International Reviews: Tampa Bay Rays
Baseball America's annual
International Reviews begin today in the American League East, with
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. BA subscribers have reports for all 30 teams, but our Rays report is free for a sample of what our International Reviews offer.
See also: 2011 American League East International
Tampa Bay Rays
LHP Jose Castillo, Venezuela, $1.55 million.
Seven- and six-figure signings:
RHP Jose Mujica (Venezuela), C David Rodriguez (Venezuela), C Eric Maria
(Dominican Republic), LHP Frehumar Rivas (Venezuela), OF Angel Moreno
(Dominican Republic), RHP Deivy Mendez (Dominican Republic).
Tampa Bay landed some of the top international free agents in last
year's signing class, but the Rays will also be the first team to face
the harshest penalties for exceeding their bonus pool set forth in the
new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The CBA limited every team to a $2.9 million bonus pool for the 2012-13
international signing period that began on July 2. The strongest penalty
in the CBA is that any team that exceeds its international bonus pool
by 15 percent or more will pay a 100 percent tax on the overage and
won't be able to sign a player for more than $250,000 during the 2013-14
signing period. Since July 2, the Rays already have spent more than
$3.7 million (not counting players signed for $50,000 or less, since
there are exemptions for those players), which is 28 percent beyond
their international pool.
As a result, the Rays won't be able to sign anyone next year for more
than $250,000 and probably won't make any major international splashes
until July 2 either because of the tax. Going well beyond the bonus pool
is a curious move, but the Rays did pull in a considerable amount of
talent, including arguably the two best 16-year-old pitchers on the
market. Given that their 90-win season last year will give them one of
the lower bonus pools for the 2013-14 signing period, which many scouts
believe is shaping up to be a down year for international talent, perhaps it
will be a worthwhile gambit.
The Rays signed Jose Castillo
from trainer Felix Olivo shortly after July 2 for $1.55 million, a record for a
Venezuelan lefty, the biggest bonus for a Venezuelan amateur in 2012
and the second-highest bonus for an international prospect last year
since July 2, behind only Mets Dominican shortstop Amed Rosario ($1.75
million). On the same day they signed Castillo, the Rays also signed his
older brother, 18-year-old outfielder Manuel Castillo
, for $35,000.
The Rays had followed Castillo since he was throwing 82 mph. He became
an intriguing arm heading into 2012 because of his size (6-foot-4, 200
pounds), loose arm, solid mechanics and arm speed. Castillo was throwing
in the mid-80s last year in February, but his value soared as his
velocity skyrocketed and scouts noted remarkable improvement in his
conditioning. By the time Castillo signed, he was sitting in the low-90s
with his fastball and touched 93 mph. Since then, Castillo's continued
to add to his fastball and has hit 95.
Castillo's secondary pitches are inconsistent, with scouts mixed on
whether his curveball or his changeup is the better pitch right now.
Castillo's control is also inconsistent, as he tends to fly open in his
delivery, but that's something that should improve given the way his
mechanics and arm work and how athletic he is for his size. He's also
shown the aptitude to make adjustments, as before he signed the Rays
suggested he lower his arm angle from nearly over the top down to
three-quarters, something he took to quickly and helped him improve.
Castillo's expected to make his pro debut this summer in the GCL.
Several scouts thought the best pitcher in Latin America for July 2 last year was Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica
After it looked like Mujica would sign with the Blue Jays, the Rays
stepped in and signed him for $1 million. Mujica, who trained with
Carlos Guillen, was one of the youngest players in last year's July 2
class, as he didn't turn 16 until June 29. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds,
Mujica displays an easy arm action and a fluid delivery that he repeats well, enabling him to throw plenty of strikes with his fastball to both sides
of the plate. His fastball sits around 89-91 mph and has hit 93 with
late, heavy life. With the physical projection he has, Mujica should be
throwing in the mid-90s in a few years.
Mujica's changeup is well beyond his years. It's already an
above-average offering and could be a 70 pitch eventually. He throws his
changeup with good arm speed and gets good sink on it, and he'll throw
it to both lefties and righties. Mujica doesn't have a lot of fluidity
in his wrists, which hinders his slurvy breaking ball. Mujica got some
exposure to pro ball this winter in the Liga Paralela (Venezuela's "parallel league," a winter league for younger minor leaguers), and is expected to
join Castillo in the GCL this summer.
The Rays locked in early on 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher David Rodriguez
who like Mujica also trained with Guillen, signing him for $600,000.
Rodriguez hasn't played in an official game yet, but his career is
already off to a promising start. Even though he was one of the youngest
players in the Liga Paralela, Rodriguez performed well both offensively
and defensively in the league. He hit .258/.343/.371 with seven walks
and 10 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances, and he also erased 14 of 34
basestealers (41 percent).
Rodriguez's showing in the Liga Paralela reflects his advanced feel for
the game. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Rodriguez has a good catcher's frame
and a sound hitting approach from the right side. He makes frequent
contact and uses the whole field with a line-drive swing. He has gap
power and probably will never be a huge home run threat, but he could
hit 10-15 homers per year. Rodriguez doesn't have great bat speed or
quick-twitch actions, but scouts who believe in him think he can get his
hands started early enough to hit.
Rodriguez should stick at catcher because he has soft hands, is agile
behind the plate, blocks well and looks natural as a catcher. He doesn't
have a cannon, but his arm strength is average. His ability to call a
game and his understanding of the nuances of the position are advanced
for his age. Rodriguez will most likely stay in Venezuela to start his
career in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League.
The Rays are one of four teams left with a Venezuelan academy and team in the VSL, and they
have done the bulk of their international spending in recent years in
the country. Another Venezuelan prospect they signed last year was Frehumar Rivas
a lefthander who trained with Gabriel Granja and signed for $200,000 in
August. Rivas, who turned 17 in September, has a skinny 6-foot-1,
150-pound frame with wide shoulders and the ball comes out of his hand
well, which means he should add to his 87-89 mph fastball as he adds
weight. He's not afraid to throw inside, but Rivas is still a fairly raw
projection at this point, as he's still learning to throw more strikes
and bring along his curveball and changeup.
In the Dominican Republic, the Rays signed center fielder Angel Moreno
for $188,000 in October. Moreno didn't turn 16 until July 31, so he was
one of the youngest players who signed last year. Moreno is 6 feet, 175
pounds with good bat speed from the right side of the plate. He has
slightly above-average speed, a solid-average arm and shows good
quickness and solid route running in the outfield.
Tampa Bay also landed Dominican righthander Deivy Mendez
for $120,000 on July 2 out of the program from a trainer known as
"Polika." Mendez, who turned 17 in October, has a good frame at
6-foot-1, 175 pounds with long arms, long legs and big hands. He's a raw
projection with good arm speed, good arm action and has already started
to add to the mid- to high-80s fastball he showed when he signed, though
his curveball and changeup are still works in progress.
Shortly before July 2, the Rays signed Dominican catcher Eric Maria
out of La Academia for $300,000, so his bonus doesn't count against
their 2012-13 international bonus pool. The Rays had previously signed
Maria to a $300,000 contract shortly after July 2, 2011 when he had
presented himself as a 16-year-old named Eric Otanez. He would have been
Tampa Bay's biggest international signing of 2011, but his contract
never became official after Major League Baseball determined that the
player was using a false date of birth and declared him ineligible to
sign for one year. Maria came forward with a new name and a new date of
birth (June 30, 1994) and MLB ended up reducing his penalty, allowing
him to sign with the Rays on his 18th birthday for the same bonus on his
Maria is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with good defensive tools. He has a strong
arm, a quick release and impressed the Rays with his leadership and the
way he quickly took to handling pitchers this winter. A righthanded
batter, Maria has gap power and his inconsistent bat made some strides
while he was ineligible to sign.
Another pre-July 2 signing, shortstop Cristian Toribio
could turn out to be one of the better players the Rays have procured
from the Dominican Republic in recent years, even though he only signed
for $65,000 in January 2012. Toribio, who turned 18 in September, hit
.284/.346/.375 in 55 games in the DSL and stole 13 bases in 16 attempts.
At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Toribio has a good idea of what he's doing at
the plate and is an exciting player to watch with above-average speed
and arm strength.