International Signing Wrapup: National League East

Signing bonuses for Latin American prospects have steadily increased throughout the decade, but 2008 was a watershed year.

The Athletics demolished all international amateur bonus records by signing Dominican righthander Michel Inoa for $4.25 million on July 2, but it wasn't the only record that fell. The records for a bonus for a hitter from the Dominican, a hitter from Venezuela and a pitcher from Venezuela all fell this year as teams like the Reds and Padres joined perennial international heavyweights like the Yankees and Mariners in opening their pockets in Latin America.

Team Money
Reds $5,705,000
A's $4,880,000
Padres $4,685,000
Yankees $4,250,000
Giants $2,750,000
Cardinals $2,685,000
Mariners $2,591,000
Braves $2,230,000
Indians $2,025,000
Rangers $1,625,000
Red Sox $1,382,500
Pirates $1,200,000
Astros $1,015,000
Tigers $783,000
Blue Jays $700,000
Rays $640,000
Mets $600,000
Rockies $580,000
Angels $440,000
Royals $410,000
Phillies $353,000
White Sox $300,000
Cubs $250,000
Diamondbacks $160,000
Brewers $0
Dodgers $0
Marlins $0
Nationals $0
Orioles $0
Twins $0
According to data compiled by Baseball America, the Reds led the charge in spending in Latin America in 2008. The chart above indicates money that each major league organization spent on signing bonuses of at least six figures in Latin America (excluding Cuban defectors) through September of this year. Teams have spent additional money, of course, on players for five- and four-figure bonuses.
While Latin America remains the focus of most teams' international scouting departments, teams are continuing to make inroads in Australia, South Korea and Taiwan. In those three countries, teams have signed 11 players for bonuses of at least six figures so far in 2008, $2.825 million in bonus money. While those countries continue to draw attention from international scouts, Latin America still dominates the international checkbooks. Through mid September, teams had signed 97 Latin American players to bonuses of at least six figures (excluding $610,000 on Cuban defectors Alexei Ramirez and Reinier Bermudez), totaling $42,239,500 among those players. Between Latin America and the Pacific Rim, 93.7 percent of the money given to players who received bonuses of at least six figures was funneled into Latin America.

With the international signing period having ended at the end of August, here's a breakdown of every organization in the National League East. The six-figure signings (sorted from highest to lowest signing bonus) and top signing for each team refers to players signed during the international signing period, and their ages are as of their signing date.


Atlanta Braves

Six-figure signings: LHP Carlos Perez, Dominican Republic, 16; OF Fredy Gamboa, Columbia, 16; RHP Ernesto Silva, Panama, 16; OF Hector Garcia, Columbia, OF, 16; RHP Wei Cheng Huang, Taiwan, 18; SS Fernando De Los Santos, Dominican Republic, 18; RHP Eduardo Castillo, Dominican Republic, 17; RHP Amabale Nin, Dominican Republic, 18; C Meng Hsiu Tsai, Taiwan, 18

Top Signing: Perez, $600,000.

Summary: The Braves didn't dish out any seven-figure bonuses, but they made a strong impact in Latin America by acquiring two high-profile talents and diversifying by signing a solid mix of players. A 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Perez's body doesn't have much projection, but his present fastball velocity is already at 90-92 mph with a good breaking ball and a solid changeup. Perez, who hails from Santo Domingo, also has a good feel for pitching. Last year the Braves landed Columbian righthander Julio Teheran for $850,000, and they were active again in Columbia this year. Gamboa is a right fielder with above-average power from the left side and a strong throwing arm with good defensive skills. Garcia is a big kid at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, but he's a 70 runner who can play center field. He's a switch-hitter with plenty of tools, showing a good arm and power.

Silva's $225,000 signing bonus was the highest given to a Panamanian player this season. His 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame oozes projection, though he also has a solid feel for pitching already. His 87-89 mph fastball should increase as he fills out his frame, and he should continue to improve an average curve and feel for a changeup. De Los Santos has good hands and range at shortstop and a feel for hitting. Castillo and Nin each have good fastballs, though Nin relies more heavily on his two-seamer to get outs.

The Braves also signed Panamanian catcher Christian Betancourt in March. Betancourt, who like Reds outfielder Juan Duran was born Sept. 2, 1991, signed for $600,000. Behind the plate he has an outstanding arm and consistently records above-average pop times. He has a good feel for the strike zone with gap power and was solid as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, batting .267/.328/.371 in 34 games. Betancourt was also a member of the Panamanian team at the Little League World Series in 2004 that reached the international semifinal.

The Braves dipped into Taiwan as well in July, giving low six-figure bonuses to a pair of 18-year-olds, righthander Wei Cheng Huang and catcher Meng Hsiu Tsai. Huang is a strike-thrower with a fastball, curve and changeup; Tsai has some pop with good catch-and-throw skills.

Florida Marlins

Six-figure signings: None

Summary: The Marlins have not been a big spender in Latin America in recent years. The organization's two best prospects from Latin America—righthanders Eulogio De La Cruz and Jesus Delgado—came to the team in trades with the Tigers and Red Sox, as did big leaguers Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. In November, the Marlins spent $180,000 on 18-year-old center fielder Samuel Bautista, who is listed at a highly projectable 6-foot-1, 148 pounds. The lefty-hitting Bautista batted .218/.306/.366 in 56 games in the DSL this year with 11 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Country Money Players
Dominican $25,428,000 55
Venezuela $13,915,500 34
Australia $1,100,000 5
South Korea $1,100,000 3
Colombia $1,045,000 4
Panama $825,000 2
Nicaragua $726,000 1
Taiwan $625,000 3
Brazil $300,000 1
While scouts continue to be active in the Pacific Rim, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela still dominate the international bonus expenditures. The above chart is of the money spent so far in 2008 on bonuses of at least six-figures.
New York Mets

Six-figure signings: 3B Aderlin Rodriguez, Dominican Republic, 16

Top Bonus: Rodriguez, $600,000

Summary: The Mets' efforts in Latin America have produced promising early returns. Outfielder Fernando Martinez reached Double-A as an 18-year-old in 2007. Righthander Deolis Guerra was part of the package that netted Johan Santana in the off-season. And last year's two top signings—Wilmer Flores and Jefry Marte—are two of the brightest rising teenage prospects in baseball. So it was a bit surprising that the Mets only made one six-figure expenditure in the last year in Latin America, though Rodriguez did receive a substantial bonus. Given the Mets' recent track record of sending players like Flores, Marte and outfielder Cesar Puello to the U.S. in their first season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Mets skip Rodriguez over the DSL and have him start in Rookie-level Kingsport or the GCL in 2009.

Philadelphia Phillies

Six-figure signings: OF Bernardo Solarte, Venezuela, 16; SS Nerio Rios, Venezuela, 16

Top Bonus: Solarte, $130,000

Summary: At around 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Solarte doesn't have imposing physical size, but he has a tapered body and very good power for a player his size. His swings the bat with authority from the right side and drives the ball with good pop for a center fielder. Solarte moved from shortstop to center field, where his so-so hands are less of an issue and his 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale will play better. There is still a learning curve for Solarte in center, but reports from instructional league have been positive. His arm is average.

Rios is a good defensive shortstop, a plus runner with an arm that is at least average and very good hands. Rios isn't quite the defensive wizard as Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis (who signed out of Venezuela in 2006); Rios is faster but Galvis has outstanding first-step quickness and instincts off the bat. Rios still projects to be a good defender but should also be more physical than Galvis and has a chance to be better offensively. Rios has a straight-up stance and is a line-drive hitter who should develop gap power as he matures.

The team spent comparable money in May on Dominican shortstop Jonathan Villar and in December on Dominican righthander Alvaro Bacil. Villar, 17, hit .271/.367/.341 in 62 games in the DSL this summer and stole 27 bases in 35 attempts. He's a plus-plus runner with an average arm and a switch-hitter with offensive potential, though he needs to make strides defensively. Bacil, 17, is a 6-foot righthander with a fastball with a 90-93 mph fastball and an 81-83 mph slider. His arm action and delivery are clean, but his size and two-pitch mix may lead him to the bullpen eventually.

Washington Nationals

Six-figure signings: None

Summary: Since signing Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez in 2006 for $1.4 million (the period's third-highest signing bonus), the Nationals have been relatively quiet in Latin America. The Nationals had agreed to terms with Dominican shortstop Elvin Cuello for $150,000 in May, but the deal was never made official after it was revealed that Cuello was using a false identity. The Nationals did sign righthander Victor Baez for $95,000 in November, though the 17-year-old didn't play much this year in the DSL due to injury. The Nationals picked up 18-year-old Dominican third baseman Alexander Romero for $20,000 in May, and he hit .247/.410/.407 to help lead the DSL Nationals to their second straight league championship.