July 2 Notebook: Top Of The Class Taking Shape




Follow me on Twitter
At the start of the year, many teams considered Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras to be the top prospect eligible to sign on July 2.

With Beras' age now in question and the Rangers waiting to hear a ruling from Major League Baseball on his $4.5 million contract, there's a wider debate about who the top player on the market is this year.

For many clubs, Venezuelan shortstop/center fielder Franklin Barreto is the top player on their board. Not everyone is sold—that's just the nature of scouting 16-year-old international players—but Barreto's bat and his plus-plus speed are standout tools, despite his lack of projectable size at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Shortstop might be a stretch, but he throws well and should play somewhere in the middle of the diamond, possibly center field or second base.

"It's tough for these players to separate themselves or line themselves up," said one international scouting director. "That's why I like Barreto. I feel like he's definitely going to hit and he has the surest tool of all those guys. That's why he goes on top."

After Barreto, Venezuela has a group of polished hitters in catcher Luis Torrens, outfielder Alexander Palma and shortstop Luis Castro. Few think the Yankees will be outbid for Torrens or Palma, but the market for Castro has grown more muddled recently.

There was talk earlier that the Rockies were the leaders to sign Castro, a 16-year-old righthanded hitter who trains with Jose Aguiar. Now word is that the Blue Jays may have passed the Rockies after several sources believe that Toronto has backed off its pursuit of Mujica.

"The guy I think is going to be the biggest impact with the bat is Luis Castro," said one Latin American director. "He has bat speed, he's a physical guy and he's going to have power. He has a good arm and he doesn't run well, so he could play third base. He could even catch. The bat has some bat speed, which in this game you've got to have. I think he's going to hit."

Added another Latin American director: "I liked Castro a lot. I saw him early (in a workout), and when I saw him early, I didn't really like him, but that's why workouts suck. In games, he's strong. He can't run a lick, but he might stay at shortstop. He might be one of the better signs. I like the fact he can pick it and throw it. He's never going to have outstanding range and he's probably a third baseman, but I really like the way he hits. I think he has a chance to hit and hit for power. He's strong for a 16-year-old kid with really strong hitting ability. He was one of my favorite guys I liked."

• Dominican outfielder Gustavo Cabrera has the best raw tools in Latin America. He runs as well if not better than Barreto, he has more raw power and a better arm, but he leaves scouts wanting to see more with his bat. While players like Torrens or Barreto show natural hitting rhythm, Cabrera is still ironing out his hitting mechanics and his approach.

He's earned some comparisons to Padres outfielder Donavan Tate, which don't seem particularly flattering at this point, but Tate was also the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft and signed for $6.25 million. Those who have seen both also consider Cabrera a better runner and a better defender than Tate and say Cabrera has the potential to be a premium glove in center field. Cabrera's athleticism and tools are still tantalizing, it's just a matter of what teams are willing to pay.

"There's lots to like," said one team official. "It comes down to, at some point now that we're able to see more and more at-bats, game situations, you're looking to hang your hat on performance. A guy like that has the tools to warrant a significant signing bonus. He can run, throw and defend, but does he perform in games? The last time I saw Tate was (in high school), but that's exactly it. Clubs have varying interest in players like that. You'd love to have an athlete like that with tools like that. If he does pan out and he does hit, he's an all-star."

A few sources have linked the Nationals to Cabrera, and there is some history between the Nationals and Cabrera's trainer, Christian Batista (known as "El Niche"). Last year Washington's most expensive international bonus went to Dominican outfielder Randy Novas, who signed for $150,000 out of Batista's program. They might be the favorites at this point, though some sources believe the Royals or possibly the Reds may also be among those lurking if the price is right.

• There are players with louder tools than Dominican shortstop Frandy de la Rosa, but he will draw interest for his short, simple swing from both sides of the plate. De la Rosa, a 16-year-old switch-hitter who trains with Valentin Monero and plays in the Dominican Prospect League, has shown quick hands at the plate and feel for hitting with gap power from his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. De la Rosa isn't much of a runner and his arm is probably a little light for shortstop, so he could be an offensive-oriented second baseman if everything clicks. The Astros, White Sox and Cubs are among the teams who have been mentioned as potential suitors.

• Among third baseman in Latin America, the player who seems to have separated himself the most is Carlos Belen from the Dominican Republic. Belen, 16, has a simple righthanded swing with the potential for plus power from a strong 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame. He's hit well in games and has a strong arm at third base. He should be able to fetch one of the bigger bonuses in the Dominican Republic this year, with the Padres believed to be in pursuit.