $700,000
Rays $640,000
Mets $600,000
Rockies $580,000
Angels $440,000
Royals $410,000
Phillies $353,000
White Sox $300,000
Cubs $250,000
Diamondbacks $160,000
Brewers $0
Dodgers $0
Marlins $0
Nationals $0
Orioles $0
Twins $0
According to data compiled by Baseball America, the Reds led the charge in spending in Latin America in 2008. The chart above indicates money that each major league organization spent on signing bonuses of at least six figures in Latin America (excluding Cuban defectors) through September of this year. Teams have spent additional money, of course, on players for five- and four-figure bonuses.
The Cubs have shown a commitment to scouting in the Pacific Rim and signed shortstop Hak Ju Lee from South Korea in the spring for $725,000. Lee, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound 17-year-old lefthanded hitter, is an 80 runner with above-average range and agility and clean actions at shortstop. His bat still has to catch up to the rest of his tools, but he has balance and stays inside the ball well. The Cubs also spent in Australia, signing 18-year-old lefthander Cody Hams ($150,000 in March) and 18-year-old righty Adam Spencer ($130,000 in February) for the third- and fourth-highest bonuses given to an Australian player in 2008.

The player from Latin America whom the Cubs gave the most money to within the last year is Dominican righthander Esmailin Caridad, who signed for $175,000 in December. Of course, as a 24-year-old, Caridad is far from a typical Latin American signing. According to Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, Caridad signed as a teenager to play in Japan. After playing in Japan's academy system and in the industrial leagues, Caridad played briefly in 2007 in Japan's Central League for the Hiroshima Carp. According to Fleita, a technicality in the rules made Caridad eligible to sign with a major league team, and Fleita and general manager Jim Hendry just happened to be in the Dominican as Caridad was returning home. After seeing Caridad pitch twice in five days against players in the Cubs' Dominican instructional league, the Cubs signed him. With a good fastball that he complements with a curveball and a changeup, Caridad had a 3.73 ERA in 152 innings split between high Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Caridad struck out 88, though he succeeds by pounding the zone with strikes, as he walked only 38 batters all year.

Cincinnati Reds

Six-figure signings: OF Yorman Rodriguez, Venezuela, 16; SS Junior Arias, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Anyelo Polanco, Dominican Republic, 16

Top Bonus: Rodriguez, $2.5 million

Summary: The Reds put their money where their mouth is, backing up talk about beefing up their international presence by investing more money in Latin American talent this year. The change was evident in February, when the Reds signed Dominican outfielder Juan Duran for $2 million as teams thought he was ineligible to sign until July 2. With the signing of Venzuelan outfielder Yorman Rodriguez for $2.5 million, the Reds acquired the No. 2 and No. 4 international free agents in terms of bonus dollars. Scouts who watch Rodriguez see the readily apparent combination of plus-plus speed, projectable frame and athleticism that might be unmatched among Latin Americans available to sign this year. Those same scouts also see a player with a hitch in his swing where he drops his hands and struggles to hit low- to mid-80s fastballs and lunges out front at offspeed pitches. The Reds, however, disagreed with those assessments, noting that they had half a dozen scouts evaluating Rodriguez over the last three years.

While Duran is like Rodriguez in being a Latin American outfielder signed with the Reds for at least $2 million, they aren't that similar. Rodriguez profiles as a center fielder with his speed and athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, while Duran is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds with average speed and plus-plus power potential.

The Reds also picked up other key pieces in Latin America. Dominican shortstops Junior Arias ($330,000) and Anyelo Polanco ($300,000) each received significant bonuses, though Arias was the higher-profile player. Arias has good strength, athleticism and body control, showing a short, quick swing at the plate and good actions with a solid arm in the field. His throwing elbow had bothered him before signing, which prevented him from picking up a higher bonus. He had surgery after he signed and should be back in time for spring training. Polanco has solid middle infield actions and some ability at the plate from the left side.

And before July 2, the Reds gave bonuses in the $100,000 to $200,000 range to Venezuelan outfielder Frederman Lopez, Dominican righthander Carlos Tineo, Venezuelan righthander Ricardo Quintero and Venezuelan shortstop Andres Santoni. As of late September, the Reds were also linked to lefthander/first baseman Ismael Guillon.

Houston Astros

Six-figure signings: 3B Darwin Rivera, Dominican Republic, 16; C Alfredo Gonzalez, Venezuela, 16; SS Alejandro De la Rosa, Dominican Republic, 16

Top Bonus: Rivera, $320,000

Summary: In the 1990s, no organization mined Venezuela like the Astros. Led by scout Andres Reiner, now with the Rays, the Astros signed the likes of Bob Abreu, Johan Santana, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia (among others) out of Venezuela in the decade, and they're trying to reestablish themselves as a force in Latin American. After giving Venezuelan catcher Ernesto Genoves $290,000 to sign last July 2, the Astros topped that mark this year by signing Rivera, who profiles as either a third baseman or offensive-minded second baseman. The righty-hitting Rivera has good power, though his future defensive position will depend upon how much he grows from his current 5-foot-11 frame. Gonzalez's biggest strength is his cannon arm, which is at least a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Though he has soft hands and the tools to catch, he remains raw behind the plate and he has an exaggerated uppercut swing from the right side. "He has a scary, scary arm," said one scout. "If things don't pan out for him as a catcher, all you have to do is put him on the mound because his arm works real easy. He's not a guy who's a short-armer who you can't put on the mound."

SPENDING BY COUNTRY
Country Money Players
Dominican $25,428,000 55
Venezuela $13,915,500 34
Australia $1,100,000 5
South Korea $1,100,000 3
Colombia $1,045,000 4
Panama $825,000 2
Nicaragua $726,000 1
Taiwan $625,000 3
Brazil $300,000 1
While scouts continue to be active in the Pacific Rim, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela still dominate the international bonus expenditures. The above chart is of the money spent so far in 2008 on bonuses of at least six-figures.
De la Rosa is a switch-hitting shortstop with some pop and a good body at 6-foot-1. Monzon has good instincts in the outfield, tracking balls off the bat and running them down, and he'll begin his pro career in center field. At 6-feet, 170 pounds, he projects to grow an inch or two and gain weight, which could lead to above-average power. The Astros also signed catcher Jose Vargas on April 30, when he turned 17. The righty-hitting Dominican has natural strength and a plus arm, though he remains raw behind the plate.

Milwaukee Brewers

Six-figure signings: None

Summary: One year after signing Dominican right fielder Hitaniel Arias for $450,000, the Brewers stayed away from signing any of the higher profile players in Latin America this year. But with a first-round pick, two supplemental first-round picks and three second-round picks, the Brewers had six of the top 62 picks in the draft this June and spent $6.06 million on those players. That surplus of draft picks likely took a significant chunk out of the Brewers' international spending budget, rather than being a sign of a desire to cut back in Latin America.

The Brewers did sign Venezuelan outfielder Luis Chirinos when he turned 16 in late August for $90,000. Chirinos is an aggressive righthanded hitter with some power. He projects as a corner outfielder. The Brewers also signed 19-year-old Dominican righthander Jaime King. At 6-foot-4,  210 pounds, King's fastball has been up to 92 mph with a mid-70s curve and feel for a changeup, and he could still pack on another 20 pounds as he continues to mature physically. Dominican righthander Jose Ramos, a 19-year-old with good arm action and a fastball up to 91 mph, also signed with the Brewers this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Six-figure signings: CF Exicardo Cayones, Venezuela, 16; SS Jodaneli Carvajal, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Yhonathan Barrios, Columbia, 16

Top Bonus: Cayones, $400,000

Summary: Cayones, who is about 6-foot, 175 pounds, is a plus defender with good athleticism in center field. He has a line-drive stroke from the left side and uses the whole field. "He's got a chance to play in the majors with his bat," said one scout. "He's quick and short to the ball with occasional power." But the best of the group may be Carvajal, a switch-hitting shortstop with excellent hands, a plus arm and plus-plus speed. He has some ability with the bat, though his 5-foot-9 stature will limit his power production. Barrios lacks Carvajal's electric speed and may ultimately end up moving to second or third base, but he has good bat speed from the right side and a plus arm. In April the Pirates also signed 18-year-old Venezuelan catcher Ramon Cabrera, the son of heralded Nippon Professional Baseball slugger Alex Cabrera. Ramon converted himself to catcher within the past year and is still getting used to working behind the plate, though he has a quick release and good arm strength. The switch-hitting Cabrera has good bat speed and power from both sides of the plate.

St. Louis Cardinals

Six-figure signings: 3B Roberto De La Cruz, Dominican Republic, 16; RHP Santo Franco, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Cesar Valera, Venezuela, 16; RHP Dennis Montero, Dominican Republic, 16; C Gerwuins Velazco, Venezuela, 16

Top Bonus: De La Cruz, $1.1 million

Summary: De La Cruz—also referred to in international circles as Robert Pina—impressed international scouts with his bat, showing good bat speed, quick hands and power potential. "He's got a quick bat, he can hit and with some power, too," said one scout. "He didn't hit the ball out of the park, but you can tell it's coming." He has some work to do to stay at third base, with scouts pointing to his lack of rhythm and looseness, so he'll have to put in work to stay at third base. Even if he eventually moves to first base or a corner outfield position, scouts still believe his bat would still be valuable there. Franco generated excitement in the Dominican Republic as July 2 approached, cranking his fastball up to 92 mph with sink and arm-side run from a 6-foot-5, 185-pound frame that screams projectability. He flashes a solid-average slider, though his command and mechanics are still raw. The Cardinals also handed low six-figure bonuses to 17-year-old Dominican third baseman Bernardo Villar in March and Dominican lefthander Keury Herrera in February.