July 2 Notebook: In Search Of Catching




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When teams want to find a catcher in the international market, historically they have gone to Venezuela.

It's a country that has produced Victor Martinez, Miguel Montero, Wilson Ramos, Jesus Montero, Salvador Perez and Ramon Hernandez, among many others. In this year's July 2 class, some scouts believe the top player available is another Venezuelan catcher, though he is relatively new to the position.

Luis Torrens, a 16-year-old who trains with Carlos Rios, is one of the most advanced hitters in Latin America. He has a loose righthanded swing and a track record of hitting in games, including at several international competitions.

"Torrens has a very advanced approach," said one international director. "It's a nice swing plane with good balance. It's just a clean swing. I'm not sure how much power Torrens is going to have, but it's going to be a lot of line drives."

For a while, Torrens was playing third base, but he moved behind the plate back around February and is expected to sign as a catcher. Most sources believe the Yankees are the leaders to sign him.

"That's why Venezuela keeps producing catchers," said one Venezuelan supervisor. "These guys don't run so they put them behind home plate."

Venezuela's David Rodriguez is another offensive-oriented catcher, as is Nicaragua's Melvin Novoa, while Venezuela's Joshua Lopez (all previously profiled here) has stood out for his defense. The Rays are considered the favorites for Rodriguez and the Cardinals have been connected to Lopez, while Novoa has been linked to the Giants, Mariners and Rangers.

Another Latin American catcher drawing attention is Deivi Grullon, a 16-year-old who trains with Luis Coronado in Bonao in the Dominican Republic. Grullon, who is 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, is a good defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm that earns 55-60 grades on the 20-80 scale from scouts. He moves well behind the plate, has good hands and frames pitches well, so he has a chance to be an above-average defender. He approach at the plate is solid and he shows some patience with gap power, but his swing does get long and his bat is the question mark for several scouts. Grullon has been slowed by an ankle injury he suffered during the Dominican Prospect League's trip to the United States during spring training, but he's been tied to the Tigers, Astros, Rangers and Athletics.

• Some scouts think the best player in Colombia is Osvaldo Garcia, who teams say is being represented by the mother of Cardinals lefthander Dewin Perez. Garcia, 16, has a big frame (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and a power bat and some scouts say he has a good swing that works in games, though others say he's more of a power first, hit second type. A former pitcher, Garcia has a strong arm, though his agility and lateral movement behind the plate is not as advanced as someone like Grullon. A few sources have tied the Diamondbacks to Garcia.

Yoiber Marquina is a catcher from Barquisimeto who has represented Venezuela during international competition since he was 10. Marquina, who trains with Jose Montero, is 5-foot-11, 200 pounds and stands out for his arm strength, which grades out as at least a plus tool. He has the potential to be a good defensive catcher and shows occasional raw power in batting practice, but his righthanded bat is still raw and may take a while to develop. The Royals and Brewers are among the teams who multiple sources have said are showing interest in Marquina.

• The Indians have been tied to Dominican catcher Francisco Mejia, a 16-year-old represented by Hugo Catrain who trains at La Academia. At 5-foot-8, 155 pounds Mejia is small but has a cannon arm and has a chance to be a quality defender. He's a switch-hitter, though scouts have said his bat will need time to catch up.

• While several teams have said that they're hearing the Blue Jays are no longer the leaders for Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica, others are more skeptical. The latest word is that the Blue Jays may now instead be pursuing Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro, a polished hitter who many teams thought would end up signing with the Rockies. It's hard to make sense of what's real or what's just a smokescreen, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Blue Jays ended up with Mujica after all.

• Reports from scouts on 21-year-old Cuban corner outfielder Yasiel Puig have been underwhelming. The Rangers have been the only team linked to Puig, though their senior-level decision makers were not in attendance at his recent workout in Mexico, where teams have reported that his conditioning appears to be an issue. Teams have no performance data or game video to work off from Puig in more than a year because he was suspended for the 2011-12 season in Serie Nacional. The last time any scouts could have legally evaluated Puig was in June 2011 in Rotterdam, where scouts seemed lukewarm at best on him. He's shown plus raw power and hit well in Cuba for a year before his suspension, but there are question marks about both his bat and his rawness in the outfield. How Puig could have acquired permanent Mexican residency documents after having been in the country for what's believed to be less than a month is also a widespread question, though Major League Baseball has yet to declare him a free agent.

• Some of the top July 2 signings from last year have missed time early in the start of their Rookie-ball seasons due to injuries. First baseman Ronald Guzman sat out a few games after rolling an ankle, but he made his pro debut yesterday for the Rookie-level Arizona League Rangers. Phillies center fielder Carlos Tocci has been out of Rookie-level Gulf Coast League action with a back injury, while Pirates outfielder Harold Ramirez has yet to make his GCL debut due to a leg infection.