2011 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 signed in 2011 but had been eligible to sign prior to 2011.

Baltimore Orioles
Top signing: RHP Elvis Duran, Dominican Republic, $150,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Yeizer Marrugo (Colombia), RHP Rafael Moreno (Brazil).
Other six-figure signings: None.

For years the Orioles have struggled to mine the international market to produce homegrown players. Jonathan Schoop has proven to be a nice find out of Curacao, a country where the Orioles are more active than most teams, but for the most part, Baltimore’s international efforts have yeilded little value for either the big league team or the farm system to create assets for trade. With a new regime under general manager Dan Duquette, the Orioles figure to be more aggressive in the international market. They were too aggressive this year in trying to sign Korean lefthander Seong-Min Kim for $575,000 before performing a routine status check, all for a player that many teams considered to be a non-prospect. That maneuver got Orioles scouts banned from Korea, but they will still likely spend a lot of money in Asia regardless. 

Aside from signing 31-year-old Japanese lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada in December, the Orioles spent modestly overseas last year. Their most expensive signing in 2011 was 17-year-old righthander Elvis Duran, a raw project from the Dominican Republic who landed a $150,000 bonus in August. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Duran has an enormous, thick frame that should portend greater velocity on his fastball, which already reaches the low-90s. Some scouts aren’t so sure whether more velocity will come, however, because there’s a lot of stiffness in his delivery and his arm action puts stress on his shoulder.

Baltimore signed two pitchers after watching them pitch at the COPABE 18U Pan Am Championships in November in Cartagena, Colombia. The first pitcher they signed was Colombian righthander Yeizer Marrugo for $120,000. The Orioles watched Marrugo pitch well in his start against Mexico and signed him shortly thereafter on Nov. 19. Three days later, Marrugo pitched against Team USA in front of approximately 13,000 fans, with Jorge Alfaro of the Rangers serving as his catcher. Marrugo pitched four innings and allowed two runs (none earned) with three hits, two walks and a pair of strikeouts in a game the United States won 4-0. Marrugo, 17, already has some physical maturity at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and doesn’t have the prettiest mechanics, but he’s a crafty pitcher who competes well. He throws strikes from an over-the-top delivery with an 87-90 mph fastball, a big curveball with good depth and an occasional changeup.

Soon after signing Marrugo the Orioles added Rafael Moreno, a 17-year-old Brazilian righthander who pitched at the same tournament in Colombia. Moreno has represented Brazil in international competitions since 2008, when he played in the 14U COPABE Pan American championships in Venezuela as a 13-year-old. Moreno was the youngest player on the Brazilian roster but he was also the team’s best player. Moreno made the tournament’s all-star team as the event’s top righthanded pitcher—edging out Mariners righthander Victor Sanchez and Blue Jays righthander Adonys Cardona of Venezuela—by leading the tournament in ERA after throwing seven innings with two runs allowed (none earned) with 13 strikeouts and no walks. Moreno also played center field, hit .400 (6-for-15) and tied for the tournament lead with four stolen bases in four tries. Moreno had also pitched for the Brazilian youth national team at the 16U World Youth Championships in Mexico in August. In Mexico, Moreno made three appearances including one start, allowing six runs in 10 innings with 11 strikeouts and six walks. Moreno has a strong, thick 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame and works off a high-80s fastball and gets by more on guile than stuff. 

Boston Red Sox
Top signing: SS Raymel Flores, Dominican Republic, $900,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Manuel Margot (Dominican Republic), RHP Dioscar Romero (Dominican Republic), LHP Carlos Garcia (Venezuela), RHP Keivin Heras (Venezuela). 
Other six-figure signings: RHP Victor Ramirez (Venezuela).

When Theo Epstein became the general manager of the Red Sox in 2002, one of the first people he added to his front office was Craig Shipley, who over the last decade has been in charge of Boston’s international scouting. Shipley rose to become the team’s vice president of player personnel and international operations, but when Epstein left for the Cubs and Ben Cherington took over as GM, the Red Sox parted ways with Shipley and and gave their international scouting director job to Eddie Romero, who had been Boston’s assistant director of international operations and international scouting.

In July the Red Sox added two high-profile Dominican players who stand out for their defense at premium positions, led by shortstop Raymel Flores. A smooth fielder from La Malena who trained with Carlos Guzman and worked out at the Arias and Goodman academy, Flores is only 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, but he may have been the best defensive shortstop in Latin America last year. Flores is athletic, has good body control, quick feet, smooth hands, a strong arm and great instincts at shortstop. He’s not a burner but he’s a 55 runner who already has good baserunning instincts. How much strength comes for Flores will be key, since his power is still on the lighter side. He has a decent feel for the strike zone and a contact-oriented swing from both sides of the plate, but his lack of size and power were the main concerns scouts had before July 2.

Manuel Margot (previously referred to as Manuel Marcos) is another gifted fielder with a chance to be a plus defender in center field. Margot, a July 2 signing who got $800,000, is from Villa Altagracia in the Dominican Republic and trained with Franklin Ferreira. A 6-foot, 170-pounder, Margot has a lean, lively frame and was one of the best athletes in Latin America last year. He shows plus-plus speed and at least a plus arm. He gets great reads off the bat for a 17-year-old without pro experience and can make the highlight-reel play. A lefthanded hitter, Margot tends to drop his hands when he hits, but his hands are fast enough to catch up and he’s hit well in games. He flashes occasional power but he’s more geared to work the gaps with a line-drive swing.

Dominican righthander Dioscar Romero signed for $600,000 after training with Jaime Ramos and playing in the Dominican Prospect League. Romero, a 16-year-old from Santo Domingo, has a 6-foot-3, 230-pound body with strength and a heavy lower half. He’ll have to keep his conditioning in check but he already throws up to 93 mph with good angle. Some scouts said they thought Romero was still learning to be more of a pitcher than just a thrower, but he’s made improvements in repeating his delivery with a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.

Venezuelan lefty Carlos Garcia, who is from Barcelona and trained with Arquimedes Rojas, is a 17-year-old who signed for $140,000 on July 2. Garcia is skinny at 6 feet, 160 pounds and  throws up to 87-88 mph with good angle, but he stands out for his advanced curveball and ability to throw strikes. He flashes feel for a changeup as well and has pitched well in game situations, so if he can add more velocity he could have a solid three-pitch mix.

Righthander Keivin Heras was another July 2 signing out of Venezuela for the Red Sox. Heras, 17, is from San Felipe, trained with Fran Arteaga and signed for $110,000. After he signed, Heras pitched well in the Liga Paralela, the minor leagues of the Venezuelan League, posting a 2.84 ERA in 25 innings with 13 strikeouts and six walks. The 6-foot, 175-pound Heras knows how to attack hitters and has feel for his secondary pitches. His fastball is still a projection at this point because he throws in the mid-80s, but he has good composure on the mound and throws strikes with the makings of a solid curveball with good spin and feel for a changeup.

Venezuelan righthander Victor Ramirez, a 16-year-old who played at Ciro Barrios’ academy and is from Caja Seca, has a big 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and pitched the the World Youth Championship in Mexico in August, then signed for $110,000 after the tournament. Ramirez appeared in six of Venezuela’s seven games as a reliever and allowed six runs (four earned) in 6 1/3 innings with six walks and six strikeouts. Ramirez is raw but he throws up to 91 mph and could throw harder down the road. He throws a curveball and a changeup, though he may end up going to a slider as his primary breaking ball eventually.

New York Yankees
Top signing: 3B Miguel Andujar, Dominican Republic, $700,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Moises Cedeno (Panama), SS Abiatal Avelino (Dominican Republic), RHP Luis Severino (Dominican Republic), C Alvaro Noriega (Colombia), OF Wascar Rodriguez (Dominican Republic), 3B Victor Rey (Dominican Republic), RHP Raudy Guzman (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: OF Freiter Marte (Dominican Republic), RHP Giovanny Gallegos (Mexico).

One major question facing MLB under the new CBA rules and eventually as it tries to implement an international draft in the next few years is how it will handle the investigations into the ages and identities of amateur players in Latin America. Sometimes those investigations wrap up quickly and contracts are approved in a matter of weeks. Others take months. Sometimes the process takes even longer, and while it’s critically important for MLB to do a thorough, comprehensive investigation, keeping players in limbo is going to create issues for teams faced with a $2.9 million bonus pool next year. 

In 2010, the Yankees had $1.1 million committed to Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua and $500,000 to Dominican righthander Jose Rafael DePaula, who many scouts believed was the better pitcher. Paniagua’s deal never went through, as MLB again found issues with his documentation and declared him ineligible to sign for a year. Barring some type of intervention from MLB, Paniagua won’t be able to sign until July, subjecting him to the new international spending rules. While the Paniagua deal fell apart, the Yankees got a major boon last week when they learned that the U.S. Consulate finally approved a visa for DePaula, who is expected to arrive in the U.S. this week to take his physical.

Meanwhile, as bonuses in the international market escalate, some scouts felt that the $750,000 the Yankees gave Dominican third baseman Miguel Andujar (video) was one of the more sober payments of 2011 for a solid all-around player. Andujar, 17, is from San Cristobal and was represented by Basilio Vizcaino, who is known in the Dominican Republic as Cachaza and has worked with recent Yankees signings Gary Sanchez ($3 million in 2009) and Christopher Tamarez ($650,000 in 2010). Andujar represented the Dominican Republic in an international tournament in Venezuela and played in the DPL, though he wasn’t always there and some teams said they didn’t see much of him. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Andujar doesn’t have one huge carrying tool or do anything flashy, but he doesn’t have a glaring weakness either. He’s a righthanded hitter with good bat speed, a sound swing and a good approach to hitting for his age. His hands are quick and he could hit for average and power. Andujar is an average runner and a solid defensive third baseman with a good arm, though he has a habit of dropping his elbow, which causes his throws to tail. Andujar went to instructional league in Florida last fall and has a chance to start in the GCL, though he may end up opening in the DSL.

Panamanian righthander Moises Cedeno turned 16 on Aug. 29, then signed soon after with the Yankees for $354,800, making him the youngest player in baseball to sign a contract with a major league team in 2011. Perhaps because of his youth, Cedeno developed later on after showing decent stuff early in the year. Carlos Levy, the Yankees’ scout in Panama, stayed on Cedeno as he gained strength and touched 93 mph before signing. Cedeno who played for the Panama Metro youth team and trained with Kevin Carcamo, is 6-foot, 190 pounds and has the makings a solid three-pitch mix. He’s athletic, has a quick arm and has good life on his fastball. He shows ability to spin a curveball with good action, though his changeup may be more advanced right now because of the feel he has for it and his ability to throw it for strikes.

Late in December the Yankees added a few notable Dominican players, including shortstop Abiatal Avelino, who signed for $300,000. Avelino is a 17-year-old from the San Pedro de Macoris area who trained with Tino Genao. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Avelino has a broad-shouldered, trim frame and stands out for his athleticism, defensive actions and plus arm. He’s an instinctive player whose hands and feet work cleanly in the field, and he moves well on the pivot at second base. He’s not a burner, but he’s around an average to a tick above-average runner with good baserunning instincts for his age. The Yankees believe in his righthanded bat, though his power is something that will have to come down the road.

The Yankees also signed Dominican righthander Luis Severino in December, giving the 16-year-old a $225,000 bonus. Severino, who trained with Santiago Valverde and is also from the San Pedro de Macoris area, touched 93 mph before he signed and has since increased his peak velocity to 95. At an athletic 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Severino has a quick, live arm and a promising two-pitch combination with his fastball and his slider. The slider has true, tight tilt and depth in the 82-86 mph range with power and late, abrupt action, giving him the potential for an out pitch.

A third December signing was outfielder Wascar Rodriguez, a long, rangy 6-foot-3, 175-pound corner outfielder who trained with Vizcaino and signed for $150,000. Rodriguez, 17, is a raw projection. He has a good frame, flashes above-average raw power in BP from the right side with average speed and arm strength. He’s still a very raw hitter who will have to make adjustments at the plate to make more contact in games to be able to get to his power.

Catcher Alvaro Noriega is from Colombia but his trainer, Miguel Delgado (known as Billiyo), brought him to the Dominican Republic and played him in the DPL, then helped him sign for $175,000 in September. Noriega, 17, has a strong 6-foot, 190-pound body and a good offensive approach. He lets the ball travel deep in the zone and uses the whole field with his righthanded swing, showing the ability to lay off pitches off the strike zone, work the gaps and drive the ball to right-center field. Behind the plate he shows a solid-average, accurate arm and has to work on his flexibility, but he should be able to stick at catcher.

Dominican third baseman Victor Rey traveled with Andujar to the tournament in Venezuela in April, then signed with the Yankees for $135,000 in September. Rey, a 16-year-old who trained with Aldo Marrero, has the foundation of a solid, level righthanded swing that stays through the ball. At 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, Rey is lean, wiry and needs to gain strength to be able to do damage when he connects with the ball. That may take some time to come for him, but he has solid actions at third base and should be able to stay there unless his body gets too big.

Dominican righthander Raudy Guzman signed for $100,000 in September. Guzman, a 17-year-old whose trainer is known as Solano, is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, throws 87-92 mph with late life. He throws his changeup with good arm speed and puts it over the plate, and it’s his No. 2 pitch right now ahead of his curveball, which morphs into a slurve at times. Guzman gets amped up at times, so he will have to learn to quiet his delivery and channel his aggressiveness. 

Center fielder Freiter Marte originally signed with the Indians, but that deal fell apart and he was ruled ineligible to sign after it was discovered he had used false paperwork to sign. Marte, who is 22, signed with the Yankees for $100,000 last year in February, then hit .203/.267/.348 in 21 games in the DSL. Marte, who trained with Astin Jacobo, is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds with good speed and arm strength in center field, but his bat is very raw, especially for his age.

Yankees scout Lee Sigman signed Manny Banuelos as a command-type lefty back in 2008, and Banuelos has since blossomed into the organization’s best prospect. Last year the Yankees went back to Mexico to sign a trio of intriguing arms. Righthanders Giovanny Gallegos ($100,000) and Luis Niebla ($75,000) were both signed in a package deal from the Mexico City Red Devils in January 2011, while righthander Dallas Martinez was purchased from Reynosa. 

Gallegos, 20, was throwing the ball well until he got hurt and had Tommy John surgery last summer. Before the injury, he does have good arm action and a nice, smooth delivery, which helps him command his fastball to both sides of the plate. With a well-developed 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, Gallegos flashes average velocity and touches 92 mph. His breaking ball and curveball both flash average and he throws them for strikes fairly well for his age.

At 21, Niebla is older and more polished than Gallegos, which he showed last summer in the DSL. Working exclusively in relief, Niebla had a 1.72 ERA with 31 strikeouts and four walks in 31 innings in the DSL. Niebla has a slender 6-foot-2, 180-pound build with projection remaining and throws strikes with an average fastball up to 92 mph. He shows ability to spin a curveball and throws an occasional changeup. Martinez, 17, is the youngest of the group. He doesn’t have as much size (6-foot, 175 pounds), but he has touched 93 mph, shows feel for spinning a breaking ball and flashes early signs of a solid changeup.

Daniel Vavrusa isn’t at the level of the other Yankees 2011 international signings, but he was the only player signed last year out of the Czech Republic. Vavrusa, a 20-year-old who signed for $10,000 in July after playing in MLB’s European academy, is a righthanded-hitting catcher with an athletic 6-foot-3, 185-pound build, power potential and an average arm. He speaks fluent English but he just doesn’t have much high-level baseball experience.

Tampa Bay Rays
Top signing: RHPs Jorman Duarte and German Marquez, Venezuela, $225,000.
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: RHP Abrahan Rodriguez (Venezuela), C Kevin Barrios (Venezuela), LHP Benjamin Molina (Venezuela).
Other six-figure signings: RHP Andres Gonzalez (Venezuela).

Tampa Bay’s best international signings in their farm system are pitchers, including righthander Alex Colome and lefthander Enny Romero. Pitching was the focus of the Rays’ top international signings last year and they were mostly active in Venezuela, where they are one of four teams who still have an academy and a Venezuelan Summer League program.

The Rays’ top international bonus last year for a July 2 player last year went to 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Jorman Duarte, who signed for $225,000. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Duarte has a good frame and may still be growing. With a high-80s fastball, Duarte isn’t the hardest thrower in Venezuela right now, but with his size, arm speed and the way his arm works, he could be a power pitcher once he fills out. Duarte throws an advanced changeup for his age with good deception and fade, and it’s his best secondary pitch right now as he tries to gain feel for his breaking ball and learning to throw more strikes. 

Before July 2, the Rays also gave $225,000 to Venezuelan righthander Andres Gonzalez, who signed in February then pitched in the VSL, where he pitched well with a 1.93 ERA in 56 innings with 34 strikeouts and six walks. Gonzalez, 18, is one of Tampa Bay’s more polished young pitchers. He’s 6-foot-3, 205 pounds with a big frame, wide shoulders and is very smart on the mound, knowing how to hold runners, field his positions and do the little things most pitchers his age don’t yet grasp. He throws in the high-80s and scrapes 90 mph with his fastball, shows good rotation on his breaking ball and repeats his arm speed and slot well already on his changeup.

Righthander German Marquez, a July 2 signing for $200,000 out of Venezuela, has one of the best breaking balls among the Rays’ young Latin American pitchers. Marquez, a 17-year-old from San Bolivar, throws up to 90-91 mph and flashes a sharp breaking ball with crisp rotation, while mixing in a changeup more often than most pitchers his age. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Marquez isn’t as physical as Duarte or Gonzalez, but he has a solid pitcher’s frame. His control is still raw though, so he’ll need to find the strike zone more consistently.

Abrahan Rodriguez, a Venezuelan righthander from Maracay who trained at the academy run by former big league veteran Carlos Guillen, signed with the Rays for $200,000 shortly after July 2. Rodriguez, 16, has a projectable 6-foot-2, 180-pound body and his arm works well on a high-80s fastball that should soon reach the low-90s. His breaking ball and changeup are still developing, but he did pitch in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League) this winter and threw 6 1/3 shutout innings.

Another Venezuelan pitcher the Rays signed last year was Benjamin Molina, a lefthander from Margarita Island who landed a $115,000 deal on July 2. Molina, 17, is in the mold of Felipe Rivero, the Rays lefty who pitched in Rookie-level Princeton last year at age 20 and is their No. 28 prospect. Molina has a similar build at 6-foot, 145 pounds and is also an adept strike-thrower whose arm works well. Molina needs to grow into his frame and already has started to, with a fastball that rose from the low-80s up to the high-80s before July 2. He’s a smart pitcher who knows how to repeat his delivery, though he’s still developing his slider and changeup.

While most of Tampa Bay’s top international signings last year were pitchers, they did add Venezuelan catcher Kevin Barrios for $150,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 28, making him one of the youngest players in last year’s signing class. Barrios trained with Alvaro Valdez, who originally showcased Barrios as an outfielder. Barrios isn’t a great runner, though, and he moved behind the plate to work out for teams as a catcher. Barrios is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and the Rays like his righthanded bat speed, though his hitting approach is still unrefined. Being new to catching, Barrios is still working on his receiving and flexibility, but he has an average arm.

Tampa Bay’s top international signing last year would have been Dominican catcher Eric Otanez, but his contract was not approved and MLB declared him ineligible to sign after discovering and issue with his age during his background investigation.

Toronto Blue Jays
Top signing: RHP Roberto Osuna, Mexico, $1.5 million
July 2 eligible six- and seven-figure signings: OF Wuilmer Becerra (Venezuela), SS Dawel Lugo (Dominican Republic), OF Jesus Gonzlaez (Venezuela), RHP Manuel Cordova (Venezuela), RHP Jesus Tinoco (Venezuela), RHP Alberto Tirado (Dominican Republic), RHP Osman Gutierrez (Nicaragua), RHP Miguel Castro (Dominican Republic).
Other six-figure signings: LHP Jairo Labourt (Dominican Republic), OF Juan Tejada (Dominican Republic), RHP Kendry Melo (Dominican Republic).

The Blue Jays gave Latin American director Marco Paddy a king-sized budget in Latin America last year, when Toronto outspent every team in baseball other than the Rangers. Paddy left the organization after the season to take a job revamping the White Sox’s Latin American scouting, and the Blue Jays replaced him with Ismael Cruz, who had been running the Mets’ Latin American scouting.

The Blue Jays seem to be linked to nearly every high-profile player in Latin America, and last year they landed several of them. The most expensive of the group was Roberto Osuna, a 17-year-old Mexican righthander. Osuna had signed with Mexico City of the Mexican League, and the Blue Jays purchased his rights from the Red Devils for $1.5 million in August. Osuna’s uncle is righthander Antonio Osuna, the former big league reliever from 1995-2005 who spent most of his career with the Dodgers. Roberto Osuna gained plenty of attention in October 2010 at the 16U COPABE Pan American championship, where had a 3.79 ERA and a 20-2 K-BB mark in 20 innings and touched 93-94 mph. After signing with Mexico City, Osuna even pitched in games for the team, facing the likes of Hiram Bocachica and Karim Garcia. Osuna had a 5.49 ERA in 20 innings with 12 strikeouts and 11 walks, which is rather remarkable for the equivalent of a high school sophomore facing grown men 10-20 years older than him.

Osuna, who’s 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, is very advanced for his age and could move faster than most of his peers because he throws strikes and has good feel for pitching. He also has a power arm, throwing a fastball that ranges from 88-94. His curveball is a good pitch but it’s not a tight downward breaker and has more of a slurvy, three-quarters break. Osuna finishes a bit upright in his delivery, but he’s aggressive and pounds the strike zone with a variety of pitches, including a changeup that he’s shown some feel for, a slider and a sinker. Osuna is strong, but due to his thick build he’s always going to have to stay on top of his conditioning. He’s expected to start this year in the GCL.

Wlimer Becerra played baseball in Venezuela and later worked as a scout for the Cardinals and the Rangers. Becerra last year worked with Ciro Barrios and helped coach is son, Wuilmer Becerra, who signed with the Blue Jays for $1.3 million in July. Before he had signed, Becerra had played in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League) last winter and went 8-for-26 (.346) with a home run, a double, no walks and eight strikeouts. Becerra showcased for teams at shortstop and the outfield, but he’s a much better fit off the dirt and will play the outfield for the Blue Jays.

Becerra, 17, has size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), athleticism and plus-plus speed in the 60-yard dash, which he’s run in 6.6 seconds, although he doesn’t get out of the box quick enough to get 70 grades from home to first. For some scouts, Becerra was one of the better righthanded hitters on the international market last year, though there was some disagreement about scouts on his bat. Becerra has a good combination of size, strength and raw power, and some scouts felt he had good plate coverage and feel for hitting. Others contend he’s not as sharp in game situations as he is in BP because he tends to get around the ball with length to his stroke and an uppercut swing, which isn’t uncommon for Latin American amateurs.

In the field, Becerra’s days at shortstop were short-lived due to his size, actions, hands and below-average arm. He fits better in center field, where he shows a better arm stroke than he does in the infield, though with his size he’ll likely get so big that he’ll end up in left field. Part of it may depend on how much of his speed Becerra is able to retain, especially given his unusual build with narrow shoulders, short arms and wide hips. Several scouts praised Becerra for his makeup and work ethic and he has impressed Blue Jays coaches early. If he develops as the Blue Jays hope, he could become a corner outfielder with a power/speed combination.

The Blue Jays awarded three bonuses over $1 million last year, with the third going to Dominican shortstop Dawel Lugo (video), a July signing who got $1.3 million. Lugo is a 17-year-old from Bani who trained with Victor Franco (known as Mula) and played in the Dominican Prospect League. Lugo’s father, Ursino Lugo, was an outfielder in the Indians farm system in the mid-1990s and reached the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Some scouts considered Lugo one of the better hitters in Latin America. At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Lugo is a righthanded hitter with an aggressive approach, a solid swing and good bat speed. His swing is quick, efficient and he has the hand-eye coordination to make contact with balls in the strike zone and off the plate, though that ability may have to be tamed to avoid become too much of a free-swinger. He does a good job of going with the pitch, using turning on balls inside and using the opposite field when necessary. Lugo’s swing has natural loft and he shows sporadic power, though for now his offensive game is more about contact than power. Lugo’s speed improved from below-average last spring to near average as July 2 approached. He won’t be a big basestealing threat, but he helped sway some scouts to believe he might be able to remain at shortstop. He has some physical similarities to former major league infielder Jose Vizcaino and could be a playable, bigger-bodied shortstop along the lines of Jhonny Peralta with playable actions, the ability to make the routine play with little flashiness and a solid-average arm with a long throwing stroke. Others think he’ll end up at third base, but he’ll start as a shortstop, possibly in the GCL. 

Venezuelan outfielder Jesus Gonzalez generated attention for his power and arm strength, then signed with the Blue Jays for $700,000 in July. Gonzalez, a 17-year-old who also trained with Barrios, is physically mature with a 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and the potential for above-average raw power. He can drive balls out of the park from the left-field pole over to right-center field in batting practice thanks to his strength and bat speed. In games, scouts were mixed. Some liked his swing path and said his hands work well at the plate, while others said in games his stroke got long and he looked like a different player. Gonzalez’s best tool might be his arm, a 60 on the 20-80 scale and possibly the strongest arm of any position player in Venezuela last year. He’s an average runner who fits best in right field.

Toronto also loaded up on quality pitchers in the low to mid six-figure range last year. One of those arms is righthander Manuel Cordova, who signed for $500,000 in July. A 17-year-old from Margarita who trained with Pascual Fiorello, Cordova didn’t have the now stuff of some of the other pitchers in his class like Osuna or Venezuelan righthander Victor Sanchez (Mariners), but his 6-foot-3, 190-pound body and easy delivery indicate plenty of projection. Cordova has a natural delivery, his arm works well and he throws 85-88 mph, though the Blue Jays saw him run it up a tick higher as July 2 approached. Cordova has good mound presence and throws a lot of strikes for his age with downhill plane and solid sink on his fastball. Cordova’s changeup shows some promise and some scouts think it’s ahead of his curveball, which the Blue Jays say may be because the youth league he played in didn’t let him throw curveballs, so it’s still a pitch he’s learning. With Cordova’s frame, he projects as a big man, though he’ll have to make sure he doesn’t get too big.

Rigthander Jesus Tinoco wasn’t a big name for July 2, but he developed later on and signed with the Blue Jays for $400,000 in September. Like Becerra and Gonzalez, Tinoco also trained with Barrios. Tinoco is a 16-year-old from Maturin with a projectable 6-foot-3, 200-pound body and a fastball that has continued to escalate. By the time the Blue Jays signed him, Tinoco was throwing a heavy fastball in the high-80s and peaking at 91. He’s added velocity since then and is a potential power arm with a loose arm, solid delivery and good feel for a mid- to high-70s curveball.

Before July 2, the Blue Jays added lefthander Jairo Labourt for $350,000 out of the Arias and Goodman academy. Labourt, an 18-year-old from Azua, pitched well last summer in the DSL, where in 12 starts he had a 2.33 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 14 walks in 36 innings. He didn’t allow any earned runs through his first 23 innings, a span of seven starts. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Labourt is a good athlete with a solid delivery that helps him throw strikes well for his age. The separator for Labourt may be his curveball, an advanced pitch with tight spin and good rotation. He went to instructional league last fall and should make the jump to the GCL.

Righthander Alberto Tirado (video), who trained with Franklin Ferreira and played in the DPL, signed with the Blue Jays in July for $300,000. Tirado, a 17-year-old from Nagua, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, with a thin, athletic frame and long arms. He doesn’t have imposing size but his body does have projection that’s started to fill out, as he touched 91 mph before signing and has been clocked higher since then. Tirado throws a curveball, slider and changeup, and some scouts think the curveball is his best pitch.

Nicaragua produces up to around a dozen players a year who sign pro contracts, but it’s still a country where the signing bonuses combined totaled under $1 million last year. The biggest Nicaraguan bonus of 2011 went to righthander Osman Gutierrez, who signed with the Blue Jays in July for $210,000. Gutierrez, 17, is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds with a tall, lanky body and a loose arm that delivers a fastball up to 90 mph and a solid curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.

Before July 2 the Blue Jays added Juan Tejada, an 18-year-old center fielder from Bani in the Dominican Republic who got $150,000. Tejada, who trained with Miguel Delgado (known as Billiyo), signed last March but had a lengthy investigation that took six months and prevented him from playing in the DSL, so he should get into game action this year. Some scouts think he has a skill set reminiscent of Carlos Gomez, though Tejada isn’t an 80 runner. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), plus speed, plus power from the right side and the Blue Jays project him as a center fielder. The Blue Jays probably hope Tejada hits better than Gomez, though his bat is still raw.

Once Paddy left and Cruz took over, the Blue Jays made a couple more six-figure signings in November. One of those additions was 17-year-old Miguel Castro, a Dominican righthander who signed for $180,000. Castro, who is from La Romana and trained with Eriberto Jose, is a long, skinny frame at 6-foot-5, 180 pounds with a low-90s fastball, a solid slider and changeup. Another Dominican righthander the Blue Jays signed last November was Kendry Melo, a 17-year-old from Azua who trained with Eury Soto and got $100,000. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Melo has long legs and a lively fastball that reaches 92 mph. His changeup is ahead of his breaking ball, though he’s still a project and in the process of becoming more of a pitcher than just a thrower.

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