2011-12 International Reviews: AL Central
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.
Chicago White Sox
Top signing: RHP Luis Martinez, Venezuela, $250,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Victor Velasquez (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: None.
The White Sox are beginning to emerge from the corruption and incompetence of their international scouting department under the leadership of former director of player personnel David Wilder, who along with former international scouts Jorge Oquendo Rivera and Victor Mateo pleaded guilty to their involvement in baseball's worst publicly-known kickback scandal to date. The three were fired in 2008, left scant international talent in the farm system behind after years of shady deals and are awaiting sentencing.
Jerry Krause joined the White Sox in April 2010 to revamp their international operations, but he left the organization a year later to become a special assistant with the Diamondbacks. After passing through four straight years with a bare-bones international budget and little talent to show for it, the White Sox are no longer punting Latin America. In November the White Sox hired Marco Paddy as a special assistant to general manager Ken Williams and put him in charge of leading their international efforts. Paddy had been Toronto's director of Latin American operations the last five years.
The first major signing for Paddy and his staff was Luis Martinez, a Venezuelan righthander who landed a $250,000 bonus in December. Martinez, a 17-year-old from Carupano who trained with Luis Blasini, is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds and physically reminiscent of former Dodgers righthander Ramon Martinez. After throwing 84-88 mph around July 2, he improved his velocity over the winter and now throws downhill with an 88-91 mph fastball that has hit 92. He has a big frame with long arms and plenty of room to fill out, so he should throw harder eventually. His high-70s curveball is his best secondary pitch but he'll mix in a changeup too. Martinez is expected to make his pro debut this year in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
In July, the White Sox gave $120,000 to Victor Velasquez, a shortstop who trained with Guillermo Quintero and represented Venezuela at the 16-and-under World Youth Championship in Mexico in August. Velasquez, 16, went 3-for-13 (.231) with a triple, three walks and a strikeout while going 4-for-4 stealing bases at the tournament. He played this offseason in the Liga Paralela, the minor league version of the Venezuelan League, but he went just 2-for-37 (.054). A wiry 5-foot-11, righthanded hitter, Velasquez's fielding is ahead of his hitting, as he shows good hands and defensive instincts along with solid arm strength and speed.
Top signing: SS Dorssys Paulino, Dominican Republic, $1.1 million.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Anthony Santander (Venezuela), OF Omar Sanchez (Venezuela), OF Francisco Miguel (Dominican Republic), Edgar Pineda (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: LHP Luis Lugo (Venezuela), Shao-Ching Chiang (Taiwan), RHP Juan Marte (Dominican Republic).
Among players who project to stay in the infield, two of the better hitters in Latin America were a pair of Dominican shortstops from Bani. One was Dawel Lugo, who signed with the Blue Jays for $1.3 million. The other was Dorssys Paulino, who signed with the Indians on July 2 for $1.1 million. Paulino, a 17-year-old who trained at La Academia, is the son of Jesus Sanchez, a lefty who pitched for the Marlins, Cubs, Rockies and Reds from 1998-2004. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Paulino has a knack for putting the bat to the ball with his righthanded swing. He has quick hands, good bat speed, has hit in games and knows how to use the whole field. He has a good approach at the plate for his age, showing the ability to recognize pitches and lay off balls outside the strike zone. He's strong and should have average power, perhaps more, though he's a hit-first, power-second guy. Paulino is athletic and his pure speed grades out as plus. He has a good arm too, but he's really an offensive-oriented player who many scouts believe fits better at second or third base because of his body type and the strides he needs to make with his defensive actions and instincts. He's expected to debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League this summer.
Lefthander Luis Lugo signed with the Indians for $415,000 out of Venezuela last year February, pitched well in the Dominican Summer League then made it to the AZL by the end of the season. Lugo, 18, struck out 36 batters in 29 DSL innings, finishing with a 3.38 ERA and 16 walks. Lugo, who trained with Jose Montero and is from the Valencia area, has an extra-large 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame and an average fastball that has touched 92 mph. With his size and the way his arm works, he should become a power arm. His control still needs work, but he's a decent athlete and repeats his delivery relatively well for someone with his size and lack of experience. He throws a curveball and a changeup, but he'll need to bring up both of those offerings.
Felix Olivo represented Anthony Santander, a Venezuelan outfielder from Agua Blanca who signed with the Indians for $385,000 on July 2. A 17-year-old switch-hitter, Santander has a projectable 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame with broad shoulders and a strong lower half. He's a good athlete who was well-trained, as he showed better tools and conditioning as July 2 approached. Santander began switch-hitting about a year before he signed, so his swing is more advanced from the right side than the left, though neither one is a pure stroke. His game hitting has been inconsistent, but his average power improved and could be above-average in the future. Santander also improved his speed, running the 60-yard dash in 7.4 seconds last winter to 7.0 in the spring and was consistently clocked around 6.7-6.8 seconds before July 2. Santander will begin his career as a center fielder, though he figures to outgrow it and slide to a corner. His arm has improved to the point where he may fit in right field. Santander is in Arizona for spring training now and has a chance to stay there for the AZL, though he may end up going to the DSL.
Omar Sanchez is another Venezuelan outfielder the Indians added on July 2. Sanchez, a 16-year-old from the Caracas area, signed for $250,000 and trained with Dennys Suarez. Sanchez stands out for his athleticism and his speed. He has run the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds and should be the center fielder for the DSL Indians this summer. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds he has a thick lower half, so scouts wonder whether he'll retain his speed. Sanchez is still raw at the plate, but he has a flat, line-drive stroke with gap power from the right side.
Taiwan isn't a major source of talent relative to the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, but the Indians have done well scouting the country, where they signed righthander Chen Lee (their No. 4 prospect) and catcher Chun Chen (their No. 25 prospect). Cleveland added another Taiwanese prospect last year in September when they scooped up righthander Shao-Ching Chiang (video) for $250,000, tied for the highest amateur bonus out of Taiwan last year with Pirates catcher Jin-De Jhang. Chiang, 18, played for the Taiwan junior national team at the 18U Asian Baseball Championship in August in Japan. Chiang didn't pitch at the tournament, though, and only served as Taiwan's DH. While he's an athletic kid who's played some outfield in the past, his future is on the mound. Chiang has a thin 6-foot-1, 175-pound build and his athleticism should help his transition to pitching full-time. It's already evident in his sound, conventional delivery from a high three-quarters arm slot. Chiang has a loose arm with good arm action and has thrown 85-90 mph, peaking at 91. He's started to show the makings of a solid slider, which is ahead of his nascent changeup.
Dominican righthander Juan Marte, 17, signed for $200,000 in May, then went to the DSL and was wild in a handful of appearances. Marte is a raw arm who's still learning to find the strike zone and a reliable secondary pitch between his slider and changeup, but he has good size at a skinny 6-foot-4, 185 pounds with a strong arm that's been up to 95 mph. Dominican right fielder Francisco Miguel, who like Paulino trained at La Academia, signed on July 2 for $200,000. A 16-year-old from La Romana, Miguel has good size and strength at a wiry 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, good athleticism (though he's not a great runner) and an arm that grades anywhere from average to above-average. He has a chance to have above-average raw power, though for now his bat remains raw.
One of the most intriguing players in Venezuela last year was Edgar Pineda, a little lefthander who earns comparisons to Tim Collins for his size and stuff. Pineda is 5-foot-9 when he stands on his toes, but he throws 87-92 mph with a plus curveball that compares favorable to any pitcher last year out of Latin America. Pineda, who is from Caracas and trained with Renan Ramos, still needs to throw more strikes and may end up in a bullpen role because of his size, but scouts laud his aggressiveness and competitiveness on the mound.
Top signing: 3B Adelyn Santa, Dominican Republic, $750,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Emanuel Chavez (Dominican Republic), SS Steven Fuentes (Venezuela), SS Javier Betancourt (Venezuela), RHP Ricardo Mayora (Venezuela), RHP Anthony Castro (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: SS Aaron Sayers (Australia).
The highest bonus in Detroit's international signing class year went to Dominican third baseman Adelyn Santa, a 16-year-old from Azua who got $750,000 in July. Santa's mother lives in Spain and his older brother Johan spent two years with the Rangers in the DSL before being released. Santa, who trained with Javier Rodriguez and played in the International Prospect League, is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and stands out for his righthanded raw power and arm strength. Santa is strong and hits balls a long way in BP, though some scouts think he needs to make more consistent contact in game situations. He has an above-average arm, though he has a thick body and doesn't run well, so he'll need to continue to improve defensively to remain at third base.
The best international prospect the Tigers have in their farm system is righthander Brenny Paulino, a 19-year-old flamethrower who trained with Carlos Paulino (no relation). The Tigers went back to Carlos Paulino last year on July 2 to sign another Dominican righthander, Emanuel Chavez, for $310,000 on July 2. Chavez, a 17-year-old from the Santo Domingo area, has a lanky 6-foot-3, 175-pound build with a lot of room to add strength. His velocity went up as July 2 approached and he sits at 87-90 mph, with the frame and loose arm to throw considerably harder in the future. Chavez is aggressive and has the makings of a curveball that could be a weapon in the future, and he's also learning a changeup.
The Tigers are one of the four teams that still operate a Venezuelan academy and a Venezuelan Summer League team, and they are one of the most active teams in the country, which has helped them net third baseman Francisco Martinez and outfielder Avisail Garcia, among others. The Tigers added a handful of their top international signings from Venezuela, including shortstop Steven Fuentes, who signed for $210,000 in July. Fuentes, a 17-year-old from Nelson Zapata's Caracas Baseball Academy, played this offseason in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League) and showed some extra-base power by hitting .255/.286/.471 in 56 plate appearances. Fuentes is a raw tools guy with an athletic 6-foot, 170-pound frame, square shoulders and a lot of room to add strength. He's a switch-hitter with occasional power who's still learning to manage his at-bats. He's not polished defensively but has plenty of tools in the field, with plus speed, a strong arm and quick actions at shortstop.
Another Venezuelan shortstop, Javier Betancourt, signed with the Tigers for $200,000 in August. Betancourt is the nephew of Edgardo Alfonzo, who played in 12 big league seasons from 1995-2006, mostly as an infielder with the Mets. Betancourt's trainer was Roberto Alfonzo, who is Edgardo's brother and used to be a scout for the Mets. Betancourt, a 16-year-old who is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, has the instincts of someone who has been around the game for a while. His tools aren't as loud as Fuentes', but he is more polished and plays the game smoothly. He's a righthanded spray hitter who has a good idea of what he's doing at the plate and a good internal clock in the field. He played in the Liga Paralela after signing and batted .275/.328/.314 with just five strikeouts in 57 plate appearances.
Venezuelan righthander Anthony Castro signed for $180,000 in July out of the Caracas area. A 16-year-old who trained with Johan Ocanto, Castro also pitched in the Liga Paralela, where he had a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings with eight strikeouts and 10 walks in 11 relief outings. Castro has the build of a quick-twitch point guard. He has an athletic, projectable 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame with room to get taller and stronger. He's more of a project than Chavez but he also has good arm speed on an 87-90 mph fastball that projects as a future plus pitch. His curveball shows good rotation and downward action, and it's his No. 2 offering ahead of his changeup.
Aaron Sayers (video) was the only player Australia produced last year who got a six-figure bonus, and the Tigers wrapped him up for $185,000 in April. Sayers, 17, focused on finishing school after signing but played last summer in MLB's Australian academy, where he hit .287/.331/.336 in 143 at-bats, and also had some brief exposure in Australia's winter league this offseason. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Sayers is an athletic lefthanded hitter who has a good idea of what he's doing at the plate for his age and hits to all fields. He has some strength and shows occasional power in batting practice, but it's not a big part of his game now and will have to be something he can develop down the road. His actions at shortstop are playable but he can be error-prone, and depending on how his body develops he may end up at second or third base. He played for Australia's youth national team at a recent qualifying tournament for the 18U World Junior Championships in Seoul, Korea, so he should be in the mix to attend that tournament when it begins in August.
Kansas City Royals
Top signing: OF Elier Hernandez, Dominican Republic, $3 million.
July 2 eligible seven- and six-figure signings: SS Adalberto Mondesi (Dominican Republic), Enmanuel Camacho (Dominican Republic), C Luis Lara (Venezuela), SS Angelo Castellano (Venezuela), SS Wander Franco (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: OF Yem Prades (Cuba), RHP Igol Feliz (Dominican Republic), RHP Darwin Castillo (Dominican Republic).
It's hard to reach a scouting consensus on 16-year-old Latin American amateurs, but many scouts felt that either Dominican outfielder Ronald Guzman (Rangers) or Dominican outfielder Elier Hernandez (video) was the best player in Latin America last year. Several teams had Hernandez as the No. 1 player on their boards, including the Royals, who scouted him heavily and signed him on July 2 for $3 million.
Hernandez, who trained with Amauris Nina and played in the International Prospect League, is a 17-year-old from San Cristobal whose parents both have college degrees. Hernandez is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with lean strength and physically could look the part already if he put on a major league uniform. He has present tools, lightning bat speed, catches up to plus fastballs and has above-average power potential from the right side, though his level, line-drive swing isn't geared for loft power. Some teams considered Hernandez the best hitter in the class, and while his mechanics are clean in BP, he will have to make some adjustments in games. He's still learning how to recognize breaking balls and has a habit of leaking open with his front knee and opening his hips too early. He sets his hands up high and far away from his body, which adds some length to his swing, but the Royals should be able to help him adjust that. Hernandez is a good athlete and a fringy runner. He may start out playing center field, but he'll end up in a corner with the arm strength to play right field. He should play in the Arizona League this summer, though he could get a quick tune-up in the DSL before the AZL season begins.
Like Hernandez, Dominican shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (video) is also from San Cristobal, and the Royals signed him for $2 million when he turned 16 on July 27. Mondesi is the son of former big league outfielder Raul Mondesi, who hit 271 home runs in 13 major league seasons from 1993-2005 and is now the mayor of San Cristobal. The Royals shortstop's full name is Raul Adalberto Mondesi, though his older brother, a 19-year-old outfielder the Brewers signed for $80,000 in 2010, goes by Raul Mondesi Jr. Adalberto was born in the United States while his father played for the Dodgers, and while he's not fluent in English, his understanding of the language is ahead of most Dominican players.
Several teams were surprised before July 2 that Mondesi might be in line for a bonus a little north of $1 million, so the $2 million bonus was even more unexpected when he did sign, though he had long been linked to the Royals. Mondesi, who trained with Basilio Vizcaino (known as Cachaza) and played in the Dominican Prospect League, had a small frame but he's grown from 5-foot-11, 160 pounds to 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. Mondesi doesn't have any major carrying tools, but he's a tick above-average runner and should be able to stay at shortstop with good quickness along with solid hands and arm strength. The Royals like his instincts and think he'll hit more than other teams, who said he was overmatched at times at the plate, though he was one of the youngest players in the class. Scouts agreed that the switch-hitting Mondesi has more offensive upside than Humberto Arteaga, the Venezuelan shortstop the Royals signed for $1.1 million in 2010, though Mondesi doesn't project to have much power. He's expected to make his pro debut with Hernandez in the Arizona League.
In October the Royals paid $450,000 to sign Dominican lefthander Enmanuel Camacho, a 17-year-old from Santo Domingo who was attending a private high school and scheduled to graduate. Some teams didn't see Camacho early on but the Royals found the 6-foot-1, 165-pound lefty throwing 87-91 mph with the potential for an above-average curveball and a changeup that's in its early stages. He figures to begin his career in the DSL.
The Royals have signed a handful of Cubans, including outfielder Yem Prades for $285,000 in March. Prades, a 24-year-old who was being trained by Aldo Marrero, is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and drives the ball in batting practice. He spent last year in the high Class A Carolina League, where he hit .289/.313/.413 in 305 at-bats and played mostly center field. He's an aggressive hitter who attacks fastballs and swings often, and while he doesn't strike out much he's not a high on-base guy and needs to get better at recognizing breaking balls.
In February 2011 the Royals signed righthander Igol Feliz for $225,000 out of the DPL. Feliz, 18, is from Azua and trained with Tony Arias (no relation to the Reds' Latin American director). Feliz will have to iron out some things with his delivery but he has a power arm that ranges anywhere from 90-95 mph. He has a good frame (6 feet 2, 190 pounds) and has the potential for an out pitch with his curveball.
Venezuela had several high-profile catchers this year led by Mark Malave (Cubs), Jose Ruiz (Padres) and Jose Garcia (Mets). Luis Lara was among the catchers in the next tier, and the Royals added him in July for $190,000. Lara, a 17-year-old who trained with Yasser Mendez, is from San Cristobal in the state of Tachira, a western area of Venezuela by the Colombian border that some feel is a more soccer-crazed region. Lara is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds and doesn't have one standout tool, but he should stick behind the plate and has some ability to catch and throw, with a righthanded bat geared more for contact than power.
The same day they signed Lara, the Royals also signed Venezuelan shortstop Angelo Castellano, a 17-year-old from Maracay who trained with Oswaldo Camacho. Royals Latin American supervisor Orlando Estevez targeted him early in the year, and the Royals landed him for $172,500. Castellano has a projectable 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame with good baseball instincts. He's a righthanded hitter who has shown occasional power. His hands work well in the field, though he's at best an average runner and may have to move to second or third base as he fills out.
Wander Franco originally agreed to a deal with the Rockies, but that contract was never finalized for undisclosed reasons. The Royals ended up signing the Dominican shortstop in September for $120,000. Franco, a 17-year-old whose trainer is known as Moan, is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and a switch-hitter with a more advanced swing from the right side and gap power. His hands work well but he's probably a better fit at third base or second.
Dominican righthander Darwin Castillo was one of the starting pitchers in the 2011 DPL all-star game last January, allowed one unearned run with three strikeouts and one walk in two innings, then agreed to a $300,000 deal with the Royals after the game. That agreement had to be re-worked due to an issue with Castillo's physical, and he signed for $110,000. Castillo, 19, was born in the United States but moved to the Dominican Republic and became an international free agent. He pitched 17 innings in the DSL last summer, posting a 6.23 ERA with 15 strikeouts and 10 walks. Castillo has an extra-large 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and throws 88-91 mph, touching 92, and he's still gaining feel for his curveball and changeup.
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Top signing: RHP Miguel Gonzalez, Dominican Republic, $650,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Argenis Silva (Venezuela), RHP Sebastian Perez (Dominican Republic), RHP Fernando Rivero (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: RHP Felix Jorge (Dominican Republic), RHP Kuo-Hua Lo (Taiwan), RHP Deinys Suarez (Cuba).
Minnesota's top six international signings were all righthanders, led by Miguel Gonzalez ($650,000 on July 2) from the Dominican Republic. Gonzalez is a 17-year-old from La Vega who trained with Raul Valera (known as Banana) and worked out at La Academia, where scouts tabbed him as one of the most polished amateur pitchers in Latin America. Though he doesn't have great size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds), he could grow another inch or two and add 15-20 pounds, and he has the mechanics, feel for pitching and repertoire to remain a starter. Gonzalez has good arm action and a clean delivery that he repeats, which helps him throw strikes with an 87-91 mph fastball with solid life. He shows feel for both his curveball and changeup, with the curveball the more advanced of his secondaries. Gonzalez is expected to start in the DSL, but he's polished enough to move faster than most.
Venezuelan righthander Argenis Silva (previously referred to as Mauricio, his middle name) signed $370,000 in October. Compared to Gonzalez, Silva's stuff has more power and he may have a higher ceiling, though Gonzalez has the higher probability to remain a starter. Silva, who didn't turn 16 until July 24, trained with Oswaldo Camacho and pitched at the 16U World Youth Championships in August in Mexico, where in four relief appearances he pitched eight innings and allowed seven runs (three earned) with four strikeouts and six walks. Silva also got some action in the Liga Paralela this winter, making seven relief appearances and allowing four runs (two earned) in nine innings with six strikeouts and six walks. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Silva a large frame, strong shoulders and one of the best fastballs in Latin America. It's a hard, lively heater that has reached 93 mph with power sink. His breaking ball is a hard slurve that may morph into a slider with his compact arm action and three-quarters arm slot. His changeup has deception at times but like most 16-year-olds it's still a work in progress. Silva pitched in the Liga Paralela last fall and had a 2.08 ERA in nine innings with six strikeouts and six walks. He's expected to debut this summer in the DSL.
The Twins added Dominican righthander Sebastian Perez later in October for $300,000. Perez, a 16-year-old from Neyba who played in the International Prospect League, pitches in the high-80s and touches 91. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Perez's fastball is his best pitch, as his slurvy curveball still has a ways to go. Dominican righthander Fernando Romero signed for $260,000 in November after he pitched at the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association championship in Jupiter, Fla. in October. Romero, represented by Felix Taveras, has good arm action, a thin, angular 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame and a projectable fastball that has sat around 87-90 mph and reached 92. Like Perez, the fastball is Romero's best offering, as he's still learning feel for his curveball.
In February 2011, the Twins signed Dominican righthander Felix Jorge (video), an 18-year-old who became eligible to sign on July 2, 2010. Jorge was one of the top pitchers in the 2010 class until his velocity dropped, but he was back up to 88-92 mph by the time he signed. Jorge, who trained at the Jose Guerrero Baseball Academy, pitched well in the DSL, racking up a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with 26 strikeouts and nine walks. As he's started to fill out his big 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame, Jorge's fastball has jumped to 90-94 mph, and with continued physical maturity he could add a few more ticks to his velocity. Jorge has the makings of a good delivery, a loose arm stroke and a chance for two plus pitches with his fastball and his curveball, a hard breaker that can miss bats. He has a changeup as well but it's not a pitch he uses much now. He's expected to make his U.S. debut this summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Righthander Kuo-Hua Lo pitched for the Taiwanese junior national team that won the 18U World Junior Championships in Thunder Bay, Canada in 2010. Lo pitched a gem in the semifinals with a complete-game, three-hit performance in which he held Canada to one run with 10 strikeouts and five walks on 132 pitches to lead Taiwan to a 3-1 victory. For the tournament, Lo led his team in ERA (0.73) and a 13-6 K-BB mark in 12 innings. Lo signed with the Twins for $130,000 in June and pitched well last summer in MLB's Australian Academy, where he led the academy in strikeouts (41) and innings (35) with 17 walks and a 1.54 ERA. Lo, 19, is undersized at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, but he has good arm strength with an average fastball that has touched 94 mph, works quickly and throws strikes. He uses a slider and a splitter, as well as a changeup and a curveball. He's expected to come to the GCL this year.
The Twins also dipped into the Cuban market in May when they spent $130,000 on righthander Deinys Suarez, a 28-year-old who was hit hard in his U.S. debut as he piled up a 5.76 ERA and a 46-38 K-BB mark in 91 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Prior to signing with the Twins, Suarez had represented Cuba in a handful of international tournaments—including the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2006 Intercontinental Cup—and pitched for Industriales in Cuba's Serie Nacional from 2002-2009. He had pitched well in Cuba early in his career, but he struggled before he left Cuba after his final season in 2008-09, when he had a 6.05 ERA and a 37-31 K-BB mark in 55 innings. Suarez's best pitch is his changeup, which is ahead of his high-80s fastball that reaches 91 and his slider.