Dominican Summer League Top Prospects

Scouting reports on prospects to watch from DSL class of '08

In the last two weeks, we've looked at the historical performance records of active major league hitters and pitchers in the Dominican Summer League. Following are some of the top prospects to watch from the 2008 DSL—listed in alphabetical order—with notes on a few other players to watch. Odds are that only a handful of them will end up establishing themselves in the major leagues, while others not mentioned here could experience rapid improvement and become better than the players listed below.

Christian Bethancourt, c, Braves: Like Reds outfielder Juan Duran, the righty-hitting Bethancourt was born on Sept. 2, 1991. After the Reds realized they could sign Duran due to a technicality in the rules, Atlanta quickly pounced on Bethancourt. Bethancourt was the top amateur to come out of Panama last year, signing with the Braves for $600,000 in March 2008. Playing the entire season at 16, Bethancourt batted .267/.328/.371 in 34 games. Bethancourt's prowess behind the plate stands out with a plus arm, quick pop times, good hands and lateral mobility. Like most 16-year-olds, his power was below-average when he signed, but he has gotten stronger since then and has some feel for the strike zone.

Enrique Burgos, rhp, Diamondbacks: Burgos signed out of Panama for $295,000, the largest bonus for a Panamanian player during the 2007 international signing period and the most money that Arizona has given to a Latin American amateur since Josh Byrnes took over as general manager. In 41 innings, Burgos had a 3.92 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 26 walks. The 17-year-old Burgos' fastball sat in the high-80s as an amateur, but at 6-foot-4, his projectable frame has allowed him to add velocity. He pitched in the low-90s during the regular season, then sat at 92-94 mph—and touched the mid-90s—during short stints in instructional league. He shows feel for a potentially above-average breaking ball, a curve with occasional 12-to-6 break and depth. His third pitch, a changeup, is a work in progress. Burgos' height helps him generate downward angle from a high three-quarters arm slot, though he has a tendency to collapse his back side and get rotational too early, causing his stuff to flatten. Though he throws with relatively little effort, Burgos is still learning to repeat his mechanics with his long limbs to throw strikes more frequently. Shortstop Antonio Sepulveda, a 5-foot-9, switch-hitting shortstop with plus-plus speed and a plus arm, is another Diamondback worth monitoring, though he struggled last year at the plate. Sepulveda, who turned 17 on Dec. 31, hit .230/.349/.291 in 179 plate appearances.

Amaury Castillo, rhp, Cardinals: The Cardinals had one of the youngest squads in the DSL last year, using 12 players age 17 or younger. One of their brighter prospects is the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Castillo, who turned 18 in November. Castillo has a power arm that delivers low-90s fastballs out of a high three-quarters arm slot, with enough projection to potentially throw in the mid-90s down the road. Used in relief last year, Castillo rarely worked more than two innings at a time and struggled with his control, walking 28 batters and throwing 10 wild pitches in 29 1/3 innings (he also struck out 38), leading to a 5.83 ERA. Castillo has a breaking ball that he'll need to improve to become a reliable second pitch, and though he has a changeup, he didn't show the pitch much last year.

Kelvin De Leon, rf, Yankees: Red Sox third baseman Michael Almanzar was the only player who signed for more money during the 2007 international signing period than De Leon, who signed a $1.1 million deal with the Yankees. Despite his lofty bonus, the Yankees did not send De Leon to the GCL, instead opting to send him to the DSL. The conservative assignment showed both the potential that enabled him to command such a sizable bonus and also the reasons for leaving him in the Dominican Republic. De Leon finished the year batting .289/.399/.489 in 281 plate appearances, ranking eighth in the league in slugging while his seven home runs tied him for second, an impressive feat for a 17-year-old. De Leon's plus power to all fields is his best tool, but his pitch recognition skills and ability to hit breaking balls remain unrefined. His swing tends to get long at times, which led to 74 strikeouts. De Leon's best defensive tool is a plus arm, but his other defensive abilities are raw and have some scouts thinking he might become a future DH. He runs well for someone his size, but he needs to significantly improve his reads in the outfield. "That kid's got a chance to be a special player," said one National League scout. "With time he's going to recognize more pitches. When you're young you chase more balls that you shouldn't, but the way he hits, he has a chance to be an everyday major league player." A good athlete, De Leon also played the season while the Yankees were investigated for skimming his bonus.

Juan Duran, rf, Reds: Duran signed for $2 million in February 2008 when the Reds were able to sign him due to a rule technicality—other teams thought he wasn't eligible to sign until July 2, 2008. As a result, Duran and Bethancourt were the youngest players in the DSL last year. In 41 DSL games, the righthanded-hitting Duran batted .215/.340/.319 with 24 walks, 47 strikeouts and one home run while nursing a tender right elbow that limited him to left field. His raw power potential ranks at the top of the 20-80 scouting scale, with plus bat speed and a 6-foot-6, 190-pound frame that offers plenty of room to fill out. He's an above-average runner now, but he'll settle into a corner outfield position, possibly right field once his arm is sound.

Jonathan Galvez, ss, Padres: The Padres generated more headlines for their international efforts in 2008, but one year earlier they gave $750,000 to Galvez, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic. This past summer, Galvez hit .272/.420/.370 in 216 plate appearances in the DSL, striking out 40 times and drawing 47 walks, which tied him for third in the league. Galvez stands out at the plate for his advanced patience and pitch recognition, though he's still prone to chasing breaking balls out of the zone. The strength in his wrists and forearms helps him generate good bat speed with a line-drive swing. Like most 17-year-olds, Galvez didn't hit for much power in his pro debut, but as he continues to fill out his wiry 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, the power could come around. Galvez is an average runner out of the box, and though he's a better runner underway (and went 8-for-8 stealing bases), speed likely won't be a big part of his game going forward. Though he is a shortstop now, he seems to be a likely candidate to move off the position in the future—possibly either to second base or the outfield. His hands and arm strength are fine, but his throwing action is a little unorthodox.

Baudilio Lopez, rhp, Angels: Lopez was the Angels' top sign during the 2007 international signing period, inking a deal worth $250,000. In his first professional season, the 17-year-old responded by ranking second in the DSL with 109 strikeouts in 87 innings, maintaining a 2.27 ERA and walking only 24. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Venezuelan is an aggressive strike thrower, pounding the zone with a low-90s fastball. Lopez also has feel for a breaking ball and a changeup, and he could develop into a solid starter.

Fabio Martinez Mesa, rhp, Angels: Martinez Mesa signed with the Angels in April 2007 out of the Dominican Republic. In 2007 as a 17-year-old, Martinez Mesa struck out 30 batters in 25 1/3 DSL innings, but he also walked 26 batters, hit another four and posted a 6.75 ERA. He repeated the DSL in 2008 with an improved feel for pitching and dominated his competition. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Martinez Mesa is a tall, lanky righthander who already touches 96 mph with his fastball. He'll flash a plus slider as well, which helped him compile a 1.53 ERA in 76 1/3 innings, while walking 32 batters and striking out 93. He's still filling out his frame and needs to improve his control, but he had one of the league's best arms and has significant upside.

Carlos Melo, rhp, Rangers: Melo, who turned 18 in February, signed with the Tigers in 2007 for $165,000. He had a 5.14 ERA in 49 innings for the DSL Tigers last year, but he struck out 61 batters (11.2 per nine innings) and walked 20. Melo became the rare DSL prospect to be included as part of a trade this offseason, when Detroit dealt him (along with righthander Guillermo Moscoso) to the Rangers for Gerald Laird. The 6-foot-3 Melo has as much upside as any pitcher from the DSL, already hitting the low- to mid-90s with his fastball from a three-quarters arm slot. His heater has plus movement that he can manipulate, generating riding life up in the zone, tailing action low in the zone while occasionally cutting the pitch. His offspeed stuff still is coming along, but he'll flash a sharp curveball at times, along with the makings of a good changeup. Anyenil Mendoza, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound righthander who had a 2.33 ERA last year in 38 2/3 innings, with 12 walks and 42 strikeouts, is another intriguing Latin American arm in the Rangers system. The 19-year-old Dominican features a low-90s fastball.

Roman Mendez, rhp, Red Sox: Boston's Dominican academy has seen shortstop Yamaico Navarro (2006) and righthander Stolmy Pimentel (2007) come to the U.S. and establish themselves as bona fide prospects in recent years. Mendez, who signed for $125,000 in July 2007, could be the next in line. In 11 starts, Mendez had a 2.65 ERA in 51 innings with 16 walks and 46 strikeouts. Mendez, 17, has success by commanding his fastball, an 89-91 mph pitch that peaks at 93 with late life. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Mendez has a lean frame and a quick arm, so he might add a tick or two to his fastball as he fills out. His go-to secondary pitch is his slider, an advanced pitch for his age, and he also uses a changeup.

Melvin Mercedes, rhp, Tigers: The Tigers should have a slew of Latin American players migrating to the U.S. this year, both from their DSL and Venezuelan Summer League teams. Mercedes, 18, is a 6-foot-3 power righthander with a fastball that already reaches 94 mph. He has a solid, sturdy frame with the makings of a good slider. Pitching exclusively in relief last year, Mercdes had a 3.19 ERA in 36 2/3 innings with 33 strikeouts and 24 walks. Over in the VSL, the most exciting Tiger to keep an eye on is 17-year-old Avisail Garcia, an athletic, 6-foot-3 right fielder who hit .298/.342/.449 in 63 games last year. Signed for $200,000 in 2007, he combines a projectable frame and physical tools—he runs well, has projectable power and an above-average arm—with a feel for hitting. Fellow VSL Tiger Francisco Martinez, 18, hit .321/.394/.349 in 68 games with just 28 strikeouts and 28 walks last year, and then went to the Liga Paralela this winter and batted .288/.361/.331 in 43 games. Martinez is athletic, has good bat control and a strong arm, though at 6-foot-1 he's not as physical as Garcia.

Efrain Nunez, cf, Mariners: From a pure tools standpoint, Nunez ranked among the best in the league. A 6-foot-3, 190-pound outfielder, he's a switch-hitter with plenty of athleticism and projectable size. A $450,000 signing from July 2007, Nunez batted .287/.387/.441 with four home runs, but he also struck out 56 times in 195 plate appearances. One scout who liked Nunez as an amateur thought his bat was still far off at the time, and after seeing him this year he said his plate coverage and pitch recognition are still a ways away. Nunez, who turned 18 in February, runs well but could move off center field to right, where he spent some time last year. Unusual for a prospect, Nunez batted ninth in the Mariners' lineup in 25 of his 52 games. Catcher Hassiel Jimenez was a less-heralded signing for the club in 2007, but the 17-year-old earned an invitation to instructional league last fall after batting .273/.392/.376 with 25 walks and 36 strikeouts in 56 games. Righthander Ambioris Hidalgo, who turned 17 in February, signed for $225,000 in July 2007, then had a 4.28 ERA, 17 walks and 39 strikeouts in 40 innings last season.

Carlos Perez, c, Blue Jays: A righthanded batter, Perez signed with the Blue Jays out of Venezuela in January 2008, then proceeded to become an OBP force in the DSL later in the summer. Perez, who turned 18 in October, hit .306/.459/.378 in 257 plate appearances, drawing 52 walks and striking out 28 times. He has a strong knowledge of the strike zone and a feel for hitting, though like many players his age he lacks the present strength to hit for power. He runs well for a catcher, though he should slow down with age. At 6-foot, 180 pounds, Perez should stick behind the plate, where he has shown a feel for the position with good hands and an average arm. His older brother—who also happens to be a catcher, and who also happens to be named Carlos Perez—plays in the Cubs system.

Eury Perez, cf, Nationals: While the Nationals' international program is currently undergoing renovations, the speedy Perez could be the organization's top international prospect once righthander Shairon Martis loses his eligibility. Perez, 18, hit .324/.428/.441 in 60 games last year, showing good control of the strike zone by drawing nearly as many walks (32) as he had strikeouts (36). Perez's plus speed and quick first step play well in center field and on the basepaths, where he stole 28 bases in 34 attempts last year. At 6-foot, 180 pounds, the Dominican-born Perez has a wiry frame and a short swing from the right side.

Robin Rosario, of, Athletics: Rosario signed with the A's out of the Dominican Republic early in 2008 for $350,000, holding the short-lived title of the highest international amateur signing bonus in franchise history before Michael Ynoa signed on July 2. Rosario, who turned 18 in November, hit .281/.348/.414 in 42 games last year, drawing 11 walks and striking out 25 times. While Rosario had a solid year at the plate, his best tool is his plus-plus arm—possibly an 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale—that helped him rack up four assists in just 34 games in the outfield last year. The wiry right fielder has added some muscle since signing at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds and is an average runner. He has made strides hitting the ball to all fields last year, and though he didn't hit any home runs, he has some power potential.

Hector Sanchez, c, Giants: A switch-hitting catcher, Sanchez repeated the DSL last year as an 18-year-old, but his performance was superlative. The 6-foot, 185-pound Sanchez hit .348/.458/.502 with four home runs in 55 games. A Venezuela native, Sanchez has a feel for hitting and for the strike zone—he walked 36 times and struck out 29 times—but his defense is still a work in progress. Sanchez spent 37 games at catcher and 16 at first base, committing 10 passed balls and seven errors in the process.

Eduardo Sosa, cf, Yankees:
De Leon was the Yankees' top international signing in 2007, but Sosa was just as impressive both in terms of performance and in the eyes of some scouts. Sosa, who signed out of Venezuela for $500,000, batted .315/.405/.472 in 296 plate appearances with 34 walks and 54 strikeouts, and he stole 26 bags in 30 tries. Known for his contact-hitting ability and speed, Sosa showed some surprising power with a good-looking swing and feel for the strike zone. One NL scout credited the Yankees' development staff for converting Sosa from a slap hitter with good hands to a hitter who is more rotational in his swing, using his hips to generate more torque and using his hands to swing with more authority. "He'll probably be a 60 hitter (on the 20-80 scale), maybe more, depending on how he learns to read pitches," the scout said. "As a hitter, he'll probably end up better than De Leon, but De Leon has the better all-around package." Sosa's plus speed and arm strength make him a good defender in center field, though like most players his age he is still learning to take better routes to the ball. His skill set has elicited comparisons with Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera and Diamondbacks center fielder Gerardo Parra.

Tomas Telis, c, Rangers: The Rangers signed the Venezuelan Telis for $130,000 as a shortstop, but they immediately put him behind the plate after seeing how his stocky build would likely mature. Rangers farm director Scott Servais said, "We were there the first day and said, 'OK, here's how you put your gear on, here's how you set up,' and really started from the bottom." A switch-hitter, Telis batted .299/.374/.380 as a 17-year-old last summer, showing good strike-zone awareness. He has a strong feel for hitting and a knack for putting the barrel on the ball (he struck out in only 16 of his 266 trips to the plate). He'll need to continue to develop his power, though he's gone from 5-foot-8 and around 160 pounds to now checking in at nearly 200 pounds. He has very good hands that also work well behind the plate, where his defense continues to improve.

Jonathan Villar, ss, Phillies:
The Phillies have both a DSL and a VSL team, and scouts say Villar has the highest upside of anyone on the two clubs. Villar, who turns 18 in May, hit .271/.367/.341 in 62 games with 30 walks and 56 strikeouts. A 6-foot-1, 180-pound switch-hitter, Villar mostly batted leadoff for the DSL Phillies, showing some patience but with below-average power. He's a solid-average runner out of the box but a tick better underway, which helped him steal 27 bases in 35 attempts. In the field, his hands are solid and he has a solid-average arm, though he committed 20 errors and spent some time at second base. Nineteen-year-old righthander Juan Sosa, who had a 1.37 ERA, 25 walks and 60 strikeouts in 59 innings last year, is another Phillies prospect worth monitoring, as he flashes a 90-93 mph fastball with some feel for a breaking ball. He could be a future bullpen arm, as he tends to land on a stiff front leg in his delivery, which causes his stuff to flatten out.