2010-11 International Reviews: Chicago White Sox
July 2-eligible six-figure signings are players who became eligible to sign last year during the July 2 international signing period as 16-year-olds. The “other six-figure signings” include players who became eligible to sign from previous July 2 classes but did not sign until 2010. Signings exclude Cuban defectors.
Chicago White Sox
Top signing: LHP Jefferson Olacio, Dominican Republic, $125,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: None
Other six-figure signings: None
The White Sox fired former director of player personnel Dave Wilder in May 2008, and the scandal had far-reaching implications for the organization. It continued to make news last year, as an FBI indictment in November alleged that Wilder and former White Sox scouts Victor Mateo and Jorge Oquendo Rivera skimmed $402,000 in bonuses by artificially inflating players’ values between December 2004 and February 2008. Wilder pleaded guilty in February to one count of federal mail fraud. During Wilder’s tenure, the White Sox lavished their international dollars on players like Dominican shortstop Juan Silverio ($600,000 in 2007), Dominican outfielder (and now pitcher) Rafi Reyes ($525,000 in 2008) and Brazilian righthander Tiago Calixto ($300,000 in 2008), none of whom is a prospect. Only Silverio made it out of the Dominican Summer League—he hit .200/.237/.336 in 63 games in the low Class A South Atlantic League last year—while Reyes already has been moved to the mound.
The Wilder era significantly set back the White Sox’s international program, between the years he spent supervising their Latin American scouting and the time it has continued to take them to rebuild. After firing Wilder in 2008, the White Sox did little to overhaul their pre-existing systems in Latin America for two years until they hired Jerry Krause—the former Chicago Bulls general manager—to lead their international scouting department last April.
As a result, the White Sox have spent more effort overhauling pre-existing systems and adding personnel to their Latin American scouting staff than signing top players. Aside from the Cuban market, the White Sox have sat on the sidelines for top international talent the last few years, as they spent just an estimated $345,000 overseas last year. Between the draft and the international market, no team in baseball spent less than the White Sox on amateur talent in 2010.
The White Sox did agree to terms for $125,000 with Jefferson Olacio, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound Dominican lefty with a mid- to high-80s fastball that has touched 91. As with nearly any 17-year-old his size, Olacio has a lot of effort and moving parts in his mechanics that affect his control, though his delivery does provide deception.
Top signing: SS Ronny Rodriguez, Dominican Republic, $375,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: None
Other six-figure signings: RHP Eliezer Sanchez (Dominican Republic), OF Victor DeJesus (Dominican Republic), SS Robel Garcia (Dominican Republic), OF Chia-Ching Lin (Taiwan)
Cleveland’s top signing was Ronny Rodriguez, an 18-year-old shortstop who signed for $375,000 in October. Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic but moved to Lawrence, Mass., when he was around 12 years old. He went to high school in the U.S. but moved back to the Dominican Republic, where he had to wait for around a year until MLB determined that he could sign as a free agent last September.
Among 2010 international signings, some scouts felt Rodriguez might have the most upside among players who project to stick at shortstop. He’s a 6-foot, 165-pound righthanded hitter with surprising pop for his size. Rodriguez has plus speed, good hands and a plus-plus arm. He’s a good athlete, though he’s still learning to hone his tools and play with better body control. After joining the Indians at instructional league last fall, Rodriguez will return to Arizona for spring training and is advanced enough to skip the DSL.
The Indians signed most of their top international free agents before July 2, including Dominican righthander Eliezer Sanchez in June. Sanchez, 19, has a large 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame with power stuff, including a low-90s fastball that touches 94-95 mph and a hard mid-80s slider. Sanchez had a 4.28 ERA and a 28-18 K-BB mark in 33 2/3 innings last year in the DSL. He has some similarities to righthander Felix Sterling—Cleveland’s No. 13 prospect—though Sterling is more advanced, particularly with his feel for the strike zone and fastball command.
Cleveland signed a pair of interesting Dominican position players in February in outfielder Victor DeJesus and infielder Robel Garcia. DeJesus, 18, is a good athlete with a projectable 6-foot-2, 170-pound body. He is a plus runner who spent time at all three outfield positions in the DSL, though he projects as a corner outfielder. His best tool at the plate is his power, which has above-average potential, though he’ll need to hit better against live pitching and needs experience against breaking balls after hitting .214/.301/.305 in 154 DSL at-bats.
The Indians pushed Garcia, 17, to the Rookie-level Arizona League last year, where he showed his youth with a .164/.328/.286 batting line in 140 at-bats. It was an aggressive assignment, but Garcia showed more upside than the numbers might indicate. He’ll need to add strength, but Garcia already has a solid swing and a patient approach at the plate. He’s a good athlete who mostly played second and third base along with a bit of shortstop in the AZL, though he’s probably best suited for second.
Cleveland has become one of the more aggressive teams in Taiwan, signing righthander Sung-Wei Tseng in 2006, catcher Chun Chen in 2007 and righthander Chen Lee in 2008. Last year the Indians went back to Taiwan to sign outfielder Chia-ChingLin for $150,000 in June. Lin, 19, played in the 16U World Youth Championship in Taiwan in 2009 and last year at the 18U Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada, in July after signing. Lin, who joined the Indians in Arizona for instructional league last fall, is a switch-hitting outfielder with some strength to his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. He doesn’t have one carrying tool but is a good athlete with solid all-around skills. He might start in center field, where he has average speed and an average arm, though he’ll likely end up in a corner.
Top signing: OF Danry Vasquez, Venezuela, $1.2 million
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Fernando Chalas (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: 3B Victor Ovalles (Dominican Republic), SS Samuel Crafort (Dominican Republic), OF Confesor Lara (Dominican Republic)
At the big league level, the Tigers might as well be Venezuela’s national team with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez in their lineup. Detroit has also been one of the more aggressive teams signing amateur prospects in Venezuela. Three of their top ten prospects—third baseman Francisco Martinez, outfielder Avisail Garcia and righthander Jose Ortega—are Venezuelan, as are eight of the nine international prospects in their Top 30, not including outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, now with the Pirates.
In 2010 the Tigers made their largest investment yet in Venezuela, signing outfielder Danry Vasquez on July 2 for $1.2 million, the No. 2 bonus for a Venezuelan hitter last year and a club record for an international amateur. Vasquez, 17, is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound lefthanded hitter who handles the bat well for his age, has good bat speed and shows the ability to use the whole field. Instructional league was a stiff test for Vasquez in the fall, but he handled himself well against older competition this winter in the Liga Paralela (the minor league version of the Venezuelan League). One question scouts from other organizations had was whether Vasquez will have enough power to profile as a corner outfielder. Right now Vasquez has gap power that he’s still learning to tap into during games, and like many young Latin American kids he will benefit from additional strength.
An average runner with solid outfield instincts, Vasquez has played center field and right field but is a better fit in right. He’ll join the Tigers for spring training and will most likely start in the Venezuelan Summer League, though there’s a chance he could play in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League at some point in 2011.
On July 2 the Tigers also signed Fernando Chalas, a Dominican righthander with a loose arm and a high-80s fastball that has topped out at 90 mph. Chalas, 17, is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds and has the clean arm stroke, arm speed and projectable size to potentially have a plus fastball one day. He also shows the makings of a curveball and a changeup.
The Tigers were active in the Dominican Republic last year before July 2, and their top addition was third baseman Victor Ovalles, who signed for $275,000 in March. Ovalles, 17, has an extra-large 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame with above-average power and a strong arm. Ovalles scuffled in the DSL but was hampered by injuries, including one to his hamstring.
In January the Tigers signed Samuel Crafort, a 6-foot, 150-pound Dominican shortstop with good speed and arm strength. Crafort, 17, bounced between second base and shortstop, showing good speed and arm strength. He’s a switch-hitter, though his tools are ahead of his skills right now after he led the DSL in strikeouts last summer.
In March the Tigers signed Dominican right fielder Confesor Lara for $175,000. Lara, 20, was a former high-profile player who had been using a different age and identity, then hit .198/.279/.239 in 57 DSL games. His righthanded bat is raw but his tools stick out, with a lean 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame, plus speed, a plus arm and plus raw power.
Brenny Paulino, 18, is one of Detroit’s most promising arms from last year’s DSL squad. Paulino’s cousin David Paulino wasn’t a high-profile player but could turn into a solid sign for the Tigers, who wrapped him up for $75,000 in September. Paulino, 17, has a lanky frame and huge projection, as he might be an inch or two taller than his listed signing height of 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. His fastball sits in the mid-80s but with his size and loose arm he should be able to add substantial velocity to go with his developing curve and changeup.
Kansas City Royals
Top signing: SS Humberto Arteaga, Venezuela, $1.1 million
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Jose Solano (Dominican Republic)
Other seven-figure and six-figure signings: SS Orlando Calixte (Dominican Republic)
It’s easy to get lost in the wave of prospect riches the Royals have produced from their last four drafts, but they have one of the more promising groups of Latin American talent below full-season ball. Righthanders Yordano Ventura and Robinson Yambati were the best pitchers in the Arizona League last year, while Cheslor Cuthbert was one of the top hitting prospects in his brief stint there.
If there was a position in the Royals’ farm system where talent was thin heading into 2010, however, it might be at shortstop, though with Alcides Escobar now in Kansas City the Royals could be set there for the next five years. The Royals were able to upgrade the position with their 2010 Latin American signing class, landing two million-dollar shortstops in Humberto Arteaga and Orlando Calixte.
Arteaga’s $1.1 million bonus surprised many other international scouting directors, but Royals scout Richard Castro followed him since he was 13, and the Royals see a sure-handed shortstop with above-average defensive potential. Arteaga was the shortstop on Venezuela’s 14-and-under national team in 2008 at the Pan American championships, where his double-play partner was Rangers shortstop Rougned Odor. Arteaga earned all-star honors, tying Odor for the tournament lead in OBP and ranking third in average.
Arteaga, 17, is a 6-foot, 165-pound righthanded hitter who began switch-hitting within the last year or so, but he will bat exclusively righthanded as a pro. He isn’t a power hitter but he has a simple, line-drive stroke. An average runner, Arteaga is a fundamentally sound fielder with good instincts and quick reactions off the bat.
Calixte popped up in 2008 when he was known as Paul Carlixte. His MLB investigation came back irregular, and his name went from Paul Carlixte to Orlando Caxito to Orlando Calixte as he apparently shuffled through identities with his brother. Now 19, Calixte’s $1 million deal with the Royals became official in August. A wiry 6-foot-1 righthanded hitter, Calixte has more offensive upside than Arteaga. He played briefly in the DSL, hitting .227/.350/.318 in 20 games before MLB asked the Royals to stop playing him until they sorted through the confusion over his background. Calixte has a good offensive approach and gap power, projecting more as a doubles hitter than a home run threat. He’s added some strength since signing and was already in Arizona for spring training in February. An average runner, Calixte is more of a rangy shortstop than Arteaga and shows a strong arm.
In July the Royals also signed Jose Solano, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound outfielder from the Dominican Republic. Solano, 17, is a righthanded hitter with some offensive upside and a projectable body. He’s an average runner who projects as a corner outfielder. Another Royals’ July signing, Misael Bueno, was a raw but very athletic Dominican center fielder whose skills are beginning to catch up to his tools. Bueno was a member of the Santo Domingo team that played in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) junior boys tournament in 2009. At 17, Bueno has a projectable 6-foot, 170-pound body, runs and throws well and has made strides with his righthanded swing.
Kansas City’s biggest international signing last year was Cuban lefthander Noel Arguelles, who got a $3.4 million bonus as part of a five-year, $6.9 million major league deal last January. He missed all of the 2010 season due to left shoulder problems, then had surgery in August. Arguelles, 21, is throwing bullpen sessions but isn’t expected to begin pitching competitively again until after spring training.
High-Speed Cameras Give Triston McKenzie An Inside Edge
Indians righthander Triston McKenzie improved his breaking ball with the help of high-speed cameras.
Top signing: SS Javier Pimentel, Dominican Republic, $575,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Carlos Martinez (Panama), SS Ronald Jimenez (Venezuela), RHP Yorman Landa (Venezuela) LHP Reyson Zoquiel (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: None
For years the Twins have been industry leaders in Europe, Asia and Australia, but their international focus in the amateur market last year was in Latin America. After signing Dominican shortstops Miguel Sano ($3.1 million) and Jorge Polanco ($575,000) in 2009, the Twins went back to the Dominican Republic to land another top shortstop, Javier Pimentel, for $575,000 in November. Pimentel, 16, is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound righthanded hitter with a chance to hit for average and power, though some scouts were split on his bat. Pimentel made strides at the plate last summer, showing a solid swing and power potential once he fills out. How much Pimentel fills out will determine his future position. He’s an average runner now and his glove might be a better fit at a corner, with the arm strength to play third base or right field.
The Twins also signed three top players with experience in international competitions, as Panamanian shortstop Carlos Martinez, Venezuelan shortstop Ronald Jimenez and Venezuelan righthander Yorman Landa all played in the COPABE Pan American 14U championship in 2008. Martinez, 16, signed in July for $255,000, the top bonus for a Panamanian player in 2010. Martinez was named the all-star first baseman at the Pan Am championship, but he can play all over the field and will likely begin his career at shortstop in the DSL this summer. A righthanded hitter at around 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Martinez’s bonus came as a surprise to some scouts in Panama because he doesn’t have any standout tools, but he is solid across the board, showing good hands and agility in the field.
Jimenez, 17, is a 6-foot, 170-pound righthanded hitter with an aggressive approach at the plate. Jimenez got off to a shaky start in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League) but he has a line-drive swing and led the Pan Am championship with five home runs in six games, though he doesn’t project as a major power threat as a professional. With Humberto Arteaga (Royals) at shortstop and Rougned Odor (Rangers) at second base, Jimenez played third base for Venezuela’s 14U national team, but he has a chance to play shortstop for the Twins.
Landa, 16, is an athletic strike-thrower who repeats his delivery well for his age and has good arm action. At around 6-foot, 160 pounds, Landa has some projection remaining on his high-80s fastball that he can ran up to 92 mph, though it can get straight. He’ll mix in a curveball and a changeup as well but his fastball is his best pitch right now.
Reyson Zoquiel, 17, is more of a projection but is a 6-foot, 170-pound lefty from the Dominican Republic with a high-80s fastball that touches 90 mph. He has broad shoulders and a loose, whippy arm action with good arm speed that offers some projection, along with athleticism and the beginnings of feel to spin a breaking ball.
One other 2010 signing from Latin America to keep an eye on is Angel Mata, an 18-year-old Dominican righthander who signed for $85,000 last January. Mata, who might be a little bigger than his listed 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, was one of the top pitchers last year in the DSL, where he had a 2.12 ERA and a 54-15 K-BB mark in 59 1/3 innings. Mata throws 88-91 mph with a solid changeup, good mound presence and a developing slider.
The Twins also were active in the Pacific Rim, spending $60,000 in June to land 18-year-old righthander Hung Yi Chen, the youngest of five Taiwanese players who signed with major league teams last year. Chen pitched for Taiwan at the 18U Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada, in July, allowing three runs in six innings with five strikeouts and one walk in his appearance against Italy. With a stocky 5-foot-10 frame, Chen sits around 85-87 mph but has hit 91. He throws strikes with a fastball, sinker, slider and forkball with good arm action and a repeatable delivery. He keeps the ball down and has good feel for pitching, so he should make his debut this summer in the GCL.
Dominican righthander Felix Jorge wasn’t a 2010 signing, but he was one of the top July 2-eligible pitchers from last summer and signed with the Twins for $250,000 in February. Jorge, 17, is around 6-foot-4, 175 pounds and impressed scouts early last summer until his fastball velocity started to dip. He regained his velocity this winter, pitching at 88-91 mph and touching 92. Beyond his present velocity, Jorge stands out for his ability to spin a solid curveball and feel for a changeup, along with a loose arm and solid mechanics.