2010-11 International Reviews: AL East

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.

Baltimore Orioles
Top signing: Hector Veloz, 3B, Dominican Republic, $300,000
July 2-eligible six-figure signings: None
Other six-figure signings: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (Venezuela)

The Orioles have done little in the international market throughout their history. They still ranked near the bottom of the league in international spending in 2010, but they did set a franchise record for a Dominican signing bonus when they gave third baseman Hector Veloz $300,000 in July. Prior to July 2, Veloz tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol when he took a drug test as part of Major League Baseball’s registration program for 40 of the top players in the Dominican Republic. Those drug tests were not subject to disciplinary action, and Veloz passed his drug test upon signing, which means he will not have to face a 50-game suspension. 

A 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthanded hitter, Veloz is a power bat who has been inconsistent against live pitching when he becomes pull-conscious, but he’s shown well in games at other times. He’s a tick above-average runner with solid hands and a slightly above-average arm.

Lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, 17, was dominant last year in the Dominican Summer League, where he showed the ability to throw strikes, miss bats and get ground balls. He finished with a 2.33 ERA and a 62-28 K-BB mark in 65 2/3 innings. Rodriguez was a slender 6-foot-2, 175 pounds when he signed for $175,000 out of Venezuela last January, but he’s slowly begun to fill out and add velocity. He now sits at 88-90 mph with tail and some sink, showing good command for his age. He mixes in a fringy slider and a changeup that could be average or better, as well as an occasional slow curve. He’ll likely make his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this year.

Boston Red Sox
Top signing: Edwar Garcia, RHP, Dominican Republic, $200,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: C Alixon Suarez (Venezuela), RHP Jose Espitia (Venezuela), RHP Edwin Osorio (Colombia), SS Cleuluis Rondon (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: OF Robert del Rosario (Dominican Republic), 3B Aneudis Peralta (Dominican Republic)

The Red Sox have been one of the bigger spenders in Latin America the last few years. They set a franchise record by paying the biggest international bonus of 2007 ($1.5 million) to Dominican third baseman Michael Almanzar, then broke that record in 2009 with a $1.95 million bonus for Dominican shortstop Jose Vinicio. In 2010, however, the Red Sox stayed away from the top-dollar 16-year-olds, spreading their dollars around and staying aggressive in the Cuban market.

Their top international signings were Cubans, including catcher Adalberto Ibarra and outfielders Juan Carlos Linares and Jorge Padron. Ibarra, a 23-year-old lefthanded hitter, reportedly agreed to a major league deal worth $3 million but failed his physical, signed a renegotiated deal and had surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder in November. At 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, Ibarra is an offensive-oriented catcher with good barrel control who hit .341 and slugged .481 in his final season for Camaguey in Cuba’s Serie Nacional in 2008-09.

Linares, 26, signed for $750,000 in July and reached Double-A Portland briefly before playing in the Arizona Fall League. A 5-foot-10, 190-pound righthanded hitter, Linares has average raw power and good defensive skills but is a hyperaggressive hitter who drew only one walk in 119 plate appearances between Double-A and the AFL. 

Padron, 25, signed for $350,000 in March, then hit .280/.323/.355 in 78 games between high Class A Salem and Portland. Like Linares, Padron is a free swinger but doesn’t have Linares’ power despite a larger 6-foot, 200-pound frame. While Linares can handle all three outfield positions, Padron’s speed and arm strength are a better fit in left field or at first base.

Boston’s top signing among July 2 eligibles last year was Edwar Garcia, a Dominican righthander who signed for $200,000 in November. Garcia, 17, has an athletic 6-foot-4, 180-pound body and good mechanics. His 88-92 mph fastball has projection remaining, he can get swings and misses on his slurvy curveball and he’ll mix in a changeup as well.

The Red Sox saw outfielder Robert del Rosario hit well in the Dominican Prospect League and signed him in April. Rosario, 18, didn’t play in the DSL because of a fractured hamate bone, but when healthy he’s shown good baseball instincts. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, del Rosario has feel for hitting from the right side with gap power and above-average speed.

Aneudis Peralta, a 17-year-old Dominican third baseman signed in December, has a good swing, quick hands and some feel to hit from the right side. A thick-bodied 6-foot, 190 pounds, Peralta has an average arm and will have to stay on top of his conditioning.

Boston added three interesting Venezuelan prospects in November, including 16-year-old catcher Alixon Suarez. Suarez has a good catcher’s frame (6-foot-1, 185 pounds), a strong arm and shows good aptitude for catching given his age, though his righthanded bat will have to catch up to his defense.

Righthander Jose Espitia, 17, has good size (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and arm action to project on his mid-to-high 80s fastball. He’ll mix in a slurvy breaking ball that could eventually turn into a solid slider. Shortstop Cleuluis Rondon, 16, is a defensive standout with very good hands, instincts and timing in the field. At a skinny 6-foot, 165 pounds, his righthanded bat will benefit from additional strength.

On July 2, the Red Sox added Colombian righthander Edwin Osorio. A converted shortstop, Osorio throws in the mid-80s and is still in the nascent stages of learning how to pitch, but he has a projectable 6-foot-2, 170-pound body, a loose arm and mixes in a curveball as well.

New York Yankees
Top signing: OF Wilmer Romero, Dominican Republic, $656,500
July 2-eligible six-figure signings: SS Christopher Tamarez (Dominican Republic), RHP Juan Matos (Dominican Republic), 
Other six-figure signings: RHP Jose Rafael DePaula (Dominican Republic), RHP Eduardo Rivera (Dominican Republic), RHP Reynaldo Polanco (Dominican Republic), SS Claudio Custodio (Dominican Republic), SS Fernando Perez (Dominican Republic), 3B Fu-Lin Kuo (Taiwan), OF Sandy Brito (Dominican Republic), RHP Roberto de la Rosa (Dominican Republic), RHP Angel Rincon (Dominican Republic)

The Yankees typically come away with at least one of the most expensive players in Latin America every summer, as they’ve spent seven-figure bonuses recently on Gary Sanchez, Jesus Montero, Jose Tabata and Kelvin de Leon. In a weaker year of Latin American talent, the Yankees avoided million-dollar bonuses but still spent more than any team other than Seattle, with a focus on the Dominican Republic. The Yankees acquired high-upside players and signed more players to six-figure bonuses than any other team in baseball with a mix of July 2 eligibles and unsigned players from previous classes.

The Yankees’ most important signing arguably wasn’t their most expensive or even official yet. Dominican righthander Jose Rafael DePaula agreed to terms with the Yankees in November for $500,000, but his contract (and subsequent bonus payment) is contingent upon him acquiring a visa. That is still an ongoing process, as DePaula had previously been suspended by MLB in May 2009 for one year for using false paperwork, though DePaula came forward in June with a new date of birth (March 24, 1991). Even at 19, DePaula was one of the top pitching prospects in Latin America and has been for the last couple of years, a player on par with Cardinals $1.5 million signing Carlos Martinez. Though DePaula doesn’t throw quite as hard as Martinez, he touches 96 mph, shows a loose delivery, a good curveball and feel for a changeup. 

In the July 2 market, the Yankees waited things out last year, landing Christopher Tamarez in mid-August for $650,000 and Wilmer Romero in October for a tick more. Romero and Tamarez are both excellent athletes but Romero stands out more for his size and raw power. A 6-foot-3, 185-pound righthanded hitter at 17, Romero has plenty of projection left in his body but already has good bat speed and can hit the ball out to all parts of the park. Though his hitting and outfield play are still relatively raw, Romero was one of the toolsiest players in Latin America with plus speed and a plus arm. He has the speed to play center field right now, but he should begin his career as a right fielder in the DSL.

Tamarez was a high-profile prospect in the Dominican Prospect League, where he showed athleticism and a projectable 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. Tamarez, 17, made strides defensively over the summer and should be able to stick at shortstop, where he shows solid hands and a solid-average arm with accuracy. Though he doesn’t project to hit for more than average power, he has a short swing and a line-drive approach. He will likely join Romero in the DSL this summer.

The Yankees’ third July 2-eligible signing was Dominican righthander Juan Matos, who agreed to a $400,000 bonus in September. Matos, 17, is the brother of Giants Triple-A righthander Osiris Matos. Juan Matos is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and has a chance to have at least a plus fastball thanks to his present arm strength and projectable body. He already touches 93 mph and has feel to spin a breaking ball.

The Yankees signed eight other players to six-figure bonuses, including Dominican righthander Reynaldo Polanco for $450,000 in May. Originally an outfielder, Polanco’s trainer converted him to a pitcher, and he stands out on the mound for his size (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and arm strength. Polanco, 17, has been clocked as high as 93 mph and shows feel for spin, though despite his ceiling he’s still learning to hone his delivery and control after moving to the mound. He showed his rawness in the DSL, where he had a 7.67 ERA in 31 2/3 innings.

New York also gave $475,000 in September to Dominican righthander Eduardo Rivera, a broad-shouldered 18-year-old with a 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame. Rivera projects as a power arm and already touches 94 mph, though he’s still working on his delivery and secondary pitches.

In 2009, Damian Arredondo was supposed to be a premium Dominican shortstop prospect when he agreed to terms with the Yankees for $800,000 on July 2. Shortly thereafter, the contract was nixed when MLB discovered Arredondo was lying about his age. Then that September, MLB announced Arredondo would be suspended 50 games upon signing after he also tested positive for steroids. His tools still tantalized the Yankees, however, and last January the club signed Arredondo—now known as Fernando Perez, who turned 20 in December—for $300,000. A 6-foot-2, 160-pound switch-hitter with plus speed and arm strength, Perez finished his suspension and played in the DSL, where he hit .216/.355/.250 in 26 games.

In April, the Yankees added another age-change Dominican shortstop for $300,000 when they signed Claudio Custodio, who had originally agreed to terms with the Royals for less money with his previous identity. Custodio, 20, played in the DSL and hit .217/.328/.365 in 61 games with five home runs and 14 steals in 17 attempts. A 5-foot-10, 155-pound righthanded hitter, Custodio has good plate discipline and pop for his size with strong wrists and a handsy swing. Custodio split time between shortstop and second base, though he might profile better at second, where he shows good hands, footwork and feel for the speed of the game.

Three other passed-over Dominicans signed with the Yankees, who added left fielder Sandy Brito in April, righthander Roberto de la Rosa in September and righthander Angel Rincon in August. Brito, 17, offers size (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) and athleticism, though he struggled in the DSL, hitting .199/.357/.364 with 71 strikeouts in 221 plate appearances. De la Rosa, 17, doesn’t have much physical projection at 6-foot, 185 pounds, but he has a quick arm and can already run his fastball up to 95-96 mph, though his secondary stuff, control and delivery aren’t as advanced. Rincon, 18, has a good pitcher’s body at 6-foot-2 and can dial his fastball up to 92-93 mph with some sink.

One sleeper to keep an eye on is 20-year-old Mikeson Oliberto, a $12,000 Dominican signing from July. A 6-foot, 180-pound righthanded hitter, Oliberto batted .287/.316/.487 in 40 games in the DSL, where he played mostly right field. He has the speed to play center field and surprising raw power. An aggressive hitter, Oliberto has some similarities to Yankees high Class A center fielder Melky Mesa, though his tools aren’t quite as explosive.

The Yankees were active in the Far East as well, going to Taiwan last January to sign third baseman Fu-Lin Kuo for $300,000. The 6-foot, 185-pound righthanded hitter played in the GCL and hit .243/.320/.360 in 158 plate appearances. Though he committed 16 errors in 36 games at third base, Kuo’s defensive scouting reports are solid.

Tampa Bay Rays
Top signing: OF Yoel Araujo, Dominican Republic, $800,000
July 2-eligible six-figure signings: OF Erick Vasquez (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: 3B Darryl George (Australia) 

The Rays used to pay little attention to cultivating Latin American prospects, but the organization has a growing presence in the region. The franchise brought in top international scouts from other organizations, and since 2007 the Rays have added promising Dominican arms Alex Colome, Enny Romero and Braulio Lara while going to Venezuela to add third baseman Cesar Perez and middle infielders Juniel Querecuto and Hector Guevara.

Their top acquisition last year was center fielder Yoel Araujo, whose $800,000 bonus on July 3 set a club record for a Dominican amateur. Araujo, a 17-year-old righthanded hitter, is a multi-dimensional player with size, speed and potential at the plate. At 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, Araujo has a good approach at the plate, though he’s still refining his hitting mechanics. He has gap power and the frame to project for average power once he fills out. Araujo is a good athlete and an above-average runner who the Rays expect to stick in center field, though some clubs wondered whether he might end up in left field. Araujo has a fringe-average arm, but he’s battled some arm soreness and could have an average arm in time.

A few weeks after signing Araujo, the Rays signed Venezuelan outfielder Erick Vasquezfor $100,000. Vasquez, 17, is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound righthanded hitter with power. He struggled making contact against more advanced competition in the Liga Paralela (the minor league version of the Venezuelan League), as his baseball instincts are still catching up to his tools. Vasquez is an average or better runner and could start in center field but will likely spend time at all three outfield positions.

The Rays were also active pursuing Cuban defectors early in the year, starting with the April signing of Leslie Anderson to a four-year, $1.725 million deal with a $500,000 bonus. After signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, the Rays designated Anderson for assignment in early February, but he’s shown enough hitting ability to carve out a backup role in the big leagues. Anderson, 28, is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound lefthanded hitter who batted .302/.359/.442 in 99 games between three levels last year, including Triple-A Durham. He’s remarkably coordinated and ambidextrous (he can throw righthanded, though he doesn’t in games), which leads to excellent bat control. Anderson is mostly a finished product at this point, however, and lacks prototypical power and patience for a first baseman/corner outfielder.

Sergio Espinosa
, a closer in Cuba, signed for $100,000 in May and profiles as a lefty specialist. Espinosa, 25, is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds and keeps hitters off balance by varying his arm angle. He’ll throw from a high three-quarters slot at times but drops down to almost sidearm at others. Espinosa varies his release point but he is athletic enough (he also played center field in Cuba) to repeat his delivery to throw strikes. He doesn’t have a big fastball but he spots it away to lefthanders, has an effective slider and slow curve and can mix in a changeup against righthanders from a higher arm slot.

In May the Rays signed third baseman Darryl George for $100,000, the second-highest bonus last year for an Australian player. George, 17, is a righthanded power hitter with a strong arm. George also pitched in Australia and is expected to come to the United States for spring training.

Toronto Blue Jays
Top signing: RHP Adonys Cardona, Venezuela, $2.8 million
July 2-eligible six-figure signings: 3B Gabriel Cenas (Venezuela), OF Luis Martin (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: OF Aderlin Gonzalez (Dominican Republic)

The Blue Jays have been involved with top international free agents in recent years, including Venezuelan third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor in 2006, Dominican shortstop Gustavo Pierre in 2008 and Venezuelan catcher Santiago Nessy in 2009, but the franchise took its international spending to a new level in 2010. First-year general manager Alex Anthopolous delivered on his promise to increase the club’s resources in scouting and player development. Toronto spent $15.8 million on amateur signing bonuses in 2010 between the draft ($11.6 million) and international market ($4.2 million, not including Cuban defector Adeiny Hechavarria), the second-highest total in baseball behind Pittsburgh. 

After signing Hechavarria to a franchise-record $4 million bonus with a $10 million major league contract in April, the Blue Jays plowed forward when the international signing period opened, giving righthander Adonys Cardona the top international amateur bonus ($2.8 million) of 2010 and a record for a Venezuelan amateur. 

The Blue Jays had deep history with Cardona and his family. Cardona’s father Jose Alberto Cardona pitched in the Rangers organization in 1990 and 1991, reaching the low Class A South Atlantic League. His uncle Isbel Cardona signed with the Blue Jays and pitched for their Rookie-level Pioneer League affiliate in 1991, ran his fastball up to the mid-90s, then spent two years with the Giants in 1994 and 1995. Blue Jays Dominican scout Hilario Soriano knew Cardona’s uncle well and Venezuelan scout Rafael Moncada was a former teammate of his father in Venezuela. Cardona also represented Venezuela at the Pan-American 14-and-under championships in 2008.

Cardona, 17, had one of the quickest arms in Latin America, throwing up to 93 mph before July 2 and then touching 94 at instructional league. Signed with an athletic 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame, Cardona has added 10-15 pounds since then and still has plenty of room to fill out, so he could throw in the mid-90s down the road. Though he shows feel for a changeup and his curveball flashes depth at times, several scouts from other organizations did have concerns about Cardona’s breaking ball and the effort in his delivery, noting that he might be a better fit in the bullpen.

Between Cardona and third baseman Gabriel Cenas ($750,000), the Blue Jays gave out two of the top five signing bonuses in Venezuela in 2010. Cenas was one of the top pure hitters in Latin America, showing a short, efficient path to the ball from the right side and good plate discipline for his age. Cenas stands out more for his contact ability than his power, though at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds he has projection left. The Blue Jays signed Cenas for his bat, but his defense has progressed quickly since signing, to the point where some believe he could become at least an above-average defender at third base. A fringe-average runner, Cenas has a plus arm, solid hands and has improved his defensive approach to be able to make both routine and more advanced defensive plays.

The Blue Jays made their third big July 2-eligible signing in November, landing Dominican outfielder Luis Martin for $350,000. Martin, 17 offers an intriguing combination of power and speed at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds. He’s a good athlete who has run as fast as 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash, though despite his speed he’ll likely move to a corner outfield position as he fills out. A righthanded hitter, Martin has a solid approach at the plate for his age, though like many young players he’s still learning to adjust to breaking balls.

Prior to July 2, the Blue Jays signed Aderlin Gonzalez for $260,000 in June. Gonzalez, a 17-year-old with a wiry 6-foot-2, 185-pound build, struggled in the DSL, showing that his tools are ahead of his baseball skills. His tools are impressive, however, as he shows plus speed and a plus arm with the athleticism to play center field. He has very good raw power but has trouble tapping into it yet due to his free-swinging ways, and the Blue Jays decided to have him hit exclusively righthanded rather than continue switch-hitting.

The Blue Jays started 2011 by agreeing to terms with Dominican lefthander Jairo Labourt for $350,000, though he still has to pass his MLB investigation. Labourt, who is from Azua, is 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and has touched 92 mph at age 16, showing good athleticism, a solid delivery and feel for a breaking ball.

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