Thursday Dish: Checking In On Last Year’s July 2 Prospects

Not much action has taken place for the top bonus recipients from last year’s international signing period, but we at least know where some of last year’s top Latin American prospects will be playing in their first professional seasons.

Here’s a look at where the players who signed the top 10 bonuses since July 2, 2008, are currently stationed:

1. Michael Ynoa, rhp, Athletics ($4.25 million): Ynoa’s much-anticipated debut will have to wait a little bit longer, as Ynoa came down with an elbow problem that will delay his first professional pitch. When he does return to health, Ynoa will pitch in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

2. Rafael Rodriguez, of, Giants ($2.55 million): Rodriguez begins his career in the AZL, where he’s off to a 1-for-9 start. Scouts still consider Rodriguez to be relatively raw, but his size (6-foot-5, 198 pounds) and tools—in particular his raw power—stand out.

3. Yorman Rodriguez, cf, Reds ($2.5 million): Rodriguez is the youngest player in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he will play nearly the entire season at age 16. Rodriguez, one of the best athletes available last year with plus-plus speed, is off to a 1-for-8 start with five strikeouts.

4. Adys Portillo, rhp, Padres ($2 million): Portillo debuted in the AZL on Monday, allowing one run, two walks and striking out one in three innings.

5. Luis Domoromo, of, Padres ($1.25 million): Domoromo is the highest-profile July 2 signing from 2008 to spend the 2009 season in the Dominican Summer League. Scouts described the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Domoromo as a potential power-hitting outfielder, but through 21 games Domoromo’s only extra-base hits are a pair of triples and a home run. He is, however, showing some patience at the plate with more walks (19) than strikeouts (15).

T-6. Roberto De La Cruz, 3b, Cardinals ($1.1 million): There was some talk that De La Cruz could start in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, but the Cardinals instead put him in the GCL. De La Cruz has impressive power for his age, though he still needs to do a better job of recognizing breaking balls. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts in his debut.

T-6. Julio Morban, of, Mariners ($1.1 million): Morban was the most advanced hitter available among last year’s July 2 crop, and many scouts preferred him to the Rodriguezes because of his polished feel for hitting. The Mariners gave Morban the most aggressive assignment of any July 2 signing from last year by putting him in the Appy League as a 17-year-old, but he started the season nicely by going 2-for-4 in his debut for Pulaski.

8. Alvaro Aristy, ss, Padres ($1 million): Some scouts saw Aristy’s bonus as an overpay by the Padres, but he’s already shown surprising pop in the DSL, albeit in limited action. Aristy has two home runs and a triple in 11 games and is batting .242/.350/.485.

9. Gian Arias, ss, Yankees ($950,000): Arias was a puzzling sign for $950,000 to some scouts last year. Arias is showing some patience at the plate, but he’s off to just a .235/.338/.309 start in 18 games in the DSL.

10. Ramon Flores, of, Yankees ($775,000): One scout called Flores the best hitter available last year in Venezuela, and after a quick stint in the DSL Flores is now in the United States playing in the GCL.

Other notable prospects worth following who signed last year:

• The Rays opened a new academy in the Dominican Republic this year and just signed on to open baseball’s first academy in Brazil. They didn’t spend heavily in Latin America, but it looks like they spent wisely, as all four of their six-figure signings are off to solid starts. The most notable 2008 signing is shortstop Hector Guevara, who in 31 Venezuelan Summer League games is batting .336/.357/.509. Venezuelan catcher Omar Narvaez is also off to a nice start in the VSL, while shortstop Julio Morillo and righthander Wilmer Sabala are playing well in the DSL.

• The Pirates are making a push for Miguel Sano this year, but last year’s top signing is already playing well in the VSL. Left fielder Exicardo Cayonez, who signed for $400,000 last year, is batting .301/.427/.410 with 12 walks and nine strikeouts in 103 trips to the plate. The Indians’ top signing, catcher Alex Monsalve, is also playing well in the VSL, batting .316/.366/.395 in 19 games. Monsalve is in his first year catching after converting to the position from third base as an amateur.

• Scouts were mixed last year on Venezuelan righthander Alving Mejias, but those who liked him called him an advanced pitcher for his age with an excellent feel for pitching. He’s showing why he drew that praise from some scouts by allowing just one earned run in 15 DSL innings. Mejias has yet to allow a walk and has 12 strikeouts.

• Mets third baseman Aderlin Rodriguez and Blue Jays shortstop Gustavo Pierre both signed for top 20 bonuses last year during the international signing period and are in the GCL. Boston’s top sign last year, catcher Oscar Perez, has been solid in the DSL.

• Reds outfielder Juan Duran and Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt already debuted last year in the DSL after signing earlier in the year. They are both in the GCL, though Duran has been limited to DH duties after returning from knee surgery during spring training.

• Cardinals shortstop Grabiel Hernandez wasn’t a well-known name last summer, but he looks like he might be a shrewd signing. Hernandez draws praise from scouts for his glovework, but the switch-hitting 17-year-old is standing out at the plate early in the DSL season by hitting .329/.417/.507 in 19 games with nine walks, 13 strikeouts and five triples.