2011 International Review: NL Central
Top signing: RHP Jin-Young Kim, South Korea, $850,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Carlos Penalver (Venezuela), 3B Jeimer Candelario (Dominican Republic), OF Jeffrey Baez (Venezuela), SS Francisco Sanchez (Dominican Republic), LHP Angel Mejias (Venezuela), C Alberto Mineo (Italy), RHP Alexander Santana (Dominican Republic), SS Antonio Gonzalez (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: RHP Gilberto Abreu (Dominican Republic)
While some teams are still trying to figure out how to build a presence in the Dominican Republic, the Cubs have been aggressive in the Pacific Rim while continuing to grow their presence in Latin America. The club's ownership has been active traveling to Latin America, adding international staff last year and working on plans to build a new Dominican academy.
The Cubs long have been leaders in South Korea, dating back to signing first baseman Hee Seop Choi for $1.2 million in 1999. Their top more recent signees have been shortstop Hak-Ju Lee ( $725,000 in 2008) and righthander Dae-Eun Rhee ($525,000, 2007). They went back to South Korea to make their top international signing of 2010, signing righthander Jin-Young Kim last February for $850,000, the largest Pacific Rim amateur bonus of 2010. After signing, Kim completed his senior year at Duck Soo High, then went to Australia to work out with Cubs staff over the summer before coming to Arizona in the fall for instructional league.
Kim, 18, is 6-foot, 185 pounds and stands out with his feel for pitching and control of a solid four-pitch mix. Kim's arm works well and he has good body control, which enables him to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes well for his age. He commands his fastball well to both sides of the plate, sitting at 87-89 mph with some sink and touching 91. He throws two breaking balls, a curveball with late downer action and a solid slider that he made strides with last year. He also shows advanced feel for a changeup. Kim will likely begin his career in the Rookie-level Arizona League or the short-season Northwest League, though he's advanced enough that he could reach low Class A Peoria by the end of the season.
In Latin America, the Cubs' top signing was Carlos Penalver, a Venezuelan shortstop from Maracay who signed for $550,000. A 16-year-old righthanded hitter, Penalver has an athletic 6-foot, 170-pound frame with good hands, body control and footwork. He's an above-average runner with good instincts and should stick at shortstop. Penalver's medium frame doesn't project for power, but he has good bat speed and the ability to control the barrel with a line-drive stroke.
In October the Cubs added third baseman Jeimer Candelario for $500,000. Candelario, 17, was born in the United States but moved to the Dominican Republic. A thickly-built 6-foot, 185 pounds, Candelario is a switch-hitter who stands out with his potential to hit for average and power. Candelario has some movement in his setup but he generates power with good present strength—particularly in his hands—bat speed and advanced feel at the plate. Candelario is a below-average runner and his defense is behind his bat, but he does have a strong arm at third.
Former Yankees international scouting director Carlos Rios trained both third baseman Gabriel Cenas (who signed for $700,000 with the Blue Jays) and Jeffrey Baez, whose $350,000 from the Cubs was the second-most last year for a Venezuelan outfielder. Baez, 17, is a 6-foot, 170-pound righthanded hitter with athleticism, speed and a long-levered, projectable body. He's a plus-plus runner who could slow down as he fills out, but he has the present speed to play center field, good body control and an average arm. Baez's bat is still coming along but he has projectable power.
The Cubs also signed Francisco Sanchez (previously reported as Daniel, his middle name) for $350,000 on July 2. A 17-year-old Dominican shortstop, Sanchez is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound righthanded hitter with a high-waisted frame and offensive upside. Sanchez has strong hands and an easy, loose swing with power. A fringe-average runner, Sanchez might have to move off shortstop but has the above-average arm to handle a move to third.
Venezuelan lefthander Angel Mejias, a slender 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, signed with the Cubs in November. Mejias, 17, has shown poise on the mound evident from his experience representing Venezuelan youth national teams, including when he was teammates with Athletics third baseman Renato Nunez and Rangers shortstop Rougned Odor at the World Youth Championship in Taiwan in 2009. Mejias was also Venezuela's youngest player at the 18U Junior World Championship in July in Thunder Bay, Canada, where he gave up nine runs (three earned) in 9 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and eight walks in appearances against Taiwan and Italy. Mejias has good arm speed and sits in the mid-to-high 80s with some sink to his fastball, topping out at 90 mph. He's shown some feel for an inconsistent curveball with good bite and rotation, though he's had mixed results in the international tournaments in which he's participated.
Alexander Santana, a 17-year-old Dominican righthander, signed with the Cubs in September. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Santana has a large, projectable frame. His arm works well and he gets good extension out front on his 87-91 mph fastball with above-average sink and a good curveball for his age.
Dominican shortstop Antonio Gonzalez, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound switch-hitter, signed with the Cubs in December. Gonzalez doesn't have flashy tools but he has good baseball instincts and is solid in the field. He has good hands, quick feet and should stick at either shortstop or second base. Gonzalez will never be a power hitter but he has a decent bat and a contact-oriented stroke.
Europe's top prospect last year was Alberto Mineo, a 16-year-old Italian catcher who signed with the Cubs in August for $225,000. Cubs scout Bill Holmberg is the pitching coach of the Italian national team and runs the European Academy in Italy where Mineo trained. Mineo played for the Italian team at the 18U Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada in July, though he finished the tournament 2-for-20 with four walks and nine strikeouts. A lefthanded hitter, Mineo is 5-foot-11, 165 pounds and stands out for his catch-and-throw skills. His strong hands and forearms help his receiving and he has good defensive instincts. Mineo doesn't project as a power hitter and he's still ironing out his mechanics at the plate, but he has the makings of solid, flat swing. Mineo enrolled in an accelerated high school program and is expected to stay in Italy to work out at the European Academy before coming to the United States, likely in 2012.
Prior to July 2, the Cubs signed 6-foot-2, 180-pound righthander Gilberto Abreu out of the Dominican Republic in March. At 17, Abreu has good arm action and an 87-91 mph fastball that could be a plus pitch once he fills out his projectable body. He's still learning to throw strikes, though, after recording twice as many walks (28) as strikeouts (14) in 27 innings last year in the Dominican Summer League.
The Cubs closed the book on a busy international year in December when they signed a pair of Cuban defectors: outfielder Rubi Silva ($1 million) and catcher Yaniel Cabeza($500,000). Silva, a 21-year-old righthanded hitter, has the above-average speed to play center field, enough arm to handle right field and the versatility to possibly handle a conversion to second base, which wasn't happening for him on a Cuban junior national team with Jose Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria manning the middle infield. Silva, who hit .276/.305/.428 in 283 at-bats for La Habana in Cuba's Serie Nacional in 2008-09, is an aggressive hitter with a line-drive swing and gap power. Cabeza, 21, draws widespread praise from scouts for his defense. He's a very good catch-and-throw guy with athleticism behind the plate and a plus arm. Scouts have also praised his game-calling skills and take-charge leadership style. Cabeza hit .195 in 82 at-bats in 2008-09 for La Habana and his bat will have to catch up to his defense. He's an aggressive hitter but he shows solid bat control and situational hitting acumen.
Silva and Cabeza gave the Cubs three Cuban signings in 2010, as the Cubs had signed righthander Juan Serrano in March for $250,000. Serrano, who turns 22 on March 3, had a 5.48 ERA in 64 innings in the Northwest League last summer, showing good control of fringy stuff. At 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, Serrano sits in the high-80s with solid movement and touches 91, mixing in a curve and a changeup.
Top signing: SS Olivel Florentino, Dominican Republic, $250,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Jonniel Mier y Teran (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: None
Even though the Reds didn't spend as much on Dominican and Venezuelan prospects as they have in previous years, 2010 was a busy year for the franchise internationally.
The Reds made the biggest international signing of 2010 last January when they signed Aroldis Chapman to a $16.25 million bonus as part of a six-year, $30.25 million major league contract. Chapman's scouting report reads like a work of fiction, but big league hitters have found his mid-100s fastball to be horrifyingly real. Their top two international signings were Cubans, as the Reds also gave $550,000 to Felix Perez, a 26-year-old outfielder who reached Double-A last year. Perez is a free swinger with limited power, but he doesn't strike out much and could carve out a role as a fourth outfielder because he can play all three outfield positions.
The organization also dealt with an intensive MLB investigation into the age and identity of Yorman Rodriguez, the Venezuelan outfielder who signed for $2.5 million in 2008. The investigation concluded that Rodriguez's age and identity are correct. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, righthander Jonathan Correa, shortstop Junior Arias and lefthander Ismael Guillon gave the organization one of the promising groups of Latin prospects in the U.S. rookie leagues.
The Reds made their top non-Cuban international signing last year on July 2, when they signed Dominican shortstop Olivel Florentino for $250,000. Florentino, 17, is a 6-foot-1, 155-pound switch-hitter with a live, lanky frame and plenty of room to fill out. Though he'll need to add considerable strength, the ball already jumps off his bat and he's shown well in front of scouts in game situations. He might eventually have to move off shortstop, but he'll get a chance to stick at the position. His average arm and average speed could both benefit from additional strength.
A week after signing Florentino, the Reds added Jonniel Mier y Teran, a 16-year-old Venezuelan outfielder. Mier y Teran is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound righthanded hitter with a projectable body and good raw power for his age. He's a 6.8 runner in the 60-yard dash and has an average arm, so he figures to see time at all three outfield positions this summer in the Venezuelan Summer League.
Cincinnati's niftiest signing came last February, when the club signed infielder Ronald Torreyes for $40,000. Torreyes trained in Venezuela with Ciro Barrios, the same trainer who signed Rodriguez, Guillon and shortstop Humberto Valor with the Reds. Torreyes played on Venezuelan youth national teams, including the 16U team in 2008 that went to the Pan American championships in Mexico, where he hit back-to-back with Guillon in the middle of Venezuela's lineup. He also played on Venezuela's 18U team as a 17-year-old in 2009 in Barquisimeto, playing against a U.S. team that included Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Nick Castellanos. Torreyes had trouble getting attention from scouts due to his size; he's listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, he's likely three inches shorter. In his pro debut last summer in the VSL, Torreyes hit .390/.468/.606, stole 23 bases and struck out 11 times in 284 trips to the plate. Torreyes, 18, hit so well that the Reds brought him to the Rookie-level Arizona League, then after he continued to rake he finished the year in low Class A Dayton. Torreyes doesn't have great tools, but his outstanding bat control, surprising power and defensive versatility were enough to rank among the Reds' top 30 prospects.
Top signing: OF Ariel Ovando, Dominican Republic, $2.6 million
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: LHP Geronimo Franzua (Dominican Republic), RHP Luis Abad (Dominican Republic), OF Lorenzo Bonilla (Dominican Republic), 3B Michael Medina (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: RHP Michael Feliz (Dominican Republic), RHP Jose Montero (Dominican Republic), OF Kelvin Vizcaino (Dominican Republic), SS Jean Carlos Batista (Dominican Republic)
The Astros opened a new academy in Santo Domingo in May, and the majority of their focus in the international market last year was on Dominican players. With an estimated $5.1 million international budget, the Astros outspent all but the Mariners and Yankees overseas last year.
Houston's big prize of 2010 was the July 7 signing of Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovandofor $2.6 million, the top Dominican bonus of 2010 and tied for the No. 2 bonus in Latin America behind Blue Jays righthander Adonys Cardona ($2.8 million) of Venezuela. Ovando, 17, was in the United States in September for instructional league. The Astros plan to start him in Rookie ball, either the Gulf Coast League or possibly even the Appalachian League.
Ovando stands out for his size (6-foot-4, 180 pounds), bat speed and power from the left side of the plate, and while it might take him some time to put it all together his ceiling is considerable. Ovando's swing starts with a fair amount of movement in his setup, but he has a quick bat, gets tremendous leverage and finishes his swing with good extension. With his set-up and long-levered frame, Ovando can get tied up inside at times because his swing has some length to it, a key concern for some scouts who wonder how much he will hit in game situations. Other teams have seen him hit well in games, however, and the Astros believe he has good plate discipline. He can put on a show in BP with his strength and power, which could be a 60 or a 70 down the road on the 20-80 scale. Ovando's value is in his bat, as he isn't a great runner and will have to play a corner. Ovando was showcased aggressively and showed inconsistent arm strength in workouts leading up to July 2, but at his best he's flashed an average arm, so the Astros plan to begin his career in right field. At some point he could also end up either in left field or at first base.
Houston added one of the top Dominican lefties in September when they signed Geronimo Franzua for $250,000. Franzua, 17, is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with a fastball that sits in the high-80s and has touched 90-91 mph. While other teams had concerns about Franzua's control, the Astros believe he's an aggressive strike-thrower with a good delivery after watching him pitch regularly in the Dominican Prospect League. He shows feel for a changeup that he can keep down in the zone and is still working on maintaining a consistent slider from his three-quarters slot.
Juan Santana, a righthanded-hitting Dominican shortstop who didn't turn 16 until Aug. 16, signed with the Astros in December. Santana is 6-foot, 175 pounds and draws physical comparisons to a young Juan Uribe. Santana draws attention in the field for his smooth hands and feel for the position. With his body type and a fringe-average arm that could be average down the road, he could end up at second base. Santana doesn't project to have Uribe's power, as he's more of a line-drive hitter who sprays the ball to all fields.
Houston also signed Dominican righthander Luis Abad, a flexible 6-foot-3, 160-pounder with a projectable body and good arm action. Abad, 16, shows good arm speed on his 88-90 mph fastball that has hit 91. Abad has had some trouble throwing strikes in part due to the movement on his stuff, including a lively cutter, while he is also working on his slider.
In October, the Astros also added a pair of raw but intriguing Dominican position players in center fielder Lorenzo Bonilla and third baseman Michael Medina. Bonilla, 16, is a 6-foot-1, 160-pound lefthanded hitter with above-average speed and a good arm, though he has limited game experience. Medina, 17, is a 6-foot, 190-pound righthanded hitter with above-average raw power and a solid-average arm, though he'll have to make some adjustments to have his power show up more in games.
Though they weren't six-figure signings, the Astros were active in Panama in 2010 and signed a pair of interesting pitchers. Righthander Agapito Barrios, 17, signed in July and has played well against older competition. Barrios has a projectable 6-foot-2, 167-pound body, good arm action, throws strikes with an 87-91 mph fastball along with a developing curveball and changeup. Seventeen-year-old lefthander Javier Saucedo was a July 2 signing who throws in the mid-80s, but in December he was shot in his leg above his knee in an attempted robbery in Panama. According to a team official, Saucedo had surgery but there was no damage to his knee, and Saucedo was rehabbing in Venezuela in preparation for the DSL season.
Prior to July 2, the Astros were busy adding Dominican talent, most notably righthanders Michael Feliz for $400,000 and Jose Montero for $350,000 on May 19. Though Feliz received the slightly higher bonus, Montero is the better prospect. Montero, 18, was one of the DSL's top pitchers with a 2.59 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 24 walks in 55 2/3 innings. With his projectable 6-foot-4, 190-pound body, Montero draws comparisons to Padres Dominican righthander Simon Castro. Montero throws strikes from a three-quarters slot at 89-93 mph with above-average sink. His slider also flashes above-average and could be an out pitch for him with more consistency.
Feliz, 17, originally signed with Oakland last year for $800,000 but had his deal voided when he tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol. Feliz, who is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, missed most of the DSL season while serving a 50-game suspension for the positive steroid test, then struck out 13 batters in 12 2/3 innings at the end of the summer. Feliz touched 93 mph before his positive drug test, but he's since settled down to 88-90 mph and topping out at 91. With his size and current arm strength, he should be able to sit in the low-90s eventually. He does a good job getting downward angle from his high three-quarters slot and is usually around the strike zone. Feliz also throws a curveball that flashes above-average at times and he throws his changeup in games more than most 17-year-olds, giving him a third potential average pitch.
The Astros were one of the most aggressive teams in signing players from the Dominican Prospect League—Ovando, Franzua and Feliz all participated in the league—and the Astros added two more position players from the league last year as well. Center fielder Kelvin Vizcaino, 18, signed in June, though he struggled at the plate in his 47 DSL games. A 6-foot, 175-pound righthanded hitter, Vizcaino right now is more tools than skills, as he's a 6.7 runner with an above-average arm, good bat speed and athleticism, drawing some comparisons to Lastings Milledge.
The Astros had to wait nearly six months for MLB to finish its investigation into shortstop Jean Carlos Batista before officially signing him for $200,000 at the end of November. Batista, 19, will likely debut in the U.S. this year due to his age. A 6-foot-1, 175-pound switch-hitter, Batista is a fringy runner and isn't toolsy, but he has good instincts and field awareness. He doesn't project as a power hitter but he has shown some feel for hitting in DPL games.
Top signing: RHP Milton Gomez, Dominican Republic, $350,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: LHP Marcos Padilla (Dominican Republic), RHP Pedro Peguero (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: RHP Osmel Perez (Venezuela)
The Brewers spent most of their budget in Latin America on pitching. Their top bonus went to lanky 6-foot-2 Dominican righthander Milton Gomez, a 16-year-old who signed for $350,000 on July 2. Gomez pitches at 89-91 mph, touches 92 and could have a plus fastball once he fills out. He shows feel for a curveball that can get slurvy at times from his high three-quarters slot, and like most pitchers his age he's still developing a changeup.
In October the Brewers added Marcos Padilla, a skinny 6-foot-2 Dominican lefthander with long limbs and a loose arm. Padilla has an advanced curveball with good depth and a mid-80s fastball that's been up to 89 mph. He's shown some feel for his changeup as well. In December the Brewers signed Pedro Peguero, a giant 6-foot-6, 190-pound Dominican righthander. Peguero, 17, could be a power pitcher as he fills out and he already touches 92 mph, though he'll have to iron out his mechanics and bring along his offspeed stuff.
Milwaukee's top signing of 2010 might turn out to be Venezuelan righthander Osmel Perez, who signed for $128,000 last March. Perez, 17, wasn't the most visible prospect before he signed, as he's from a small town north of Caracas along the Venezuelan coast. He pitched well last summer in the DSL, where he had a 2.51 ERA and a 27-10 K-BB mark in 28 2/3 innings. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Perez has a projectable body, feel for pitching, loose arm action and a 91-93 mph fastball that touches 94. Perez also shows feel for two secondary pitches, including an advanced changeup and a solid slider.
The Brewers also signed a pair of players with interesting bloodlines. In June the club signed Raul Mondesi Jr., a 5-foot-10, 180-pound outfielder, for $80,000. Mondesi Jr., 18, is a free-swinging righthanded hitter with good bat speed and a solid-average arm. He hit .233/.306/.350 in 36 games in the DSL last year after signing. In October the Brewers signed Venezuelan shortstop Orlando Arcia—brother of Twins outfielder and No. 9 prospect Oswaldo Arcia—for $95,000. At 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, Orlando Arcia has a different body type than his more physically mature older brother. He's a 16-year-old righthanded hitter with solid tools across the board, including average speed, an average arm and occasional power that could project as average down the road. He'll start his career at shortstop, though he could end up at second base.
Top signing: RHP Luis Heredia, Mexico, $2.6 million
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Dilson Herrera (Colombia), RHP Yunior Montero (Dominican Republic), OF Yunior Aquiles (Dominican Republic), LHP Mervin del Rosario (Dominican Republic)
Other six-figure signings: OF Willy Garcia (Dominican Republic), RHP Yhonatan Herrand (Dominican Republic), LHP Angel Sanchez (Dominican Republic), RHP Isaac Sanchez (Dominican Republic), OF Miguel de Aza (Dominican Republic)
No team spent more money on amateur signing bonuses in 2010 than Pittsburgh, which spent $11.9 million in the draft (second-most in baseball) and another estimated $5 million on international amateur players, the fourth-highest international budget in the industry last year. Meanwhile, the Pirates' Venezuelan Summer League squad won its second title in three years, marking the fifth straight season the club has reached the championship series.
There was no secret in the industry that the Pirates' top target last year was Luis Heredia or that Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo had put in the legwork to get the inside track on Heredia for some time, fighting off a valiant push from the Blue Jays and strong interest from the Yankees. Since Heredia already had signed with Veracruz of the Mexican League, major league teams wishing to sign Heredia had to negotiate directly with Veracruz (Mexican League teams typically keep 75 percent of the bonus, with the player getting the other 25 percent in this type of transfer).
Heredia, who is from Mazatlan, also has baseball bloodlines, as his father Hector is a former Mexican League pitcher and reached Triple-A with the Dodgers in the 1980s. Signed at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, Heredia is exceptionally coordinated for his size, and while it's his right arm the Pirates coveted, Heredia does most things lefthanded. His athleticism helps him move around well on the mound and repeat his delivery well for his age. Heredia has a loose arm and great arm speed, which helped him throw 88-91 mph and touch 92 before signing. After he signed and began working on his strength (he's now around 6-foot-6, 205 pounds), his fastball continued to climb and he touched 94-95 mph during instructional league. Heredia could become a power pitcher in time but he has an advanced feel for pitching and throws strikes well for his age. His best offspeed pitch is his changeup, which flashes average and could become a plus offering. He has a tendency to cast his low-70s curveball, but it shows solid rotation. He'll likely make his official debut for the Pirates in the GCL this summer.
The Pirates scouted Dilson Herrera since he was 12, then signed the 16-year-old in July for $220,000, the top bonus for a Colombian shortstop last year. Herrera was a switch-hitter as an amateur but will bat righthanded only going forward. Dropping lefthanded hitting was off to a good start for Herrera, who hit .304/.355/.438 in 112 at-bats this winter in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League). At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Herrera doesn't blow scouts away with his tools in tryouts, but he has good baseball instincts and shows feel for hitting with gap power, above-average speed, a quick first step and a 45 to 50 arm on the 20-80 scale.
Pittsburgh also signed Dominican outfielder Yunior Aquiles in July, targeting the 6-foot-3, 180-pound righthanded hitter for his projectable body and raw power. Aquiles is built like a young Torii Hunter and can generate power with good leverage, though he's not a pure hitter. He's a solid runner and can throw well, so he could start in center field with a chance to move to right field in time.
The Pirates were busy adding Dominican talent before July 2, most notably signing center fielder Willy Garcia in April for $300,000. Garcia, 18, is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound righthanded hitter who batted .250/.333/.333 in 168 DSL at-bats. Garcia is not a pure hitter, though he is more advanced than Aquiles and projects to hit for some power once he fills out. Garcia runs well in center and has a 60 arm.
In March the Pirates signed Yonatan Herrand, a 19-year-old Dominican righthander who threw 88-93 mph when he signed and touched 96-97 at instructional league. Herrand, who is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, works mostly off his fastball/changeup combination, as he's still trying to find a reliable breaking ball. He spent the summer in the DSL, where he had a 5.40 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 28 walks in 36 2/3 innings.
The Pirates originally signed righthander Yunior Montero in 2009 for $45,000 when he was throwing 86-88 mph. He spent time working with Pirates coaches, pitched briefly in the DSL and got his velocity up to the low-90s, but his contract was voided and he received a one-year suspension when he failed an MLB investigation into his background. Montero benefited from MLB's discipline, re-signing with the Pirates in July for $185,000. Montero has two usable pitches—a fastball that's up to 94 mph and a decent slider—so he could become a bullpen option down the road.
In April the Pirates signed Angel Sanchez, a Dominican lefthander with a projectable 6-foot-7, 190-pound frame. Sanchez, 17, had a 4.02 ERA and a 23-24 K-BB mark in 31 1 /3 DSL innings. Sanchez's curveball is his best pitch. He will need to add velocity to his 83-87 mph fastball, though he already gets good sink.
Isaac Sanchez is a righthander from the Chicago area who was home-schooled and didn't play much competitive baseball in the United States, but he moved to the Dominican Republic within the last couple of years. The move paid off, as he signed for $180,000 in June. Sanchez, who is 6-foot, 170 pounds, is an 18-year-old with promising stuff. He throws 88-91 mph, touches 94 and flashes an above-average power curve. He pitched briefly in the DSL, allowing one earned run and striking out nine in 8 2/3 innings.
In July the Pirates signed Miguel de Aza, a 5-foot-11 center fielder from the Dominican Republic. De Aza has a solid lefthanded swing and uses the whole field with gap power. He plays good defense thanks to his plus speed and strong arm. That same day the Pirates also signed 18-year-old Mervin del Rosario. Rosario's plus-plus arm was well ahead of his bat, so the Pirates put the 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder on the mound. A good athlete built like a young Damaso Marte, del Rosario is still raw but has gone from pitching at 84-86 mph up to 88-91 with sink and some feel for spin.
Pittsburgh also got involved in the Cuban market in September, agreeing to terms with righthander Cesar Lopez for $600,000, and the Pirates announced yesterday that his contract became official. Lopez is a sinker/slider pitcher who touches the low-90s. The Pirates also made some history on July 2 when they gave a $90,000 bonus to righthander Aliaksei Lukashevich, who became the first player from Belarus to sign a contract with a major league team. Lukashevich is about as raw as one would expect the first player from Belarus to be.
St. Louis Cardinals
Top signing: RHP Carlos Martinez, Dominican Republic, $1.5 million
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Leobaldo Pina (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: RHP Juan Bautista (Dominican Republic)
Carlos Martinez wasn't a July 2 signing and his bonus wasn't even among the top three for players from the Dominican Republic last year, but he was arguably the No. 1 signing out of Latin America in 2010. The Cardinals agreed to terms with Martinez in April, when he was known as Carlos Matias. He originally signed with the Red Sox for $160,000 in 2009, but that deal was voided and Martinez was suspended by MLB for one year in March 2009 when he did not pass the league's investigation into his age and identity.
Martinez and the Cardinals benefited greatly from his suspension. Martinez, who is 6-foot, 165 pounds, started throwing harder and became one of the premier pitching prospects in Latin America with a fastball that reached 99 mph as an 18-year-old (he turned 19 in September). Since a player is allowed to compete in the DSL while waiting for MLB to approve his contract, Matias used his power fastball to lead the league in ERA at 0.79 in 59 innings, finishing with 78 strikeouts and 14 walks. In October, Martinez got his visa and his contract became official.
Pitching short stints in tryout settings, Martinez would regularly pitch at 96-98 mph with natural cut and touch 99. Stretched out to an average of around five innings per start, Martinez maintained his velocity well, sitting in the mid-90s and consistently hitting 97-98 mph late into his outings. At the team's Dominican instructional league program, Martinez reached a new high, touching 100 mph on a few pitches. Martinez's fastball has more than outstanding velocity, as he shows remarkable control of the pitch for his age.
While DSL hitters had little chance to catch up to Martinez's fastball, he started to pitch backwards toward the end of the season, throwing his offspeed stuff in fastball counts as he began to experiment with mixing his pitches. His curveball became sharper as the season progressed and his command of the pitch improved. His curveball is ahead of his changeup, but the changeup could become an average pitch.
Martinez was the prize signing of the year for the Cardinals, but they also spent $315,000 on Venezuelan shortstop Leobaldo Pina in September. A 16-year-old righthanded hitter, Pina has a lanky 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame with room to fill out. He stands out for his feel at shortstop, showing good hands, sound fundamentals and instincts, the ability to read hops, an average arm and a tick above-average speed. Pina shows surprising ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, though his glove is more advanced than his bat right now.
A few days prior to July 2, the Cardinals signed 17-year-old righthander Juan Bautistafor $200,000. Bautista's cultural assimilation to the United States should come easier for him than most young Dominicans. Born in the Dominican Republic, Bautista moved to New Jersey, where he played baseball for Union City High. Bautista lived in the U.S. for around four years before moving back to the Dominican Republic with some family in 2009, making him eligible to sign as a free agent last year once MLB determined he wasn't subject to the draft. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen in the DSL, maintaining a 1.59 ERA in 34 innings with 37 strikeouts and 11 walks.
A strike-thrower at around 6-foot, 185 pounds, Bautista throws 87-89 mph but his best pitch is his changeup, an above-average pitch with sink and fade that he leans on heavily. He sells it with good arm speed and a consistent release point. He also throws a work-in-progress curveball that reaches the low-70s.