Helsin Martinez Stands Out For Power Bat

Breaking down top outfielders, catchers in Latin America

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Ariel Ovando set a record last year, but that record isn't likely to last beyond the next few weeks.

Ovando signed out of the Dominican Republic with the Astros last year for $2.6 million, the most money ever for an international amateur free agent outfielder (excluding Cuban defectors). Outfielders are a strength of this year's class of international free agents, however, particularly in the Dominican Republic. So when they become eligible to sign on July 2, several could surpass Ovando's mark.

International sources said Elier Hernandez could sign for more than $3 million, with many scouts split between him and fellow 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Ronald Guzman. Nomar Mazara, a 16-year-old Dominican outfielder with tremendous raw power, also figures to be expensive. (For more on the three players considered to be the top prospects in this year's international class, see our June 13 report.)

But several other outfielders in Latin America figure to draw heavy interest as July 2 approaches. One of them is Helsin Martinez, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound corner outfielder whose raw power ranks among the best in Latin America. Martinez, 16, has played in played in several leagues, including the Dominican Prospect League, Major League Baseball's new league El Torneo Supremo, and most recently the International Prospect League. He won the DPL's home run derby in May, no surprise to many scouts.

"He's got crazy power," said one Latin American director. "It's a quick bat, and when he extends his arms, the ball goes far. Even just in (batting practice), he'll put on a show."

While scouts love Martinez's frame and raw power, his biggest question mark is whether he can take his power to the game. His swing has a hitch that causes him to get under the ball and struggle against better velocity, so he'll have to make adjustments to become more than just a pull hitter. Martinez trains with Pedro Nivar (known as Nube in the Dominican Republic), a former scout who worked with Mariners outfielder Phillips Castillo ($2.2 million) last year. The Mariners have also been connected to Martinez, who will likely be in line for a seven-figure bonus.

Harold Ramirez doesn't have Martinez's imposing size or power, but the Colombian outfielder could be in line for a bonus of around $1 million. Several international scouts were surprised that Ramirez could command that type of money, but indications are that his market is headed that way, with the Pirates most closely tied. Ramirez, 16, is from Cartagena, Colombia, but he's been working out in the Dominican Republic and Mexico with Hugo Catrain.

Ramirez, 16, has a thick 5-foot-11, 175-frame but is athletic and one of the fastest runners available this year. He's a plus-plus runner with a fringe-average arm in center field. He uses his speed well, as he showed during a series of exhibition games against Mexican League teams in March, when a scout said he stole home twice. Ramirez has tools and has shown a solid righthanded bat, though there is concern that his body doesn't have much projection left.

Among Venezuelan outfielders, one of the toolsiest players in this year's class is Jesus Gonzalez, who trains with Ciro Barrios. He has the tools of a right fielder, with solid speed and defensive instincts along with a plus arm that is one of the strongest in Venezuela. Scouts have said the ball jumps off his righthanded bat, producing above-average power, and they like his game swing as well. Gonzalez already has a well-developed frame at 6-foot-2, so scouts have wondered how much projection he has left. The Blue Jays are among the teams who are believed to have shown interest.

Manuel Marcos doesn't have the raw power of some of the other high-profile Dominican outfielders, but he's one of the island's better athletes. Marcos, 16, is 6 feet, 175 pounds with a strong, wiry frame and at least plus speed in center field, where his arm and instincts are both solid. He'll show occasional power, but he's more of a gap to gap guy right now. International sources have said Marcos, who trains with former scout Fred Ferreira, has drawn interest from the Yankees.

Venezuela has historically produced a high volume of catchers compared to other Latin American countries, and this year's class has several Venezuelan catchers who are getting the attention of scouts. One is Marck Malave, a 16-year-old who is still relatively new to catching full time after converting from the infield. Malave did spend some time as a catcher and infielder on Venezuela's 14-and-under team that played in the COPABE Pan American championships in October 2008. He went 7-for-15 (.467) with a home run, two doubles and a walk in the tournament, where he was the youngest player on a Venezuelan team that included top 2011 two-way prospect Victor Sanchez and top 2010 signings such as Blue Jays righthander Adonys Cardona and Rangers shortstop Rougned Odor.

Malave, who now trains with Barrios, is a 16-year-old with a thick 6-foot-1 frame. Scouts who believe in his bat see a switch-hitter with a solid swing with gap power. He's better from the right side than the left, and he'll have to make mechanical adjustments in pro ball. Malave has a short arm stroke and a strong arm, but he doesn't run well and his lack of experience behind the plate is evident in his receiving. International sources have said the Reds could have interest in Malave.

Another high-profile Venezuelan catcher is Jose Ruiz, who scouts say has a better, more athletic 6-foot-1 frame than Malave and more raw power. Ruiz earns praise for his strong catch-and-throw skills, as he has the tools to catch with a strong arm and good footwork. Ruiz also has the raw power to put on impressive displays in batting practice. While some scouts say he has a solid swing, the most common question is whether he can make the necessary adjustments to succeed against live pitching. International sources have said the Padres could have interest in Ruiz.