2009 International Reviews: American League
The six-figure signings (sorted from highest to lowest bonus) and top signing for each team refers to players signed during the international signing period, which began on July 2 and lasts through August. The players’ ages listed are as of their signing date. Visit BaseballAmerica.com to find more in-depth international analysis.
Six-figure signings: None
Summary: The Orioles have shown the preliminary steps of a commitment to building through scouting and player development by spending over-slot money in the draft on Matt Wieters a year ago and trading lefthander Erik Bedard for a rich package of prospects. However, the Orioles remain relatively inactive in Latin America. The Orioles had two players whom they signed from Latin America rank among their top 30 prospects entering the season. The most notable of those players, righthander Radhames Liz, is a 25-year-old who has yet to harness his control.
Boston Red Sox
Six-figure signings: C Oscar Perez, Venezuela, 16; INF Juan Ugas, Venezuela, 16
Top Bonus: Perez, $712,500
Summary: One year after making Michael Almanzar the top-paid international signing period player by giving the Dominican third baseman $1.5 million, the Red Sox were not among the six teams that handed out a seven-figure bonus. The Red Sox fired former Dominican supervisor Pablo Lantigua in late July amid allegations of bonus skimming, and Boston largely shied away from the Dominican this year. But between Perez and Ugas alone, the Red Sox poured just over $1 million into Venezuela. Perez has a plus arm and moves well behind the plate. He has power potential but stands out more for his defensive tools.
Ugas also draws praise for his defensive skills, showing good hands, average present range and potentially above-average range in the future to go along with a 55 arm that could become plus. Scouts say they have questions about how his hitting will translate, a skill set that draws comparisons to Brewers shortstop and fellow Venezuelan Alcides Escobar. The Red Sox also gave Dominican shortstop Jose Garcia $260,000 in May. Garcia, 17, hit .216/.308/.289 in 232 at-bats in the Dominican Summer League this year.
Chicago White Sox
Six-figure signings: None
Summary: Since the firing of former senior director of player personnel Dave Wilder in May amid allegations of bonus skimming, the White Sox have laid low overseas. Of the players the White Sox did sign in the last year, the early results have been underwhelming. Last year’s July 2 class for the White Sox was highlighted by Dominican shortstop Juan Silverio, who signed for $600,000. Silverio slumped to a .228/.265/.321 line with eight walks and 56 strikeouts in 59 Rookie-level Appalachian League games, and scouts came away largely unimpressed.
In November, the White Sox nearly matched Silverio’s bonus when they gave $525,000 to Dominican outfielder Rafi Reyes. Now 17, Reyes hit .177/.238/.253 in 300 DSL at-bats with 13 walks and 104 strikeouts. That same month, the White Sox handed $170,000 to third baseman Leopoldo Sanchez. The 17-year-old from Venezuela hit .209/.346/.221 in 58 Dominican Summer League games, and his two doubles were his only extra-base hits in 172 at-bats.
In February, the White Sox gave Brazilian righthander Tiago Calixto $300,000. Now 19, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Calixto had a 7.16 ERA in 16 1/3 innings in the DSL, with 19 walks and seven strikeouts.
Six-figure signings: C Alex Monsalve, Venezuela, 16; Jose Ozoria, Dominican Republic, 16; INF Giovanny Urshella, Columbia, 16;
Top Bonus: Monsalve, $715,000
Summary: The Indians reshuffled their front office in the offseason, promoting Brad Grant from assistant scouting director to director of amateur scouting. Grant assumed the responsibilities of handling the amateur draft from John Mirabelli, who was put in charge of coordinating the team’s international scouting efforts. Mirabelli intimated in January that the market for talent in the Dominican Republic was beginning to become oversaturated, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that the Indians mined for talent in Venezuela, Columbia and the Far East this year.
Monsalve played shortstop and third base as an amateur, but he will move behind the plate as a professional. Monsalve has a medium frame at 6-foot-2 with room to fill out. He will need time to develop his defensive skills, but it’s his potential with the bat that stands out the most. Monsalve is the second high-profile catcher the Indians signed from Venezuela this year, having already given 18-year-old Rolando Petit $295,000 in March.
The Indians weren’t completely out of the Dominican, as they landed one of the better shortstop prospects available by signing Jose Ozoria for $575,000. Ozoria has a good swing with good bat-to-ball skills. He has good hands at shortstop and quick lateral movement. Urshella has gap power and clean hands and projects as a third baseman. The Indians had agreed to terms with 6-foot-2 Dominican righthander Edward Pinales, an athletic righthander with a mid- to high-80s fastball, but Major League Baseball suspended Pinales for using a false identity.
The Indians also 18-year-old Dominican lefthander Harold Guerrero in January for a low six-figure bonus. And in late September, the Indians made a splash in Taiwan by signing Chen-Chang Lee. The 21-year-old righthander signed for $400,000, the largest bonus this year for a player from Taiwan.
Six-figure signings: SS Javier Azcona, Dominican Republic, 16; RHP Greg Morillo, Dominican Republic, 16; C Gabriel Purroy, Venezuela, 16; SS Luis Cortez, Venezuela, 16
Top Bonus: Azcona, $258,000
Summary: Azcona has a projectable 6-foot-2 body that should fill out and lend itself to power potential. Other teams’ scouts cited Azcona’s below-average speed as a reason he might eventually move off shortstop, but the Tigers see him as a player with good defensive skills. He has a closed stance and shows some good bat speed.
Morillo has a good, projectable fastball with movement, which he complements with a good changeup and a curveball. Purroy is a strong-bodied backstop with good catch-and-throw skills. His swing is short to the ball with some power. Cortez is a lanky shortstop who should continue to grow. His glove and arm strength are both quality tools, and he’s a line-drive hitter who should develop more pop as he continues to mature physically.
After the signing period ended, the Tigers added another key piece to their international signing class by signing Steven Moya, a 6-foot-6 switch-hitting outfielder. Moya, who has plus present power, was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in the Dominican Republic for the last several years.
Kansas City Royals
Six-figure signings: OF Jerico Blanco, Venezuela, 16; SS Pedro Nivar, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Blanco, $260,000
Summary: The Royals supposedly had strong interest in Venezuelan righthander Adys Portillo, but his $2 million signing bonus from the Padres exceeded Kansas City’s entire international bonus expenditures this year. While an international spending spree from the organization doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, the Royals have picked up some quality Latin American talent on the cheap.
Catcher Jose Bonilla, a 2006 signing from the Dominican Republic, had an outstanding year both offensively and defensviely in the Arizona League at age 20. Righthander Kelvin Herrera, another 2006 signing from the Dominican, showed a fastball up to 94 mph and pounded the strike zone as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, posting a 1.42 ERA in 51 innings.
Blanco is righthanded hitter with a good body with a solid-average arm. His contact hitting ability and power lag behind his other tools. Nivar has tried switch-hitting but will likely commit to hitting from the right side full-time in pro ball.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Six-figure signings: SS Henyerber Grance, Venezuela, 16; RHP Daniel Hurtado, Venezuela, 16; OF Glenn Beltran, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Grance, $170,000
Summary: The Angels sent a solid group of Latin American hitters to Rookie-level Orem in the Pioneer League this season, including third baseman Luis Jimenez and outfielder Angelo Castillo. And more talent figures to come to the Angels’ domestic affiliates next year from their DSL club, where 17-year-old righthander Baudilio Lopez had a 2.27 ERA in 87 1/3 innings and finished second in the league with 109 strikeouts. Nineteen-year-old righthander Ariel Pena’s led the DSL with 110 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings and compiled a 1.86 ERA.
While the Angels didn’t spend $250,000 on any Latin American player this year like they did last year for Lopez, their largest bonus expenditure came in the Pacific Rim in late September. The Angels agreed to terms with Pil Joon Jang, a 20-year-old righthander from Korea, for a bonus believed to be around $500,000. Jang, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, has a good body with strong legs and a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 93. The Angels originally tried to sign Jang out of high school, but he opted instead to join the military to begin his required two years of service, which he has now completed. He delivers the ball from a high three-quarters arm slot and repeats his delivery well. He complements his fastball with a curveball, slider and a changeup.
Grance, a righthanded hitter, stands out for his athleticism and running ability, with a lean 6-foot body. Hurtado is around 6-foot-3 with some arm strength and projection. Beltran, a corner outfielder, is a full-bodied 6-foot-2, 240-pounder with plus power and good bat speed from the right side.
Six-figure signings: 3B Rory Rhodes, Australia, 16; In Kyun Kang, South Korea, 19
Top Bonus: Rhodes, $220,000
Summary: While the emphasis for most teams’ international budgets has been in Latin America, the Twins have had a strong scouting presence in the Pacific Rim and Europe. The Twins came away with a pair of power hitters from the Pacific Rim, headlined by the 6-foot-7, 200-pound Rhodes. Rhodes played in July at the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, where he led his team with a .387 batting average and tied for a team-best .429 OBP in 35 plate appearances as the team’s youngest player.
Rhodes, who signed in July just before his 17th birthday for the second-highest bonus for an Australian player this year, has plus power to all fields from the right side. His swing can get long at times and strikeouts should come with his power, but he’s a good athlete who should continue to gain strength as he matures. He’s a 4.4 runner to first base, though he’s an average runner underway. He may end up at first base in the future, but the Twins will develop him as a third baseman, where he has a chance to remain because of his athleticism, work ethic and average arm that projects to get stronger.
Kang, who signed for a low six-figure bonus, is a 6-foot-1, 202-pound lefty-hitting first baseman. His present mobility is limited after having knee surgery, but after a full recovery his athleticism could allow him to play another position, possibly third base. He has a fluid swing and a chance to have above-average power.
New York Yankees
Six-figure signings: SS Gian Carlos Arias, Dominican Republic, 16; OF Ramon Flores, Venezuela, 16; 3B Jackson Valera, Venezuela, 16; OF Yeicok Calderon, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Anderson Felix, Dominican Republic, 16; CF Ericson Leonora, Venezuela, 16;
Top Bonus: Arias, $950,000
Summary: This year was a turbulent one for the Yankees international scouting department. After losing out on the Michel Inoa sweepstakes, the Yankees fired Latin American scouting director Carlos Rios and Dominican scouting director Ramon Valdivia amid allegations of bonus skimming. Rios was held in high regard by some in the industry for his scouting acumen, having signed Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, as well as promising Venezuelan catching prospect Jesus Montero.
Despite losing out on Inoa, the Yankees invested $3.975 million on six July 2 prospects from Latin America. Arias received the highest bonus, but scouts seemed more impressed with Flores. Though Flores received less money than fellow Venezuelans Yorman Rodriguez (Reds) and Luis Domoromo (Padres), one scout called Flores the best hitter he saw in Venezuela this year. Flores has a short, compact swing and good feel for the game, including good instincts on the basepaths.
With first-round pick Gerrit Cole opting to attend UCLA instead of signing with the Yankees, New York spent more money on Arias than on any other amateur player in 2008. Arias is a stocky 5-foot-11, and his thick lower half and below-average speed have scouts projecting a move to third base or possibly second. His hands work well and his arm is plus, and he has some ability with the bat. Calderon is a corner outfielder with good power from the left side and below-average speed.
Leonora is an athletic outfielder with a good body at around 5-foot-10 and runs the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds. His swing gets choppy at times, but professional instruction could iron that out, as he generally handles the bat well with good bat speed. He profiles as a center fielder, though his arm strength and accuracy are below-average.
Kelvin Duran, a lefthanded-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic, signed with the Yankees in April for $300,000 at 17, and power-hitting Dominican first baseman Reymond Nunez got $300,000 in November. Nunez, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthanded batter, hit .230/.294/.301 in 256 DSL at-bats with 19 walks and 73 strikeouts at age 17.
Six-figure signings: RHP Michel Inoa, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Inoa, $4.25 million
Summary: By now you’re probably already familiar with Inoa, one of the best 16-year-old pitchers that international scouts have ever seen. The 6-foot-7 righthander has clean arm action, fluid mechanics that he repeats easily thanks to outstanding athleticism and a low-90s fastball that has touched 94 mph and projects to gain velocity. He complements his heater with a feel for both his curveball and his changeup. Had Inoa been born one year earlier, the A’s might have never landed him, and he could have been either a Yankee or a Ranger (the Reds also had strong interest in Inoa, with international sources saying a major league deal might have been a possibility). But the A’s retooled their player personnel following the 2007 season and throughout 2008 in an attempt to build a sustainable infrastructure of young talent, acquiring minor league prospects through trade and investing more money in the draft and Latin America.
Inoa shattered the organization’s previous international signing bonus record of $350,000 that the A’s gave to Dominican outfielder Robin Rosario in February. Rosario, who is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, has a plus-plus arm and is a 6.5 runner in the 60-yard dash. The righty-hitting Rosario batted .281/.348/.414 in 128 DSL at-bats this summer with five doubles, six triples, 11 walks and 25 strikeouts. The A’s also signed Venezuelan shortstop Jensi Peralta for a low six-figure bonus the same day they signed Rosario, and in November they gave a similar bonus to Dominican shortstop Franklin Contreras.
Six-figure signings: OF Julio Morban, Venezuela, 16; RHP Francisco Valdivia, Nicaragua, 16; 3B Jose Martinez, Dominican Republic, 16; RHP Junior Nunez, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Morban, $1.1 million
Summary: The Mariners are a perennial big spender in Latin America and didn’t shy away from spending big money on players this year. The best player of the Mariners’ class is Venezuelan outfielder Julio Morban, who has an advanced bat with a good swing and a good feel for hitting. While the 5-foot-11 Morban lacks the raw tools of fellow Latin American outfielders Rafael Rodriguez and Yorman Rodriguez, scouts say Morban is a better bet to at least reach the big leagues because of his ability to handle the bat.
Valdivia has a low-90s fastball and was the best prospect available this year from Nicaragua. He has a projectable 6-foot-3 frame and complements his fastball with a slider. Nunez, a physical 6-foot-3, 210-pound righthander, was invited to the team’s fall instructional league.
The organization also inked Dominican third baseman Bertin Sanon for $180,000 in March and Dominican third baseman Oliver Garcia for a slightly lower bonus in November. Sanon, now 19, batted .211/.336/.316 in 42 DSL games. Garcia, 18, batted .178/.315/.260 in 73 at-bats in the league.
Tampa Bay Rays
Six-figure signings: SS Julian Morillo, Dominican Republic, 16; SS Hector Guevara, Venezuela, 16; C Omar Narvaez, Venezuela, 16; RHP Wilmer Sabala, Venezuela, 16
Top Bonus: Morillo, $210,000
Summary: The Rays’ farm system ranked as the best of the game entering the 2008 season, though that ranking was based almost entirely on the organization’s prospects acquired through the draft. That’s beginning to change as the Rays steadily become more active in Latin America. The organization appears poised to continue to make headway into Latin America, particularly with a likely boost in revenue forthcoming from the franchise’s first postseason appearance and with the hiring in 2006 of Andres Reiner, a pioneer in Venezuelan scouting.
At around 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Morillo is a good defensive shortstop with good hands, good first-step quickness and a good arm. He’s a solid runner and his offensive tools are a little short, but scouts praise the switch-hitter’s work ethic. “He loves to play the game,” said one scout. “He’s going to make himself into a better player.” Guevara improved his stock leading up to July 2, improving his speed from 7.25 seconds in the 60-yard dash to 6.9 upon signing. Guevara doesn’t have Morillo’s classic shortstop actions, profiling more as an offensive-minded hitter from the right side of the plate.
Narvaez, a switch-hitting catcher, is around 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and projects to hit for some power. He has good hands and agility behind the plate. A slight fracture in his right wrist has limited his ability to swing the bat from the left side and his arm strength, though he has a quick release and projects to have at least an average arm when fully healed. Sabala is a 6-foot-2 righthander who could gain another inch or two. Some scouts saw him working at 85-86 mph, but his fastball has been up to 88-89 mph at his best with some movement. Sabala, who has a loose, quick arm from a high three-quarters arm slot, has a good feel for his changeup, though his breaking ball remains rudimentary.
Six-figure signings: OF Esdras Abreu, Dominican Republic, 16; OF Hector Martinez, Dominican Republic, 16; LHP Edwin Escobar, Venezuela, 16; SS Odubel Herrera, Venezuela, 16; LHP Luis Parra, Dominican Republic, 16; OF Teodoro Martinez, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Abreu, $550,000
Summary: The Rangers appeared intent on signing Inoa, but were unable to land the crown jewel of the 2008 international signing period. The Rangers’ consolation prize is still a solid package of prospects, with Abreu, Martinez and Escobar headlining the group. Abreu was mentioned in the class of Yorman and Rafael Rodriguez and Duran back in January because of his athleticism and wiry, projectable frame, though that excitement cooled leading up to July 2. Escobar is a 6-foot-2 lefthander with an 89 mph fastball that has touched 92 mph.
Toronto Blue Jays
Six-figure signings: SS Gustavo Pierre, Dominican Republic, 16
Top Bonus: Pierre, $700,000
Summary: Pierre, who is 6-foot-2, 183 pounds, is an athletic shortstop and a plus runner. Though he signed as a shortstop and has made strides defensively, he may ultimately move to the outfield because of his below-average arm, though the Blue Jays will keep him at shortstop for now. International scouts said the righty-hitting Pierre had been inconsistent with his hitting mechanics, though the aid of a professional player development staff could help him take off. Pierre has solid present strength with some power in his bat.
While Pierre was a high-profile signing, the most exciting Latin American player in the entire organization might be 17-year-old catcher Carlos Perez, who signed in January out of the Dominican. Perez hit .306/.459/.378 in 58 games with 52 walks and 28 strikeouts. Voted the MVP of the Blue Jays DSL1 squad, Perez has a good feel for catching and hitting with excellent hands at the plate and behind the dish.