Prospect Pulse: July 25
Yankees, Red Sox busy as international signings begin
Each year the international market explodes in early July, when clubs can sign players over the age of 16 worldwide.
While there were several large bonuses handed out this time around, none approached the $2 million bonuses given (at least initially) to Angel Villalona and Jesus Montero last year.
Villalona netted the top international bonus last season out of the Dominican Republic, signing with the Giants for $2.1 million. The Yankees gave Montero $2 million before reducing his bonus last fall to $1.6 million, and that duo led the crop of five international players who received seven-figure signing bonuses in 2006.
The price tag for most players has been elevated this season because of the increased network of improved facilities and more agents than ever, especially in the Dominican and Venezuela, flooding those areas.
And that's just because of the growing moves by clubs to invest internationally, especially in Latin America.
"It's going to become more the norm than the exception," a front-office official from an American League club said. "The market is just so much more sophisticated than it was even five years ago. Teams are investing more money to improve their complexes, there is more of an effort to duplicate the experience of playing in the U.S. through language courses and that type of thing. The amount of money spent in Latin America already rivals what a lot of clubs are willing to spend in scouting and drafting players in the States and it's only going to grow."Big Spenders
The Red Sox signed eight players, including third baseman Michael Almanzar, though international scouting director Craig Shipley declined comment on any of their movement on the global scene.
No bonuses were included with any of the eight players Boston signed, though several sources indicated Almanzar, the son of former big league pitcher Carlos Almanzar, inked a deal worth $1.5 million.
Including Almanzar, seven players signed 2008 deals according to a press release issued by the club. The lone exception was Taiwanese outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who signed for this season and has been playing in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League for the last two weeks. In 40 at-bats, the speedy 18-year-old center fielder was hitting .225/.283/.350 with a homer and a pair of doubles.
Boston also signed Australian righthander Justin Erasmus (who had been linked to the club since February); Dominican righthander Roman Mendez; Dominican shortstop Rafael Espinosa; Venezuelan outfielder Javier Gutierrez; Venezuelan shortstop Joantoni Garcia; and Venezuelan catcher Jesus Rojas.
The Red Sox' rival in the Bronx had signed more players so far, with five of the Yankees' signees considered among the elite of this year's market. And that begins with Dominican outfielder Kelvin DeLeon, who was tagged as the top outfielder available.
"I wouldn't say he's at all like Melky Cabrera, however," said Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, referring to an earlier scouting report. "Body-wise, he's more like Ruben Rivera. This guy's got all kinds of potential. He's an above-average to plus runner and he could be a big power guy.
"He's probably a right fielder with a plus-plus arm, but he could be an average to slightly above-average center fielder also. We'll play him in different spots out there, but he's probably going to be limited to right just to allow the bat to play."
Newman refused comment on DeLeon's signing bonus, but several sources indicated it was well below the $1.6 to $1.8 million initially reported. One source verified it was in the $1.1 to $1.2 million range.
The Yankees also signed four other impact players considered among the top talents in the Dominican Republic market: righthander Andogious Vizcaino, third baseman Elio De La Rosa, and outfielders Henry Pena and Edwardo Sosa. Vizcaino has a projectable body with a plus fastball that is already in the low 90s and repeats his delivery well. Newman called Vizcaino the top pitcher in the Dominican, according to the Yanks' international scouting department.
Pena is a lefthanded-hitting outfielder that will likely be designated to a corner spot. "We like his bat a lot," Newman said. "He's a left-left guy who throws very well and has good instincts. He uses the whole field and has a smooth, advanced swing."
Sosa is more of a slashing center fielder in the mold of a young Juan Pierre or Willy Taveras, with plus speed and outstanding range.
"Definitely a plus run guy," Newman said. "We like the bat. He's a guy who's going to hit for a high average, be a threat on the bases and we think there's some power in there to come. But his strengths are plus speed, plus quickness in the outfield."Mets, Giants Remain Active; Braves Snag Coveted Teheran
Two years ago the Mets re-established the Latin American big-money market, signing Fernando Martinez for $1.4 million out of the Dominican and lavishing $700,000 on righthander Deolis Guerra. So far, both investments have looked good, and the Mets continue to be active in 2007, signing Venezuelan shortstop Wilmer Flores, Venezuelan lefthander Martin Perez ($560,000), Venezuelan catcher Kelvin Mostcantero ($400,000), and Dominican third baseman Jeffrey Marte ($550,000) and two-way player Adrian Polanco ($400,000).
Seattle has been linked to elusive Venezuelan righthander Carlos Flores, and reportedly signed Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Noriega for $800,000.
The Braves were originally in on Flores, but already have signed Colombian righthander Julio Teheran, considered by many to be the top righthanded arm in this year's class, for $850,000.
Teheran reportedly had better offers on the table, but Braves international scouting director Johnny Almaraz made the best impression on the 16-year-old's family.
The Blue Jays signed highly touted righthander Kenny Rodriguez, and the 22-year-old Cuban defector is expected to report to high Class A Dunedin immediately. Rodriguez defected last year in Ecuador and reportedly fled to Peru. He surfaced in the Dominican touching 93 with his fastball, but still pitches backwards, primarily using his plus curveball, average slider and changeup.
The 22-year-old went 6-4, 4.18 in Cuba's highest-level league, Serie Nacional, with 72 strikeouts in 75 innings before defecting last July.
Three other players of note to sign within the first two weeks of the opening date were Dominican outfielders Angel Joseph and Itaniel Arias Guzman and Dominican shortstop Carlos Valenzuela. Joseph, who several sources claimed was one of the top outfield talents in the D.R. this year, signed a six-figure deal, though the Giants refused comment on what the exact bonus amount was. The switch-hitting outfielder has plus speed and profiles as a leadoff-type center fielder.
The Giants weren't considered a significant player in Latin America in recent years, despite the fact they signed Francisco Liriano for $900,000 in 2000. That all changed witih the Villalona deal last August, and the Giants are a factor again this summer.
"He's got more polish from the left side right now, but we like the speed and we like the range and arm strength he's showed in the outfield," Giants international scouting director Rick Ragazzo said. "His body is very projectable; it's just going to take time for him to get more of a feel from the right side. But he's got good tools."
Joseph reportedly received higher offers from at least three other clubs, but wanted to be a Giant.
"It's always good when you have someone that shows that kind of commitment to your organization," Ragazzo said. "He wanted to play for the San Francisco Giants and you really can't put a price tag on that."
Guzman, who garnered interest from at least eight clubs, signed with the Brewers for $450,000. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound outfielder is wiry strong, and while he can play all three outfield spots, he's likely to wind up on a corner because of his frame.
Drawing comparisons to Jermaine Dye--more for his body type now--Guzman has above-average arm strength and his long arms enables excellent plate coverage. He has good balance and leverage in his swing and there's still plenty of room to grow into his frame.
Valenzuela signed with the Phillies for $200,000. A slick-fielding infielder with plus arm strength and range, Philadelphia also likes the bat, which could have average power potential.QUICK HITS
• The year of the streak continues in the minor leagues. Nationals outfielder Brandon Watson had a 43-game hitting streak that set an International League record, and Yankees third baseman Mitch Hilligoss had a 38-game streak that set a new South Atlantic League mark. The latest long streak to end belonged to Brewers third baseman Mat Gamel, who hit in 33-straight games for high Class A Brevard County before back-to-back 0-for-3 efforts at home against Palm Beach. Gamel raised his batting average from .238 to .315 over the course of the streak, which included 14 multi-hit games. Gamel was hitting .310/.385/.460 with 28 doubles. All three of his homers for the season were part of the hitting streak. Gamel was not quite as hot in the field, having committed 42 errors in 75 games. The longest active streak left belonged to Rangers farmhand Chris Davis (28 games through July 10).
• The all-star break gives teams an opportunity to put players on the move with midseason promotions. Righthanders Clay Buchholz (Red Sox) and Luke Hochevar (Royals) and second baseman Chris Coghlan (Marlins) were three players who joined new teams after appearing in the Futures Game.
Buchholz earned a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket after going 7-2, 1.77 at Double-A Portland with a 116-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 87 innings. Hochevar, who tossed a 1-2-3 inning in San Francisco, moved up to Triple-A Omaha after going 3-6, 4.69 at Double-A Wichita, with a sterling 94-26 strikeout-walk ratio in 94 innings. Coghlan moved up to high Class A Jupiter after batting .325/.419/.534 with 10 home runs and 26 doubles at low Class A Greensboro.
• Taking Buchholz' place at Portland, righthander Justin Masterson threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings in his Double-A debut against New Hampshire. Masterson had ot be excited to leave high Class A Lancaster, where he had a 5.52 ERA in home games and a 3.31 ERA on the road. However, he'd figured the California League out to an extent, going 6-1, 2.64 with just two walks in his last 44 innings.
• Joining Masterson at Double-A will be Bubba Bell, a 39th-round pick out of Nicholls State in 2005. He's moved rapidly after tearing up the Cal League, batting .370/.455/.665 and was leading high Class A in home runs with 22. His batting average and slugging percentages also led the classification.
• Athletics catcher Landon Powell, having his best minor league season since being drafted in the first round in 2004, was lost for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The 25-year-old switch-hitter was hitting .292/.385/.525 with a career-best 14 home runs between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento, his first visit to Triple-A.