Inoa Could Break Bonus Record

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Michel Inoa might not have to throw a pitch in the major leagues before he sets his first record.

International sources say they expect Inoa, a 6-foot-7 righthander from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, will receive the highest signing bonus of this year's international signing period, which begins on July 2.

Michel Inoa
Not only might his bonus be the highest of the 2008 class, but it might also be the highest bonus ever given to a Latin American teenager, excluding Cuban defectors. Nationals outfielder Wily Mo Pena, who signed a major league contract in 1999 with the Yankees that included a $2.44 million bonus, holds the current record.

Several teams are interested in signing Inoa, who was born Sept. 24, 1991, but his potential price tag could outstrip some organizations' entire signing budget. The Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Yankees and Athletics have all been linked to Inoa—whose first name is Michel, not Michael as previously reported.

Multiple international sources said the Yankees have already offered $2.5 million, but even that might not be enough. Several international scouts confirmed that Athletics general manager Billy Beane and other prominent talent evaluators in the organization traveled to the Dominican Republic to watch Inoa pitch, with reports of a possible $3 million bonus offer from the organization. Oakland's franchise record for a signing bonus came in 1998, when the A's gave Mark Mulder $3.2 million.

And even that might not be enough.

"If this guy were 18 years old, he would still get $1 million," said one international scouting director.

Athletic Bloodlines

Inoa hails from the Padre de las Casas sector of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. At 13, Inoa was already 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. His fastball reached 83-84 mph, a remarkable feat for a 13-year-old.

At that time, Inoa also played third base and left field. One day, he and his friends had a contest to see who could throw the ball the farthest from home plate toward the outfield. When Inoa's throw bounced off the left-field foul pole, he quickly converted to pitching full-time.

Inoa is a tremendous athlete for his size, thanks to his athletic bloodlines. His mother played for the Dominican national softball team and his father played baseball for various Dominican amateur teams, representing the country in tournaments in Central America and at Olympic qualifying events.

"He's 6-7, but he moves around like he's 5-10," said one international scout. "He's very athletic—that's the thing that makes him attractive. If he grew up in America, he'd be a point guard; he's that good an athlete. He's the best athlete I've ever seen for that size."

Inoa draws interest from teams for his low-90s fastball that comes out of a high three-quarters arm slot, giving him excellent plane to the plate with his height. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph, touching 94 with armside run.

"He's got a big arm and he's a big guy," said another scout. "He's got some velocity, he'll touch 93, 94 for you. "He's got a 45 changeup (on the 20-80 scouting scale). It's below-average, but he'll show you average (changeups)."

It's not just Inoa's velocity that stands out. His athleticism and coordination allow him to repeat his delivery, a rare talent for a teenager of his size, leading to good command of a fastball that's notable both for its velocity and life.

"He can locate," one international scouting director said, "but he's not a big league pitcher right now in terms of location. The first time I saw him he put the ball right where the catcher was asking for it. The last time I saw him he was throwing more for the (radar) gun, but he does it with clean arm action."

Inoa also shows a good curveball, though the pitch has generated mixed reviews from scouts.

"He's got a real short arc on the backswing," said an international scout. "The breaking ball is just very, very ordinary. That troubles me. If a guy's got a long arc, you understand that. But the breaking ball is very, very troubling to me. I couldn't spend $3 million on that. But this guy can pitch—he has some ability."

Another international scout said Inoa's curveball was a good pitch and should get better.

"He throws from the first-base side of the rubber," said an international scout. "That creates some problems with the breaking ball (for a righthander), but that's something you can change just like that to give him better direction to the plate."

Inoa has flashed a splitter, though he has put the pitch on the back burner to keep his arm healthy. His changeup is a below-average pitch now—just like nearly all 16-year-olds—but he shows feel for it.

"I really like the kid," said one international scouting director. "He's got a good breaking pitch—he can spin one—and he throws a decent changeup too. If everything works out, he could be special."