Image credit: Yankees RHP Juan Carela (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
It happens every year.
A team signs a 16-year-old Latin American prospect for a small or mid-level bonus. Within a few months, that player’s stock can soar.
Sometimes it’s because a player changes after signing. He grows taller, gets stronger, works with a professional coaching staff daily at the academy in the Dominican Republic and takes off fast. Suddenly the pitcher throwing 87-90 mph is sitting 91-95, or the hitter with occasional gap shots starts consistently driving the ball over the fence.
Other times, a player flies under the radar for international scouts in a lower profile program. Or a player just ends up being even better than the team that signed them expected. With games in the Tricky League (an informal league for July 2 signings) and during Dominican instructional league, players can separate themselves from the pack with their hitting against pro pitchers.
Case in point: After signing Venezuelan shortstop Brayan Rocchio for $125,000 in 2017, the Indians quickly realized he was one of their best hitters. He went on to become the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2018.
Here are some of the 2018 international signings—players who signed for $500,000 or less and didn’t rank among the top 50 international prospects for July 2—who either slipped under the radar as amateurs or have been arrow-up guys since turning pro.
Related: To see all of Ben Badler’s 2018-19 international reviews, click here.
JUAN CARELA, RHP, YANKEES
Carela has already trended up since signing with the Yankees for $335,000 on July 2. With a projectable 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, he was throwing 86-89 mph, but as July 2 approached he touched 92. After signing, Carela’s velocity spiked again when he reached 96 mph at Dominican instructional league.
At 17 with more physical projection remaining, Carela’s fastball could continue to climb, and he pairs it with a sharp-breaking curveball. His delivery doesn’t have much effort and he’s a sound strike-thrower for his age, which are both good sigsn for his command.
JESUS PARRA, SS, BREWERS
Parra signed when he turned 16 on Aug. 30, so he will play all year as a 16-year-old in his professional debut. He was one of the better hitters available in Venezuela last year and he has continued to trend up since signing. He has grown to 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, with a promising blend of size, hitting ability, strike-zone judgment and power.
Parra performed well in games as an amateur, both in terms of getting on base and hitting for power. He’s already showing above-average power that could climb once he fills out. Parra is an offensive-oriented player who might outgrow shortstop, but his hands and feet work well for his size and he has a plus arm that would fit well at third base.
CESARI MORENO, RHP, BRAVES
Signed for $135,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Moreno is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds with broad shoulders, strong legs and a big fastball for a 17-year-old. He has steadily gained velocity, regularly reaching the low 90s now and topping out at 96 mph. He throws a power curveball with good depth and has shown feel for a changeup with fading action, though he’s still learning to keep his delivery in balance to be able to throw more strikes.
DARIMEL MORA, SS, ANGELS
The Angels signed the switch-hitting Mora for $350,000 when he turned 16 on July 16. While training with Quico Peña as an amateur, Mora grew a few inches toward the end of the scouting process, up to 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. A baseball rat with a high-energy playing style, Mora is an athletic shortstop with good plate discipline. He’s a plus runner who can explode out of the batter’s box with the patience to rack up a lot of walks.
Mora projects to play somewhere in the middle of the diamond, though his hands and arm will need to improve to stay at shortstop.
CARLOS VERDECIA, SS, YANKEES
Signed for $275,000 in October, Verdecia is a 17-year-old switch-hitter who raked when he played in Cuba’s junior national leagues. He played for Matanzas in Cuba’s 15U league in 2017, batting .434/.591/.723 in 115 plate appearances with 32 walks (including a league-high 11 intentional walks) and only one strikeout.
Verdecia’s hitting ability is his calling card. He’s 5-foot-11, 170 pounds with good hand-eye coordination and he makes frequent contact. He has a hit-over-power profile, though he can take the ball over the fence and could develop average power. Verdecia has an average arm with the hands to play in the middle infield, though he could end up at second base.
WIKELMAN GONZALEZ, RHP, RED SOX
Gonzalez, 16, has been one of the biggest risers among Boston’s 2018 international signings. During the amateur scouting process, he was throwing 83-86 mph with plus arm speed from a skinny, long-limbed frame (6 feet, 145 pounds). His velocity started to creep up, and as he put on 15-20 pounds, Gonzalez now has reached 93 mph. He has a fast, high-energy delivery that creates a lot of torque and leverage.
Gonzalez is still learning to keep it under control, but he profiles as a starter with a three-pitch mix, backing up his fastball with a hard, three-quarters breaking ball and a changeup.
JEREMY DE LA ROSA, OF, NATIONALS
De la Rosa, 17, signed with the Nationals for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He’s a 5-foot-11 lefthanded batter who hit well in games as an amateur with sharp plate discipline and loud contact. He’s a plus runner too who should be able to stay in center field.
MILKAR PEREZ, 3B, MARINERS
Teams don’t spend much time scouting in Nicaragua, so the Mariners were able to sign Perez for $175,000 in July. After signing, Perez played for Nicaragua at the COPABE 18U Pan American Championships in Panama, where the 17-year-old showed an intriguing bat/ power combination from the right side and a 70 arm.
ANGEL CHIVILLI, RHP, ROCKIES
Chivilli signed with the Rockies for $200,000 shortly after he turned 16 in July. He’s 6-foot-2, 165 pounds with a projectable, athletic frame and a loose, easy arm.
Chivilli is a strike thrower who reached 90 mph when he signed but has since been up to 92 and has the indicators of a pitcher who could eventually throw mid-to-upper-90s heat. His changeup is advanced for his age and ahead of his curveball right now.
YOHENDRICK PINANGO, OF, CUBS
A 16-year-old lefthanded hitter from Venezuela, Pinango has a compact build (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) and has hit in games. He has a good eye for the strike zone and a patient approach, swinging at pitches he can drive and hitting the ball for hard contact to all fields. He’s a plus runner who can play center field for now, though with his body type he might slow down and move to right field.
LUIS DE LA ROSA, RHP, ROYALS
The 16-year-old de la Rosa was training as a shortstop but moved to the mound before signing with the Royals for $147,500. He’s an athletic pitcher who has grown a few inches to 6-foot-2, 175 pounds and taken to pitching quickly. He shows a loose, easy arm and a fastball up to the low 90s with more to go, mixing in a slider with feel for a changeup and impressive pitchability given his background, to the point where he might even skip the Dominican Summer League.
YOELVIS SANCHEZ, OF, MARLINS
A 16-year-old signed for $400,000, Sanchez has an advanced approach at the plate with a knack for slowing down the game. He has a calm, sound lefthanded swing with good strike-zone judgment and gap power. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he projects as a center fielder with plus speed, good routes and defensive instincts.