July 2 Notebook: Rays Making Noise In Venezuela




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With the new international signing restrictions that begin on July 2, aggregate spending on international amateur players is going to decrease.

While most teams are going to toe the line on the $2.9 million bonus pools, it's not a given that every team will. The question popping up in recent days, particularly in Venezuela, is whether the Rays might be one of the teams willing to bust the cap.

The Rays have been strongly connected to three high-profile Venezuelan players, including the top two pitchers in the market. Tampa Bay has long been considered the favorite to sign David Rodriguez, a catcher who trains with Carlos Guillen and is expected to be in line for a mid six-figure bonus.

More recently the Rays have been connected to Guillen's righthander, Jose Mujica, who turns 16 on Friday, and 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander Jose Castillo, who is represented by Felix Olivo. Both Mujica and Castillo are expected to sign for at least $1 million, with the Dodgers also linked to both arms. Several sources previously had believed the Blue Jays were the team most likely to sign Mujica, but now many of them believe the Blue Jays will head in a different direction, possibly Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro.

Sources in Venezuela believe there's a chance the Rays might sign all three of Mujica, Castillo and Rodriguez, who are expected to cost just north of $3 million combined. Doing so would limit Tampa Bay's international flexibility for the rest of the year, but to get three of the top international free agents, the strategy may be worth it.

Teams that exceed their bonus pool from July 2, 2012 through June 15, 2013 by up to five percent will have to pay a 75 percent tax on the overage, but they won't face any penalties for the following year. Going over by 5-10 percent means a team can't sign a player for more than $500,000 in the 2013-14 signing period, while the taxes increase to 100 percent on the overage and prevent any signing of more than $250,000 in 2013-14 once a team goes 15 percent beyond its bonus pool.

Restricting any bonuses for the following year's signing period is a fairly significant penalty, but a team might be willing to pay the 75 percent overage tax by going up to five percent above their signing bonus pool, which would take them to $3.045 million. Each team also gets six exemptions from the bonus pool on signings of $50,000 or less that won't count against their $2.9 million, giving teams an extra $300,000 to juggle around on low-bonus players. Those exemptions means teams can take their bonus pools to $3.345 million before they risk facing a signing bonus restriction penalty for the following year.

Teams could try to sign some package deals where a team signs one standout player for a big bonus, then signs a handful of other players from the same trainer or agent for $50,000 as a way to sweeten the pot for the player's representative. The spending restrictions also don't begin until July 2, a decision that reflects little street savvy, so teams can also throw a package deal at a trainer by signing any number of his currently eligible players (basically anyone 17 or older) for bonuses beyond their true value to save space against their bonus pools. MLB officials have said they would technically view that as an attempt to circumvent the rule.

As for Castillo and Mujica, some international scouts didn't see what the big deal was over Castillo when they saw him early in the year. They liked his projectable 6-foot-4 frame, clean mechanics and fluid arm action, but his stuff was more solid than spectacular. In the world of scouting 15- and 16-year-old players (and having to potentially invest millions in them), reports from March can become obsolete by June. That's been the case with Castillo, as multiple teams have seen him sitting in the low 90s with his fastball and touching 94 this month.

While most teams seemed to consider Mujica the top pitcher in Latin America a month ago, it would not be a surprise if Castillo ended up becoming the most expensive. Castillo's bonus should easily eclipse $1 million and he might end up coming in behind only shortstop/center fielder Franklin Barreto in terms of money in Venezuela.

"He didn't look great at the MLB workout (in the Dominican Republic in February)," said one scout on Castillo. "I'll tell you though, he looked great the other day. His command wasn't great, but it's a projectable body. He looked really good."

• The two best lefties in Latin America are Castillo and Luiz Gohara, a 15-year-old from Brazil. While the Cubs have been mentioned in connection with Gohara at one point, most sources believe the Mariners will sign him once he turns 16. His bonus may end up around the $1 million mark, and if he were living or working out in the Dominican Republic, his market would likely expand. Some teams who have seen Gohara have said they like him, but they don't have enough history on him as a pitcher or a person to feel comfortable giving him a huge bonus, since very few teams scout Brazil much. The arm is hard to miss, however, as multiple scouts have said they've seen Gohara range from 86-94 mph with his fastball, freakish velocity for a 15-year-old lefty.

"He wasn't up to 94, he was up to 92 and pitched at 89-90, but I saw him (earlier at) 87-94," said one scout. "He's only 15. He's a monster, a big kid, thick-body kid, could be real heavy. The slider's all right, it's in and out, it's there, but he's a guy with a really good arm."

• Several teams have been linked to Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario, though multiple sources have said the Mets appear to be in the lead. Rosario generates a wide range of opinions, but he has a chance to be the highest-paid player in the Dominican Republic this year. He's a 16-year-old who trains with John Carmona. One of his coaches, Ellis Pena (known as "Penita"), is a former scout who was fired by the Pirates. Rosario's father is an attorney and his mother has a cousin who is married to Rafael Espinal, a scout for the Brewers. Rosario is probably out of Milwaukee's price range, and while the Astros, Cubs and White Sox have been mentioned as potential suitors, it's the Mets who come up most often in connection with Rosario.

• Dominican shortstop Sergio Alcantara is expected to command a bonus in the high six-figure range once he turns 16 on July 10. Alcantara is the nephew of Pirates Triple-A shortstop Anderson Hernandez, and the Diamondbacks are considered the frontrunners to sign him.

"The best (Dominican) shortstop for me is Alcantara," said a Latin American director. "He can play. You put him in BP, you don't know he's there. You run him in the 60, he doesn't exist. Then when the game starts, he's getting hits all over the place, he's got a bazooka arm—a 60 arm—and he's making plays all over the field."

Other scouts prefer Dominican shortstop Richard Urena, who is believed to have drawn some interest from the Reds.

"I would take Urena over Alcantara," said one international scouting director. "He's got more bat. He's a bigger guy and I think his bat is better."