Ten Breakout International Prospects To Watch
Two of the biggest breakout prospects of 2012 were Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson.
Both Hanson and Polanco signed out of the Dominican Republic, neither with much fanfare, and neither one received much attention until 2012. Now, Hanson and Polanco both look like good bets to rank among our Top 100 Prospects in the game.
Of course it's easy to love Hanson and Polanco after both players demolished the low Class A South Atlantic League while showing impressive tools and athleticism. It's a lot harder to figure that out when they're raw amateurs, as Pirates Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo did when he signed them in 2009, or even as pros, after Polanco hit .237/.333/.361 in his second tour of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Who are the 2013 versions of Hanson and Polanco going to be? Here are 10 potential breakout international prospects. None of them was a 2012 signing and none signed for more than $1 million, so you won't see Roberto Osuna, Dorssys Paulino or Adalberto Mondesi on this list.
1. Dilson Herrera, 2b, Pirates
The Pirates might have another Latin American breakout prospect on their hands in Herrera. He doesn't have the speed or athleticism that Hanson and Polanco possess, but the Colombian-born Herrera has natural hitting instincts beyond what Hanson and Polanco showed at the same age. After making his U.S. debut in the GCL, Herrera should be ticketed for the South Atlantic League in 2013.
2. Jose Urena, rhp, Marlins
While the Marlins spent lavishly on major league free agents after the 2011 season, they have been tight-fisted when it comes to spending on international players. Regardless, Marlins international director Albert Gonzalez and his staff have been able to find players like outfielder Marcell Ozuna and Urena, who has excellent control of a fastball that regularly registers in the mid-90s. Coming off a strong season for low Class A Greensboro, Urena is one of the best international pitching prospects the Marlins have signed in years.
3. Alberto Tirado, rhp, Blue Jays
Before he left Toronto to join the White Sox as a special assistant to the general manager, Marco Paddy left the Blue Jays with a promising group of arms, most notably Osuna. The Blue Jays in 2011 also paid $300,000 to sign Tirado, who gets his fastball up to 96 mph, keeps the ball down in the strike zone and has an advanced changeup for a 17-year-old. He was one of the top pitching prospects last season in the GCL, where he had a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings.
4. Mauricio Cabrera, rhp, Braves
Cabrera raised his status considerably with a breakout season in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he finished with a 2.97 ERA in 58 innings. He's Atlanta's No. 6 prospect, but with a thin crop of talent ahead of him and the potential for three above-average pitches, he could be sitting on top of the list by the end of next season.
5. Felipe Rivero, lhp, Rays
Rivero's stuff isn't as electric as some of the other pitchers on this list, but he fills up the strike zone with a plus fastball and flashes an above-average breaking ball. The 21-year-old averaged just 2.3 walks per nine innings with a 3.41 ERA in 113 innings last season for low Class A Bowling Green, so he should make the jump to the high Class A Florida State League next season. He's in one of the best organizations in the game for developing pitchers and could become a mid-rotation starter.
6. Orlando Arcia, ss, Brewers
The younger brother of Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia missed the entire 2012 season after he broke his right ankle sliding into second base during extended spring training. When Arcia is healthy, he combines a good eye at the plate with natural hand-eye coordination to barrel the ball and advanced baseball instincts for his age.
7. Jose Peraza, ss, Braves
Peraza won't put on a show in batting practice, but he's excellent in game situations. At 18, he has outstanding speed and good plate coverage, which helps him put the ball in play and hit for a high average with an aggressive approach. After splitting time between the GCL and the Appalchian League in 2012, Peraza should make his full-season debut in the South Atlantic League in April.
8. Luis Mateo, rhp, Mets
Mateo was nearly a Giant, nearly a Padre, then finally became a Met after an elbow injury and an age change. At 22, he's older than most prospects who have yet to play in a full-season league, but that's only because of his atypical development path. Coming off a strong season for short-season Brooklyn in which he had an 85-9 K-BB mark with a 2.45 ERA in 73 innings, Mateo could move quickly, as he has excellent control of a power fastball that he can get into the mid-90s and a sharp slider that he can use as a putaway pitch.
9. Jayson Aquino, lhp, Rockies
The Rockies seem to uncover at least one promising pitcher every year in Latin America under the watch of international scouting director Rolando Fernandez. Aquino, 20, has an average fastball and is a prolific strike thrower. He needs to find a more reliable breaking ball, but his changeup is a plus pitch. The Rockies have promoted him cautiously, but he pitched well when he came over from the Dominican Summer League to the Pioneer League in the middle of last season, posting a 1.87 ERA in seven starts for Grand Junction.
10. Luis Merejo, lhp, Braves
Merejo is one of three Braves prospects on this list, a reflection of the work the Braves have done in Latin America in recent years under international director Johnny Almaraz. While Cabrera and Peraza were notable prospects as amateurs, Merejo signed for just $65,000 and has quickly proven to be a bargain. He throws strikes and has the potential for three average or better pitches, with a low Class A Rome debut possible next season at 18.