Team By Team International Forecast
In previous years, we have broken teams down into various categories based on how much we expected them to spend. This year, given the new $2.9 million bonus pools in place, doing so makes less sense, although not every team will even spend their full bonus pool allotment. Here's what to expect from all 30 teams, presented in alphabetical order.
The Diamondbacks have ranked near the bottom of the league on international spending in recent years, but that's expected to change. Arizona appears to have an increased budget for 2012, with a few targets starting to emerge. Several sources have linked the Diamondbacks to Sergio Alcantara, a smooth Dominican shortstop who can sign when he turns 16 on July 10 and is expected to sign for a high six-figure bonus. Catcher Osvaldo Garcia, the player many scouts consider the top Colombian player in this year's class, also appears to be one of Arizona's priority players. They were connected to Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica at one point, but most sources expect him to land with the Rays.
The Braves have not been tied to any of the top 20 prospects in Latin America, although some teams feel that Venezuelan righthander Yeralf Torres is one of the better pitchers in the market. Atlanta has done a fine job finding pitchers in Latin America (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado) the last several years, and sources think Torres is one of the arms the Braves will try to sign. Beyond him, it's hard to say what the Braves will end up doing. They are always busy in Panama, where they have signed Delgado, catcher Christian Bethancourt and lefty Dismaster Delgado, among others.
The Orioles have a new general manager and new leadership in their international department. They got off to a controversial start by signing Korean lefthander Seong-Min Kim for $575,000 without performing a status check on the player, a strange error to make for someone like GM Dan Duquette and executive director of international baseball Ray Poitevint, who have a long history of signing Asian players. Even more curious was the fact that no other team seemed to consider Kim a prospect worth more than a token bonus or could produce a scouting report that corroborated anything like what the Orioles claimed. The Orioles have since slowed down their international efforts. They haven't been linked to any of the better players in the international market, though that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be ready to spend. Some think they may do a package deal with a Mexican League team for a handful of players.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have been active before July 2 in Eddie Romero's first year as international scouting director. Boston signed diminutive but talented 18-year-old shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin out of Taiwan for $2.05 million in June. Back in February they also signed 20-year-old Dominican righthander Simon Mercedes, though his contract is still awaiting official approval. One of Mercedes' trainers was Felix Liriano, who also is one of the trainers for Jose Almonte, a Dominican righthander who has been tied to the Red Sox. Beyond Almonte, it's not clear yet where the Red Sox may go. They were mentioned as having interest at one point in Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica, but sources believe the Rays are the favorites there.
The Cubs have shown interest in various players in Latin America, but it seems like Dominican shortstop Frandy de la Rosa is high on their priority list. The suspension of Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua ends on July 19. He is one player the Cubs have been tied to and he could cost more than the $1.1 million the Yankees were going to give him in 2011. The Cubs have poured money into the Cuban market as well with the signing of Jorge Soler becoming official this week, so it shouldn't be a surprise if they throw some of their international funds that way either.
Chicago White Sox
Since hiring Marco Paddy after the 2011 season as a special assistant to the general manager in charge of international operations, the White Sox appear to have made a commitment to return to the Latin American market. They have shown a greater presence in Latin America since Paddy's arrival, although it's not clear that the White Sox will make a big splash on July 2. They appear to have money to spend, but it looks like they may spread it out over several mid-range players. Some think Dominican shortstop Johan Cruz is on their radar.
The Reds aren't afraid to spend big money when they like a player. Venezuelan outfielder Yorman Rodriguez ($2.5 million) and Dominican outfielder Juan Duran ($2 million) haven't been able to put it together since signing in 2008. Its big investment in Cuban lefthander Aroldis Chapman has given Cincinnati one of the game's elite relievers. This year sources think the Reds may lay low around July 2. Given the nature of how often players age 16-17 develop later in the year beyond July 2, waiting things out while other teams use up most of their $2.9 million bonus pool early in the signing period might be an interesting strategy, if they choose to go that route.
Cleveland's top international signing from last year, Dominican shortstop Dorssys Paulino, is off to a strong start in the Rookie-level Arizona League. This year the Indians have been linked to several players, including Dominican righthander Osiris Ramirez, a late bloomer whose stock has been on the rise lately. Francisco Mejia from the Dominican Republic and Yoiber Marquina from Venezuela are a pair of catchers who have also been linked to the Indians. They both have strong arms but will need time for their hitting to develop. Dominican shortstop Grofy Cruz seems to be another Indians target. There was also a rumor that the Indians might be considering a bonus of more than $1 million for Dominican outfielder Hector Caro, who trains with Ivan Noboa. If the Indians do sign Caro for a seven-figure bonus, they would be widely straying from the industry consensus, much like the Rangers did last year for Noboa's outfielder Nomar Mazara.
The Rockies were originally believed to be the likely destination for Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro, but now some scouts think that's not going to happen and that Castro will instead sign with Toronto. Some still think the Rockies may still be there for Castro, but most sources think the Blue Jays are the favorites. The Rockies have widespread respect throughout the industry when it comes to their track record with Latin American pitching. Word out of Venezuela is that they are high on lefthander Luis Guzman, who is probably a low six-figure bonus guy. Dominican righthander Victor Magallanes may be another guy they could make a run at.
The Tigers have added an impressive volume of Latin American prospects into their system in recent years, with many of them either still in the low minors or having been used as trade chips. They are one of four teams with an academy in Venezuela, so they are typically active in that country. The Tigers have been linked to Domingo Leyba, a sure-handed Dominican shortstop. Otherwise though it's not clear yet who the Tigers may be prioritizing this year.
When Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was with St. Louis, he helped oversee the revitalization of the Cardinals' Latin American program. The Astros have taken a range of strategies in recent years, going big for Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovando ($2.6 million) in 2010, then spreading out their money more last year. Other teams believe the Astros are fond of Venezuelan shortstop Kristian Trompiz, who has some similarities to other shortstops the team has recently signed out of Latin America. Trompiz should only cost a low six-figure bonus though, so the Astros may be able to make more aggressive deals if they see the right fit.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been one of the heaviest spenders in the international market in recent years. There was some early word that they were going to be players for Gustavo Cabrera, but now that seems less likely. Sources have said the Royals were impressed by righthander Julio Pinto and third baseman Samir Duenez, a pair of players Luis Blasini brought from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic to play in the Dominican Prospect League last month. They could both sign for mid-six-figure bonuses.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels fired former international scouting director Clay Daniel (now a pro scout with Arizona) shortly before July 2 three years ago. Their international program (now led by second-year director Marc Russo) hasn't been the same since, but they have started to add some intriguing international players within the last year. Under first-year general manager Jerry Dipoto, it sounds like the Angels will still have a modest budget to work with, so the organization will have to look for value among players with more moderate price tags.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers' new ownership group seems obsessed with making a statement, but it looks more like a misguided marketing campaign than anything else. First they sent out a bizarre press release
on May 24 with the headline, "Dodgers announce Latin American signings," but never named the players that were signed. Their seven-year, $42 million major league contract for Yasiel Puig makes little sense for a player who may be the equivalent of a third-round pick, hasn't played in more than a year, is out of shape and wouldn't even face live pitching or run the 60-yard dash at his brief tryout in Mexico. The Dodgers seem to be trying to make a push for some of the top international pitchers on the market, as sources say they've shown interest in Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica, Venezuelan lefthander Jose Castillo and Brazilian lefty Luiz Gohara, but it looks like they're going to miss out on all three. They are heavily tied to 15-year-old Mexican lefthander Julio Urias, who plays for Mexico City, where Puig had his light workout last weekend. Other teams think the Dodgers will sign Urias and a few other players from Mexico City in a package deal for close to $2 million. Since Urias is a Mexican-born citizen, only the amount he or any other Mexican players involved in a transfer deal receive (typically 25 percent) will count against their bonus pool. Dominican righthander Gabby Vizcaino looks like another target, while Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua would also fit what they seem to be after.
Marlins international director Albert Gonzalez and his staff operate on a limited international budget every year, but they have managed to find some promising players, including Dominican outfielder Marcell Ozuna and Dominican righthander Jose Urena. They haven't been connected to any of the premium talents in this year's group, so it looks like they will again be in the market for more mid-range type of talent.
Milwaukee's top prospect coming into the year was Wily Peralta, a Dominican righthander the Brewers signed for $450,000 seven years ago. While the new $2.9 million bonus pools may help the Brewers compete for players in the mid-level price range, they haven't been tied to any of the high-profile players in Latin America, so it's uncertain what direction Milwaukee may go this year. Jose Martinez is a defensive-oriented Venezuelan shortstop whose name has popped up in connection with the Brewers, but Milwaukee hasn't emerged as a favorite for any of the bigger names on the market.
The Twins broke away from their normal strategy in 2009 by spending $3.15 million on Miguel Sano. That money looks like a bargain in retrospect for their top prospect. The Twins appear poised to spend big on another power Dominican bat this year, as shortstop Amaurys Minier has been linked by several sources to Minnesota and is expected to command a bonus of more than $1 million. They have also been tied to catcher Rainis Silva and outfielder Antonio Tovar, a pair of Venezuelans who could get low six-figure bonuses.
New York Mets
The Mets are entering their first July 2 under the watch of international scouting director Chris Becerra. Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario draws a wide range of opinions, but sources believe the Mets have Rosario graded out highly and are the favorites to sign him. Rosario could end up the highest-paid player in the Dominican Republic, though some wonder who the competition is that would drive Rosario's price tag so high. They look like the leaders to land Rosario as well as Miguel Patino from Venezuela.
New York Yankees
In recent years the Yankees have done most of their heavy lifting in the Dominican Republic, where they have added players such as catcher Gary Sanchez, righthander Rafael DePaula and third baseman Miguel Andujar, among others. This year the Yankees' focus seems to be in Venezuela, where they have been in strong pursuit of two of the most polished hitters in this year's class. Luis Torrens, who trains with former Yankees international scouting director Carlos Rios, is a converted third baseman who is expected to sign as a catcher. Some have him graded out higher than Franklin Barreto. Alexander Palma, a corner outfielder who trains with Carlos Guillen, is another Venezuelan hitter with a good idea of what he's doing at the plate and has been strongly linked to the Yankees. There's also a chance the Yankees may make a push to sign Dominican shortstop Wendell Rijo, which would certainly max out their $2.9 million bonus pool but would make for an incredible haul if they could sign the No. 2, 4 and 10 international amateur prospects for July 2.
Dan Kantrovitz had a brief tenure with the Athletics as their international coordinator before the Cardinals hired him as their scouting director after the 2011 season. He left the A's in a better place than when he arrived, most notably with the addition of Dominican outfielder Vicmal de la Cruz, along with a handful of other intriguing sleepers. In their first July 2 under international coordinator Sam Geaney, the A's look like they may take a similar approach to the one they employed last year, waiting for the prices to match the values on some of the mid-range players rather than throw huge dollars at one prospect. Nicaraguan catcher Melvin Novoa is a recent name that has come up in connection with the A's.
The Phillies are usually in the middle to the bottom of the pack when it comes to international spending, but they have gotten good bang for their buck in Latin America. They were aggressive last year when they saw a player they liked—Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Tocci—and signed him for $759,000. They may be willing to take another crack at a couple of guys they have high on their boards this year. Dominican catcher Deivi Grullon earns physical comparisons to Carlos Ruiz, who Phillies international director Sal Agostinelli signed 14 years ago for $8,000. Grullon will cost quite a bit more, but the Phillies have been tied to him and some think they are the favorites there. Dominican outfielder Jose Pujols has some similarities to Astros outfielder Domingo Santana, a player the Phillies signed out of the Dominican Republic four years ago for $330,000. Sources think the Phillies are also high on Pujols. Venezuelan shortstop Jose Martinez may be another lower-level target.
The Pirates have gotten publicity for international signees such as Gift Ngoepe (South Africa) and lefty Rinku Singh (India), but they quietly have become productive on this front. Starling Marte was an 18-year-old shortstop who couldn't get signed back in 2007 until Pirates Latin American director Rene Gayo saw him and gave him $85,000 to play the outfield. Now he's the best international prospect in their farm system and on the verge of helping the big league club. Low Class A West Virginia shortstop Alen Hanson has been one of the top breakout prospects of 2012, while his teammate, outfielder Gregory Polanco, has also been generating buzz among scouts. Mexican righthander Luis Heredia is a 17-year-old off to a nice start in short-season State College. The Pirates seem to have their eyes on Dominican third baseman Julio de la Cruz, who trains with former big league outfielder Luis Polonia. His program has had several players sign with Pittsburgh recently, including Polonia's own son Rodney Polonia. Where the Pirates may go after that isn't clear yet.
St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals international director Moises Rodriguez and his staff have helped turn around what was a relatively dormant Latin American program. The Cardinals have had tremendous success in the Dominican Republic, where they signed a pair of premium prospects in outfielder Oscar Taveras and righthander Carlos Martinez. Last year the Cardinals signed Venezuelan catcher Jose Godoy and it looks like they may go back to Venezuela for another catcher, as they have been linked to Joshua Lopez. Other teams think Edmundo Sosa, a shortstop from Panama, is also high on the Cardinals' priority list. Those players probably would max out at mid-six-figure bonuses, however, so they should have plenty of pool space left to go after other mid-range prospects they like. Venezuelan shortstop Jose Martinez could be one of those guys.
San Diego Padres
Latin American players are starting to matriculate through the Padres system. Rymer Liriano looked overmatched in his debut in the DSL but has emerged as one of San Diego's better prospects with tools that are hard to miss and the number to match. Venezuelan righthander Adys Portillo, signed for $2 million in 2008, is putting things together with a terrific fastball and good results in low Class A Fort Wayne, while 17-year-old Mexican outfielder Jose Urena is off to a great start in the DSL. This year it seems like the Padres have targeted Dominican third baseman Carlos Belen, a potential impact bat. A few sources have also linked them to Dominican outfielder Euris Minaya. Switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Yan Carlos Baez has been a pop-up name tied to San Diego.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have added big-bodied third basemen in recent years such as Royel Astacio from the Dominican Republic and Anthony Gomez from Venezuela. This year they may follow suit if they can sign Dominican third baseman Natanael Javier. They were linked to Nicaraguan catcher Melvin Novoa at one point, while Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua may also be a fit. The Giants have generally stayed away from players with Paniagua's expected price tag in recent years, however, so they may be active more for mid-range type of players.
Mariners vice president of international scouting Bob Engle has a long track record of success in scouting both domestically and abroad. When the Mariners lock in on a player, they usually seem to get him, whether it's Julio Morban, Guillermo Pimentel or Esteilon Peguero from the Dominican Republic, or Victor Sanchez or Jose Campos from Venezuela. This year other teams think the Mariners have their sights set on Brazilian lefthander Luiz Gohara, a 15-year-old pitcher who some teams think is the best pitcher in this year's class. History says Seattle is the smart bet on Gohara. The Mariners will almost certainly spend their full $2.9 million bonus pool. They have a history of paying big dollars for Dominican outfielders, so some think they might be willing to take a shot at Gustavo Cabrera.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays, Tigers, Mariners and Phillies are the only organizations left with academies in Venezuela. Tampa Bay's presence in Venezuela is obvious, as their top six international signings last year were Venezuelan players. The difference is that this year, the Rays look like they're going to be all-in on the premium prospects instead of the lower-level guys and there's a chance they may even exceed their $2.9 million bonus pool. Sources consider the Rays the favorites for righthander Jose Mujica and lefthander Jose Castillo, the two best pitchers in Latin America. Mujica trains at the academy of former major leaguer Carlos Guillen, who also has catcher David Rodriguez, another player the Rays have long been tied to. If they can find a way to land all three players, it might end up being the best international signing class in franchise history.
The Rangers have an incredible portfolio of international prospects in their farm system, from a potential superstar like Jurickson Profar down to a wave of depth in the lower levels with players like Rougned Odor, Ronald Guzman and many others. Right now, however, the Rangers are handcuffed as they wait for a decision from MLB on Jairo Beras, who would have been the top prospect for July 2 had he been 16, though obviously there are now questions about his true age. If MLB approves Beras, there is little doubt the Rangers will spend their full bonus pool allotment. Sources believe they are high on Dominican shortstop Wendell Rijo, but so are the Yankees, who look like the favorites. The others they have been tied to include Nicaraguan catcher Melvin Novoa and Dominican righthander Gabby Vizcaino, although some think the Dodgers are going to make a push for Vizcaino. Most of their plans would seem to be contingent on what happens with Beras, but until they know whether MLB will suspend him, they may have to lay low initially.
Toronto Blue Jays
With Jairo Beras out of the picture, several teams considered Venezuelan shortstop/center fielder Franklin Barreto the top player available for July 2. Barreto is represented by Ciro Barrios, who has had several of his players sign with the Blue Jays, and many believe Toronto is the favorite for Barreto. He should be the top-paid player in Venezuela and has a chance to sign for the biggest international bonus in this year's July 2 class, with expectations just south of $2 million. Many teams figured the Blue Jays would also sign Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica, the top pitcher on the market this year, but now several sources believe the Blue Jays will go in a different direction instead, most likely Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro. That would be a big haul for the Blue Jays in their first July 2 under the watch of their chief Latin American scout Ismael Cruz.
It's been three years since the Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal that embarrassed the Nationals and cost former general manager Jim Bowden and his Latin American scouting lieutenant Jose Rijo their jobs. If there's going to be a year for the Nationals to jump back into the international market, this year would seem to be the most opportune time. For next year's signing period that begins on July 2, 2013, international bonus pools will be tiered in reverse order of 2012 winning percentage. As of today, that would mean the Nationals would have the third-lowest bonus pool for next year. Washington hasn't been mentioned on many players, but the main name that comes up is Dominican outfielder Gustavo Cabrera. Their most expensive international signing in 2011, outfielder Randy Novas ($150,000), also trained with Cabrera's coach, Christian "El Niche" Batista. Some think the Nationals might be the favorites for Cabrera. They have also been mentioned in connection with Dominican shortstop Wendell Rijo, though others think the Yankees will be aggressive there. If they don't sign one of those players, it's not clear what their plans might be.