International Reviews: Seattle Mariners
Baseball America's annual
International Reviews provide
scouting reports on every team's top international amateur signings from
the 2012 calendar year, as well as a look at any notable signings from
the Cuban market.
See also: 2011 American League West International
OF Hersin Martinez, Dominican Republic, $1.1 million.
LHP Luiz Gohara (Brazil), 1B Leurys Vargas (Dominican Republic), RHP Pablo Lopez (Venezuela), LHP Alexandre Roy (France).
The Mariners added one of the top international pitching prospects on the market last year, had the MVP in both the Dominican Summer League (Gaby Guerrero) and Venezuelan Summer League (Jesus Ugueto), but the biggest news for the organization internationally last year involved what went on behind the scenes.
In October, the Mariners announced that Bob Engle, the organization's vice president of international scouting who had been with Seattle for 13 seasons, had decided to leave when his contract expired at the end of the month. The Mariners also fired
Dominican-based Latin American coordinator Patrick Guerrero, who was originally hired by Pat Gillick in 2000.
The decision to fire Guerrero did not come from Engle, who sources say regards Guerrero as his right-hand man. Furthermore, Engle and Guerrero joined the Dodgers under the same titles soon after. The Mariners did not comment on why they fired Guerrero, but tensions clearly grew between the international scouting department and the higher-ups in the Mariners organization, leading to the acrimonious departure.
Earlier in the year, a Baseball America story
revealed that Major League Baseball had discovered that one of Seattle's most expensive signings from 2007, George Soto, had used a date of birth four years younger than his real age when he signed for $675,000. Soto is the son of Enrique Soto, the prominent Dominican trainer recently convicted of sexually assaulting
two former players when they were minors. Jharmidy DeJesus, who signed for $1 million, and Esteilon Peguero, who signed for $2.9 million then later had his bonus severely reduced to $1.1 million for unexplained reasons, were other prominent players the Mariners had signed from Soto.
The Mariners also moved out of their Dominican complex, which they were leasing from Epy Guerrero, Patrick's father and a former scout with the Blue Jays when Gillick and Engle were in Toronto and later with the Brewers. The team moved into a complex with the Dodgers and plan to build a new Dominican academy.
With Engle and Guerrero gone, the Mariners hired Tim Kissner as their new director of international operations. Kissner had been with the Cubs the previous two seasons as their West Coast crosschecker. The Mariners also brought in Eddy Toledo from the Rays as their new Dominican supervisor.
In 1992, the Blue Jays made history by signing Brazilian righthander Jose Pett for $700,000, which set a record for the highest international amateur bonus of all-time. Engle was with the Blue Jays at the time, though he wasn't directly involved in the Pett signing. Twenty years later, Brazil's biggest prospect since Pett, 16-year-old lefthander Luiz Gohara
, signed with the Mariners for $880,000. Few players ever sign out of Brazil, so the Mariners don't have any scouts based in the country. Mariners director of minor league and international administration Hide Sueyoshi and Venezuelan supervisor Emilio Carrasquel followed him closely for more than two years, and along with Engle built a close relationship with the Brazilian baseball federation. It also probably didn't hurt that the Mariners signed Brazilian catcher Felipe Talos, a teammate of Gohara's, for $10,000 in May.
Gohara has played in Brazilian amateur national tournaments for several years and was on the Brazilian team that went to the 14U Pan American championships in 2010 in Nicaragua. The next year, he went to the 16U World Championships in Mexico, where he was named the best pitcher at the event after he threw 7 1/3 innings with one run (unearned), three hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.
Had Gohara grown up in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, his market would have been bigger, but several teams admitted they either didn't see Gohara at all or didn't get many looks at him. Those who did see Gohara came away impressed. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Gohara's fastball ranged from 86-94 mph before signing, uncanny velocity for a 15-year-old lefty. Gohara also throws a breaking ball with plus potential. Gohara has feel for pitching, changes speeds well and does have a changeup, though he can get by on his fastball and breaking ball so he doesn't use it much. He's expected to begin his career in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he'll pitch almost the entire season at 16.
The Mariners have spent heavily on Latin American corner outfielders in recent years, including Julio Morban ($1.1 million), Guillermo Pimentel ($2 million), Phillips Castillo ($2.2 million) and Jose Leal ($1.925 million). While Morban started to show promising signs last year as he finally stayed healthy, the others have proven raw. The biggest bonus the Mariners gave last year went to Hersin Martinez
, a 17-year-old Dominican left fielder signed for $1.1 million in April who came as advertised, showing big raw power and a crude hitting approach in the DSL. Martinez hit .222/.336/.343 in 232 plate appearances with four home runs and 72 strikeouts. Martinez trained with Pedro Nivar, who is known as "Nube" and also trained Castillo.
Martinez, a righthanded hitter who is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, is a long-term project who may follow Guerrero's path with a second season in the DSL. He has a quick bat and can smash balls over the left field fence when he gets his arms extended with a pull-oriented approach, but a hitch in his swing and a big stride out front give him difficulty with contact and balance. With his size, he's still learning to get all his long levers and moving parts in sync and in the field, so he'll have to make adjustments to tap into his plus raw power.
The Mariners paid $400,000 to signed Dominican first baseman Leurys Vargas
the day after he turned 16 on Aug. 31, making him the youngest player to sign a professional contract in 2012. Vargas trained in Haina with Adolfo Frias (known as "Fifo"), the trainer who also had Morban. Vargas is the son of lefthander Yorkis Perez, who spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues with the Cubs, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Astros and Orioles from 1991-2002.
Vargas is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and the Mariners bought him for his youth and power. Vargas has good bat speed and can take the ball out of the park in batting practice, though he's still learning to take his power to games. Vargas spent some time at third base, but he already has an enormous build for a 16-year-old, so he's going to be either a first baseman or a left fielder.
Not many teams were on Pablo Lopez
, but the Mariners signed the 16-year-old Venezuelan righthander for $280,000 soon in July. Scouting information on Lopez is limited, but he's 6-foot-3 and impressed the Mariners with his size, delivery and pitching savvy.
The Mariners over the past decade have been one of the most active teams in Europe, which is where they went last year in February to sign lefthander Alexandre Roy
out of Rouen, France for $150,000, the biggest bonus for a European player in 2012. Roy, whose father is originally from Quebec and pitched as an amateur in Canada, has dual citizenship in both France and Canada. Roy, who turned 17 in July, pitched at the European Junior Championship in July 2011 when he was 15, making him the youngest player on the French roster. He had pitched at MLB's European academy in Italy, then after signing pitched briefly in the Arizona League last summer. Roy is 6-foot-2, 160 pounds and still a raw project, though he has a solid delivery for his age. He has touched 88 mph with his fastball, shows some feel for a changeup and is still learning a breaking ball.
Seattle's first six-figure international signing after Kissner took over was Luis Liberato
, a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder signed for $140,000. Liberato trained in Santo Domingo with Jose "Mackey" Moreno and also worked with Franklin Taveras, who is the father of Mariners Dominican scout Franklin Taveras Jr., a holdover from the Engle/Guerrero regime who was influential in the signing. Liberato is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds with a mature hitting approach from the left side and advanced instincts for his age, although like many young Dominican amateur hitters he can get power-conscious sometimes. He's not a burner, but the Mariners believe he can stay in center field, although he has enough arm for right field too.
One sleeper for the Mariners could be Kevin Gadea
, who signed on July 2 for $42,000 out of Dennis Martinez's academy in Nicaragua. Gadea, who turned 18 in December, became eligible to sign on July 2, 2011, but he had originally been a third baseman. Mariners Nicaraguan scout Luis Molina suggested putting him on the mound, and Gadea's shown some early promise there. Gadea is 6-foot-5 with a live arm and good breaking ball potential.