2011-12 International Reviews: NL 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 signed in 2011 but had been eligible to sign prior to 2011.

Atlanta Braves
Top signing:
 OF Victor Reyes, Venezuela, $365,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Jesus Heredia (Dominican Republic), Iosif Bernal (Panama), SS Luis Monasterio (Venezuela), RHP Jesus Jones (Dominican Republic), RHP Francisco Gonzalez (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: RHP Darrel Leiva (Nicaragua).

Atlanta’s three best prospects are all Latin American. While righthander Arodys Vizcaino came to the Braves through a trade, righthanders Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were both products of Atlanta’s international scouting department. The Braves’ most expensive international signing last year was 17-year-old Victor Reyes, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound switch-hitter who signed for $365,000 out of Venezuela on July 2. Reyes trained with Ricardo Petit, who is the brother of Rolando Petit, the Braves’ assistant director of Latin American operations based in Venezuela. Reyes stands out for his size and power potential. He runs well for now, though as he fills out he figures to slow down and projects as a corner outfielder with an average arm.

Like Reyes, Venezuelan shortstop Luis Monasterio also trained with Ricardo Petit. Monasterio, 17, signed for $230,000 in July and is a 5-foot-11, 180-pound spray hitter who works the alleys with his righthanded stroke. With his frame, he could add another 20 pounds and grow into some power. While he has good hands and a strong arm, he’s around an average runner and could end up sliding to either second or third base depending on how his body develops.

Jesus Heredia, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in July for $280,000 is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds and is a quality defender in center field. He has good speed and at least a plus arm that’s already among the best in the Braves organization. Heredia, 17, doesn’t have Reyes’ power potential but he can work the gaps from the right side and should be able to take advantage of his speed.

The Braves scout Panama better than anyone, and their prize this year from the country is 17-year-old outfielder Iosif Bernal (video), who trained with Emilio Sempris and signed for $230,000 on July 2. Bernal is big and physical at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and projects as a power righthanded bat. He doesn’t load his hands much, but he has hit in games and shows the ability to drive the ball with authority with good bat speed. His arm grades out around average and he’s a 50 runner on the 20-80 scale for now, but with his size he projects as a left fielder.

Jesus Jones ran the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds when he was an outfielder in the Dominican Republic, but he raised his stock by moving to the mound and signed with the Braves for $125,000 in July. A 16-year-old righthander from Santo Domingo who trained at La Academia, Jones is a lanky 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. He was throwing in the high-80s and touched 90 mph as July 2 approached, and his velocity has continued to increase. His athleticism has helped him make the transition to the mound and he shows a breaking ball with three-quarters action.

The Braves blanket Latin America’s less heavily-recruited countries outside of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, including Panama, Colombia and Nicaragua. The Braves signed a few players last year from Nicaragua, most notably righthander Darrel Leiva for $120,000 in July. Leiva, 17, is 6 feet, 185 pounds and is a strike-thrower with good pitchability. He was pitching at 87-89 mph when he signed but now gets his fastball into the low 90s and mixes in a curveball as well. Venezuelan righthander Francisco Gonzalez, a 17-year-old who signed for $100,000 in July, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with a fastball that was up to 89-90 mph when he signed and now reaches a few ticks higher, along with a curveball and a changeup that he’s still working on.

One sleeper from last year’s class could be Luis Merejo, a 17-year-old Dominican lefty who cost the Braves just $65,000 in October. Merejo throws 88-91 mph, touches 93, flashes an above-average curveball and changeup and has good command for his age. He’s advanced enough that he’s expected to debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Florida Marlins
Top signing:
 SS Javier Lopez, Dominican Republic $350,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Leurys De La Rosa (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: None.

With a new stadium opening this year, the Marlins seemed to be in the mix for nearly every celebrity on the major league free agent market. It looked like they were in the mix for Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes, as well, until Oakland offered him a better contract. Whether that checkbook will stay open in the international amateur market remains to be seen, but the Marlins could be an interesting one to watch this year overseas.

In November the Marlins added Javier Lopez, a Dominican shortstop from San Pedro de Macoris who trained at the Arias and Goodman academy and signed for $350,0000. Lopez, 17, is 6-foot-2, 160 pounds with a mature lower half but room to fill out his upper body, so scouts are split on how he’ll look in the future. Lopez has good feel for hitting from the right side, a quick bat and he can catch up to good velocity. He works the gaps and should have at least average power in the future. He was running below-average around July 2, but he improved his speed and was showing plus times in the 60-yard dash before he signed. Like many young shortstops, he’s still learning to control his footwork, which affects his throwing, but he’s a solid fielder. He’s expected to debut this summer in the GCL.

A couple of weeks before they landed Lopez, the Marlins signed Dominican righthander Leurys De La Rosa for $130,000. A 16-year-old out of Santo Domingo, de la Rosa has a lean, projectable 6-foot-2, 160-pound body with a very loose arm. His fastball crept up after July 2 and he now throws 88-92 mph with a good delivery, leverage and downhill angle. He shows ability to spin a curveball and flashes feel for a changeup as well.

The Marlins may have also found a bargain in 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher Angel Reyes, who trained at major league veteran Carlos Guillen’s academy in Maracay. Other teams said they were disappointed when Reyes signed with the Marlins in late July for $85,000 after they were told he was asking for significantly more money. At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Reyes was a shortstop when he was 15 but has taken quickly to catching since he moved behind the plate about a year and a half ago. His athleticism has helped him make the transition, and he already shows good catch-and-throw skills with agility, clean hands, good footwork and a strong arm. He has a projectable bat with a loose swing and occasional power from the right side.

New York Mets
Top signing:
 C Jose Garcia, Venezuela, $800,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: 3B Jhoan Urena (Dominican Republic), C Dioni Rodriguez (Dominican Republic), RHP Luis Carreno (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: RHP Luis Mateo (Dominican Republic), SS Jose Martinez (Dominican Republic).

While ownership is in financial turmoil and slashing payroll at the major league level, the Mets spent more than most teams in the international amateur market last year at around $2.9 million. Their prime target was Jose Garcia, a Venezuelan catcher they had long been linked to and finally signed for $800,000 on July 2. Garcia, a 17-year-old from San Felipe, trained with Daniel Lopez and shows solid all-around ability. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Garcia is a switch-hitter with a flat, line-drive stroke. He makes contact and sprays the ball to the gaps, and while he doesn’t have great power now, some scouts think he’ll have average power in time. Scouts from other teams mostly agreed his swing was better from the right side, but some in the Mets organization say he shows more power batting lefthanded. His hands work well at the plate and behind it, where he shows good catching mechanics and a solid arm that plays up due to his quick release. He’s intelligent and gets good reviews for his intangibles that managers usually like in a catcher.

Jhoan Urena (video) signed for $425,000 in September and has some similarities to fellow Mets Dominican third basemen Jefry Marte and Adelin Rodriguez. Urena, a 17-year-old from Santiago who trained with Aldo Marrero, is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound switch-hitter who can drive the ball for power from both sides of the plate, though some scouts said his hitting was inconsistent. Urena doesn’t have quite as much pop as Rodriguez, but he’s a better defender than both Rodriguez and Marte and should stick at the position, though he projects to be another big-bodied guy. Urena also has experience representing his country at the COPABE Pan American 16-and-under championship in Mexico in 2010.

The Dominican Republic doesn’t produce many catchers, but the Mets found one they like in 17-year-old Dioni Rodriguez, who trained with Amauri Morel and played in the Dominican Prospect League before he signed in August for $185,000. Rodriguez, who is from Santiago, has a contact-oriented, righthanded swing with gap power from his 5-foot-11 frame and solid catch-and-throw skills.

The best player in the Mets’ 2011 international signing class might end up being Dominican righthander Luis Mateo, whose road to signing took multiple detours. Mateo originally signed with the Giants for $625,000 on July 2, 2008, when he was presenting himself as a 16-year-old. The Giants voided the contract the next month when a physical revealed bone chips in Mateo’s right elbow, though Mateo’s representatives said Dr. Lewis Yocum evaluated him in September and recommended aggressive rehab instead of surgery. That November, Mateo agreed to a $300,000 deal with the Padres, but that never went through because MLB’s investigation came back “inconclusive,” in the league’s vernacular. In March 2010 MLB finally suspended Mateo for one year for misrepresenting his age, and Mateo changed his date of birth from March 17, 1992, to March 22, 1990. The Mets stayed on him and watched him pitch in winter ball in Colombia. After his suspension ended, Mateo and his trainer Carlos Paulino struck a $150,000 deal with the Mets in April and finally had his contract approved.

Mateo, 21, went to the DSL last year after signing and was one of the league’s most overpowering arms. In 13 starts, Mateo finished with a 2.00 ERA and a spectacular 80-5 K-BB mark in 63 innings. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings and 0.7 walks per nine both ranked second in the league. At his age, Mateo should be dominating the DSL, but he has the stuff to pitch at higher levels and should move quickly. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Mateo is athletic and has a quick arm that unleashes a 91-94 mph fastball that touches 96-97. He gets good angle on his four-seamer and complements it with a power slider and a changeup he’s shown some feel for.

In November the Mets added Jose Martinez, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop from Santo Domingo who trained with a coach known as “Papiro,” who also had Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. At 6-foot-1, Martinez has hit in games and shows gap power from the right side. He has an above-average arm, though he’ll need to continue to improve his footwork to stay at shortstop.

Another November addition for the Mets was Luis Carreno, a 16-year-old righthander from Margarita Island in Venezuela who trained with Carlos Rios. Carreno was one of the youngest players in last year’s signing class, as he couldn’t sign until he turned 16 in August. He pitched in the 16U World Youth Championships in Mexico in August, though in three games (two starts) there he allowed 11 runs (six earned) in 7 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and six walks. Carreno’s size (6 feet, 175 pounds) limits his projection and plane, but after sitting in the mid-80s last summer his velocity crept up to touch 90-91 mph before he signed. He throws primarily a two-pitch mix of a fastball and an advanced changeup for his age, as his curveball is still a work in progress.

The fastest riser in the organization of their 2011 international signings was Dominican righthander Rafael Montero, who got $80,000 in January and zipped through four levels. The Mets signed Montero, a 21-year-old who trained with Josue Herrera and pitched in the DPL, after he struck out the side with the bases loaded in a game. Montero breezed through his first four starts in the DSL, pitched well upon a promotion to the GCL, got another bump up to Rookie-level Kingsport, then finished the year with a pair of relief appearances for short-season Brooklyn. Montero ranked as the No. 20 prospect in the GCL, and his rapid ascent shouldn’t be a surprise given his age and his ability to throw strikes. When the Mets signed Montero he was throwing 90-93 mph—which is where he sat last summer—but he touched 95 mph with late life that made it hard for hitters to square up. More recent reports from the Mets have had him throwing even harder at the team’s Dominican academy this winter. Montero, who is 6 feet, 170 pounds, still has to bring along his fringe-average changeup and his breaking ball, but he has already proven to be a solid signing for the money.

Philadelphia Phillies
Top signing: OF Carlos Tocci, Venezuela, $759,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: LHP Sergio Velis (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: OF Jiandido Tromp (Aruba).

Despite a modest annual budget, the Phillies have consistently found talent in the international market under international scouting director Sal Agostinelli. The organization has used several of those players in trades, including Carlos Carrasco, Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana. Last year they wrote a bigger check than they usually commit to one player because of their belief in Venezuelan center fielder Carlos Tocci, who signed for $759,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 23.

Tocci went to Florida for instructional league after signing, where he faced Pirates No. 1 overall pick Gerritt Cole and pulled a fastball down the third base line for a double. After instructs, Tocci went back to Venezuela and was a standout in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League), where he ranked second on the team in on-base percentage while batting .306/.402/.367 in 117 plate appearances with nine steals in 11 attempts. The Phillies plan to send him back to Clearwater to play in the GCL, where he’ll almost certainly be the league’s youngest player at 16 for nearly the entire season.

Tocci was one of the most intriguing players in Latin America last year because of his speed, athleticism, baseball instincts and extremely skinny build. Tocci, who is from Maracay, is 6-foot-2, 155 pounds, a frame that lacks present strength and should scream projection, though with his narrow shoulders scouts are split on how much he’ll fill out. Additional strength is the main need for Tocci, who has plenty of time to develop. He already has 70 speed and shows a hitting approach well beyond his years. A righthanded hitter, Tocci’s swing can get loopy and causes him to get around the ball at times, but he’s shown the ability to hit in games, while more physical maturity should help his bat speed. He won’t hit for for much power now and likely won’t later on either, but with his line-drive approach, plate discipline and speed, he could hit for a high average and get on base at a high clip. His speed is also a weapon in center field, where he shows great instincts and close to an average arm.

Tocci and Venezuelan lefthander Sergio Velis both trained with Pedro Castillo, and the Phillies scooped up Velis in October for $125,000. Velis, 17, is built like a young Antonio Bastardo with a strong, stocky body at 6 feet, 180 pounds. He sits 88-90 mph and throws a changeup that’s ahead of his slider right now. He’ll debut in the DSL.

The Phillies went to Aruba to find center fielder Jiandido Tromp (video), who signed for $130,000 in August. Tromp, 18, played second base for Aruba at Little League’s 2009 Senior League World Series in Bangor, Maine, where he was double-play partners with Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts and helped the Arubans reach the semifinals. Tromp hit well for the Aruban team and played a more prominent role when they returned to tournament in 2010 and won the championship in a game televised on ESPNU. The Phillies plan to play Tromp in center field because he can run the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds, but he has the versatility to move back to the infield if needed. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, the righthanded-hitting Tromp is a gamer with good instincts who flashes surprising power for his size.

Washington Nationals
Top signing: OF Randy Novas, Dominican Republic, $150,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Maximo Valerio (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: C Raudy Read (Dominican Republic).

The Nationals remain light spenders in Latin America since the Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal that led to the departure of former general manager Jim Bowden and his special assistant in Latin America, Jose Rijo, prior to the 2009 season. According to Dominican media reports as of January, the Dominican government’s anti-money laundering unit had questioned Rijo about his alleged business ties to Matias Avelino Castro, a fugitive who police believe was a drug trafficker and the mastermind behind the August 2011 murder of Dominican journalist Jose Silvestre.

Now under the direction of Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals have focused their international efforts in the Dominican Republic. In January 2011 the Nationals signed a pair of Dominicans for six-figure bonuses, including outfielder Randy Novas who trained with Christian “El Niche” Batista. Novas, a 17-year-old righthanded hitter, is 6-foot-3, 180 pounds and still crude all around. He hit .211/.290/.310 in 131 plate appearances in the DSL last summer as he struggled to make contact with breaking stuff. He’s still learning to take better routes and as the season progressed moved from center field to left field, his most likely future position.

The same day the Nationals signed Nova they also added Raudy Read, an 18-year-old catcher from Santo Domingo who trained at Edgar Mercedes’ Born To Play academy. Read, a 6-foot, 180-pound righthanded batter who signed for $130,000, hit .157/.200/.293 in 150 plate appearances last year in the DSL. He flashed some power with four home runs and can drive the ball to the opposite field, but he’s an aggressive hitter who’s still learning to use the middle of the field and stay back on offspeed pitches. His best tool is his arm, a plus-plus tool that he used to gun down 45 percent of runners, though his receiving still needs plenty of work.

Among July 2 signings, Washington’s most notable addition was Maximo Valerio, a Dominican righthander from Higuey who signed for $110,000 when he turned 16 on July 22. Valerio was throwing 84-87 mph when the Nationals signed him, but he’s since then he’s added 20 pounds to his frame (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and been up to 90-91 mph with armside run and downhill plane. He shows feel for both his mid- to high-70s curveball and his changeup, with the curve more advanced right now, and he repeats his arm slot well for his age. He’ll likely begin his career in the DSL.

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