Dominican Hitters Stand Out For July 2

Projecting the futures of 15- and 16-year-old baseball players isn't easy.

Throw the complexities that Latin America offers into the mix, and it's easy to see why international scouts seem to frequently disagree—sometimes by a wide margin—on the value of individual prospects in that region.

The situation with players from Latin America misrepresenting their ages and identities has been described as "getting ridiculous" by several international scouts, who say they have serious concerns about the ages of some of this year's top July 2 prospects. Many of them say MLB will still give those players the green light to sign because the investigators won't be able to catch them.

"Scouts, we know they will come up right in the investigation papers," said one scout. "But we've seen some of these kids two years ago when they were saying they were 16 years old—then they disappear.

"It comes down to good old scouting. Nowadays, you have to do the scouting and you have to be a detective. You want to know everything you can know about a guy."

Hitting Prospects

When the beginning of the international signing period does arrive six weeks from today on July 2, the top of the market will likely be concentrated with hitters from the Dominican Republic. Last year the top two bonuses for hitters went to Dominican outfielder Rafael Rodriguez ($2.55 million, Giants) and Venezuelan center fielder Yorman Rodriguez ($2.5 million, Reds), both of whom set amateur bonus records for hitters from their countries.

While scouts are split on their individual opinions of specific players, the scouting consensus seems to be that the hitters at the top of this year's July 2 class—shortstop Miguel Sano, center fielders Wagner Mateo and Guillermo Pimentel and catcher Gary Sanchez—are all better prospects than the two Rodriguezes because they have a better feel for hitting in game situations.

The confluence of an explosive July 2 market in 2008, the current recession of the economy and the growing buzz surrounding MLB's investigations into players' ages and identities has some international scouting directors wondering what effect it all will have on this year's market.

One player who might be setting the market early on is Guillermo Pimentel. Nearly every source contacted for this story said they expect Pimentel to sign with the Rangers for $2 million, or possibly a tick under that mark. Multiple international sources have reported that Pimentel has also been working out at the Yankees' complex recently, but scouts still expect Pimentel to sign with the Rangers.

Scouts say the lefthanded-hitting Pimentel, who is around 6-foot-2, has a short swing, an advanced approach and good power for his age, showing the ability to adjust to offspeed pitches and hit in game situations.

While Pimentel's possible $2 million price tag could help set the market, the feeling in the industry is that Sano, Sanchez and Mateo seem near certainties to surpass that amount and contend for the top three bonuses this summer.

Miguel Sano, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound righthanded hitter from San Pedro de Macrois, is a shortstop for now, but scouts say he will move off the position early in his pro career. He shows good athleticism and arm strength, so most scouts expect him to end up at third base or in right field.

Some scouts say it doesn't matter whether Sano can stick at third base or ends up in right because his bat is his calling card. With broad shoulders, a well-developed lower half and good bat speed, Sano is able to generate power to all fields, though some scouts have said he's better in BP than he is in game situations.

Scouts say the Angels appear to be a player in the bidding for Gary Sanchez, who shows plus tools on offense and on defense, but most say they believe the Yankees are the favorite to sign him.

At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, the righty-hitting Sanchez has plus bat speed and power, getting good extension in his swing from an open stance. Behind the plate, scouts say Sanchez, 16, consistently records pop times of around 1.8 seconds—2.0 is considered average, 1.9 is above-average—thanks to his athleticism, a quick release and excellent arm strength. He should be adept at controlling the running game as a professional, but his mechanics behind the plate still need work and his receiving skills are a work in progress.

Wagner Mateo, who turned 16 on March 30, trains at the same Born To Play Sports academy that produced Michael Ynoa. MLB has already investigated Mateo, who hails from Santo Domingo, and confirmed that his investigation came back OK.

Scouts praise Mateo's compact, fundamentally strong lefthanded swing and good approach at the plate. Some scouts say Mateo has shown plus power to all fields, while other scouts still like his swing but say he's more of a line-drive hitter with average power. Mateo has a relatively mature body for his age at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and some scouts think he could move to a corner outfield position because he is not a great runner. Mateo has one more open tryout for scouts to get a look at him on Friday.

Mateo has experience in game situations as a participant in MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Santo Domingo, traveling to the U.S. the past two years in the junior boys' tournament, where he also pitched.

Another Dominican hitter, catcher Jacob Beltre from Bani, could command a seven-figure bonus this year with his ability to hit for power to all fields. Seen by many scouts as the No. 2 catcher available for July 2, Beltre has a strong arm, but at 6-foot-5, he might not stay behind the plate as a pro, and instead move to first base. Beltre, who turned 16 in November, only began catching within the last year or so after converting to the position from third base.

Pitching Prospects

Unlike last year, the top bonus for a Latin American pitching prospect probably will not go to an arm from the Dominican Republic. Several scouts have been critical of the pitching crop available this year in the Dominican Republic, but at the same time point out that there are always bargains to be had among young Latin American arms for scouts who do their homework.

Venezuela has at least two pitchers getting buzz from scouts, while a pitcher from Curacao finally will be eligible to sign on July 2 after being on the radar for a few years.

Two of the top pitchers in Venezuela are righthander Daniel Sanchez and lefthander Juan Urbina, the son of former big league closer Ugueth Urbina. Scouts say Sanchez's delivery and feel for pitching are both advanced, with a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph and regularly touches 93-94, though some scouts wonder how much projection there is left with him.

Juan Urbina, who has a slender 6-foot-1 frame, throws an 88-89 mph fastball that some scouts say has touched 90-91. With a loose arm and a projectable body, Urbina'a fastball projects as a future plus if not plus-plus pitch. Urbina also has a curveball that could be a future plus offering, with a smooth delivery and a clean follow-through.

One scout called Urbina the best lefthanded pitcher he has seen in Venezuela in the last five years, high praise for a country that produced Martin Perez of the Rangers. Scouts say the Mets are the frontrunners to sign Urbina, whose father is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence in Venezuela for attempted murder. Ugueth Urbina was convicted in March 2007 for the 2005 incident in which he attacked five workers on his farm with a machete and poured gasoline on them.

Curacao has one of the top prospects this year, righthander Jurickson Profar. If the name sounds familiar, you might remember Profar as the star of the 2004 Little League World Series champion team from Curacao. Profar threw six shutout innings with one hit allowed, 12 strikeouts and five walks in a 4-0 victory against Mexico in the international championship game, then went 2-for-3 with a home run in Curacao's 5-2 victory against California in the LLWS championship game.

Profar also led Curacao to a runner-up finish in the LLWS in 2005, when Hawaii defeated Curacao 7-6 in the championship game, in which Profar played shortstop and went 2-for-4 at the plate. Profar did not pitch in the championship game that year, but he did pitch in the international championship game, allowing two hits in six scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and six walks in a 2-0 victory against Japan.

Profar, who turned 16 on February 20, isn't too big, but he already has a fastball in the low-90s with a solid-average breaking ball that projects as a plus pitch in the future. Several scouts said they believe the Rangers are the frontrunners to sign Profar, a good athlete who some think could also be a prospect as a shortstop.

Early indications are that it could be a big year in Latin America for the Rangers. Texas has already been linked to Pimentel, Profar and Dominican righthander Leonardo Perdomo, one of the top pitching prospects available from the Dominican Republic.

Perdomo has a super-projectable 6-foot-6, 180-pound frame and an 86-89 mph fastball that should be at least a plus pitch down the road. Perdomo has touched 91, though scouts who have seen him recently have said his fastball sat closer to 85-87. Scouts expect Perdomo to land a high six-figure bonus.