2011 International Reviews: NL West
July 2-eligible six-figure signings are players who became eligible to sign last year during the July 2 international signing period as 16-year-olds. The "other six-figure signings" include players who became eligible to sign from previous July 2 classes but did not sign until 2010. Signings exclude Cuban defectors.
Top signing: OF Wagner Mateo, Dominican Republic, $512,500
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: SS Ronny Mejias (Venezuela), Yorman Garcia (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: None
In Chad MacDonald's final year heading Arizona's international department before becoming the Mets scouting director in December, the Diamondbacks signed three of the better position players in Latin America for just north of $1 million combined. Back in 2009, the three headline talents on the international market were Miguel Sano, Gary Sanchez and Wagner Mateo. The Cardinals agreed to terms with Mateo that year on July 2 for $3.1 million, which would have been the No. 2 signing bonus of the year and the third-highest ever for an international amateur, but the Cardinals voided the contract that September when he didn't pass his physical due to the Cardinals' problems with his vision. Mateo went back to working out for teams in the Dominican Republic, then signed with Arizona for $512,500, just 17 percent of his original bonus.
Top Dominican signings rarely represent their country in national youth tournaments, but Mateo was an outfielder and a pitcher on the Santo Domingo team for MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, traveling to the U.S. for the junior boys' tournament in 2007 and 2008. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Mateo is a lefthanded outfielder with plus raw power at 17. He can drive the ball out of the park to all fields in batting practice and showed off his power in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .257/.359/.401 with 14 doubles, four triples and four home runs in 276 plate appearances. Mateo is a power bat who can crush a fastball, but he needs to learn to lay off breaking balls after ranking second in the DSL with 83 strikeouts. Scouts who saw Mateo as an amateur wondered how his stocky body would develop and slow him down as he ages, but Mateo is a better athlete than many realize. He runs well for his size and played more center field than right field, but he projects as a solid defender in right.
The Diamondbacks added one of the better bats in Venezuela when they signed shortstop Ronny Mejias for $320,000 in July. Mejias first represented Venezuela in an international tournament at 12 years old, when he pitched and played shortstop in the Little League World Series. Now 16, Mejias is a 6-foot-1, 175-pound switch-hitter with an easy, fluid swing that is more advanced from the left side. His quick, compact stroke draws comparisons to Robinson Cano's swing, showing rhythm, timing and the ability to hit to all fields. While fellow Venezuelan shortstop Rougned Odor (Rangers) also has one of the prettier swings from last year's international signing group, Mejias has a larger frame and projects to hit for more power. The Diamondbacks will start Mejias at shortstop, but his future position is still to be determined. A 6.8 runner in the 60-yard dash with an average arm, Mejias will most likely have to move at some point to second or third base, though there's a chance he could end up in left field.
Arizona also added Venezuelan center fielder Yorman Garcia in July for $200,000. Garcia, 16, was one of the best athletes in Latin America, a plus-plus runner with a lean 6-foot, 170-pound frame. Garcia's bat isn't as advanced as Mejias', but he projects as a line-drive hitter with gap power.
The Diamondbacks signed Dominican outfielder Socrates Brito to a low six-figure bonus, but that deal had to be re-worked to a $90,000 bonus after he tested positive for steroids. Brito is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty who hit .293/.363/.366 in 22 DSL games last summer. Brito, 18, is a pure hitter who has some similarities to Garrett Anderson.
Arizona also made a pair of intriguing low-cost signs last year, adding Dominican righthander Luis Hernandez for $25,000 in February and Venezuelan shortstop William Castillo for $15,000 in March. Hernandez, 18, has a projectable 6-foot-2, 185-pound body and clean mechanics. Though he walked 23 batters in 30 1/3 DSL innings last summer, he's already improved the 85-90 mph fastball he showed upon signing, rising to 90-94 and touching 95. Hernandez is still working to find a reliable breaking ball but his changeup is advanced for his age. Castillo, 18, is a 5-foot-10, 160-pound righthanded hitter who batted .284/.381/.339 in 53 DSL games, drawing more walks (29) than strikeouts (26). Castillo is a solid hitter with good plate discipline and a good athlete with plus speed, though his lack of power kept him under the radar.
Top signing: RHP Joel Payamps, Dominican Republic, $465,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Raimel Tapia (Dominican Republic), OF Cristian Quintin (Dominican Republic), RHP Javier Palacios (Venezuela), OF Yonathan Daza (Venezuela)
Other six-figure signings: RHP Johendi Jiminian (Dominican Republic), LHP Radhames Valerio (Dominican Republic)
The Rockies' Latin American scouts have shown a knack over the years for finding talented arms at reasonable prices. Dominican righthander Joel Payamps, a $465,000 signing on July 2, might be their latest find, with multiple scouts from other organizations pointing to him as one of the better value signs of 2010.
Payamps, 16, trained with former big league outfielder Luis Polonia, and the Rockies had followed him since he was 14. Payamps always stood out for his advanced feel for pitching, and as July 2 approached interest in him heated up as he saw his fastball jump to 88-90 mph and touch 92. At a wiry 6-foot-1 Payamps has a compact, repeatable delivery, good arm action and throws strikes even at his top-end velocity. His fastball still has projection left, and his curveball and changeup have promise as well. The Rockies had agreed to terms on July 2 with another supposed top arm, Venezuelan lefthander Jose Tovar, but his contract never was approved after MLB determined Tovar had lied about his age.
Payamps was the second premium Dominican arm the Rockies added in 2010. Righthander Johendi Jiminian was one of the top names among July 2 prospects in 2009, and the Rockies waited it out to sign him for $325,000 in January 2010. Jiminian as an amateur threw a high-80s fastball and touched 91 with a loose arm and solid mechanics. Last summer in the DSL Jiminian sat at 89-92 mph with sink and touched 94. He showed feel for throwing strikes with three pitches, including a curveball and changeup that could be at least average pitches down the road. Listed at his signing weight of 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, Jiminian still hasn't added much weight, so while he still has projection left, he'll also need to get stronger to be able to handle a full-season workload.
Colorado's top signing among hitters was Raimel Tapia, a 17-year-old Dominican center fielder with good feel for the game who signed in November. A wiry 6-foot-2 lefthanded hitter, Tapia has a natural, easy swing with good rhythm and hand-eye coordination that helps him make consistent contact in games with gap power. He's an average runner who could get faster with additional strength and allow him to stay in center field, where he shows good actions and a solid arm.
Cristian Quintin, another Dominican outfielder signed in November, has a bigger frame than Tapia at skinny 6-foot-3 with a chance to develop power thanks to his size and bat speed from the right side. Quintin can hammer a fastball, though he's still learning to recognize offspeed pitches. He has good actions in the outfield with a solid-average arm and projects as a corner outfielder.
Javier Palacios, 17, is a 6-foot-1 righthander with a quick arm and a high-80s fastball that touches 90. Palacios, who is from Venezuela, also shows some feel for a curve and changeup. Yonathan Daza, 17, is a 6-foot-1 outfielder from Venezuela with a good frame and experience in international competition. Daza represented Venezuela at the COPABE Pan Am 'AA' 16U Youth Championships in Mexico in October, and the Rockies signed him after the tournament. A righthanded hitter, Daza has gap power but handles the bat well, standing out in games more than in workouts. He's an average runner with good instincts in the field.
Though he is more of a raw projection that some of Colorado's other arms, Radhames Valerio is a strong 6-foot-2 lefty from the Dominican Republic. Valerio's present stuff is fringy across the board and his pitchability isn't as advanced as Payamps or Jiminian, but he has good size and a good delivery.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Top signing: RHP Kazuya Takano, Japan, $50,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: None
Other six-figure signings: None
The Dodgers signed Dominican righthander Rubby de la Rosa for $15,000 in 2007. They will have to hope for another bargain signing from their 2010 signing class after ranking last in baseball in international spending last year with an estimated budget of $314,000. The Dodgers didn't sign any 16-year-olds, instead focusing on cheaper 18-year-old and 19-year-olds passed over from previous signing classes, with the majority signing for less than $10,000.
Most Japanese players who come to the United States do so after pitching professionally in Japan, but the Dodgers have cultivated good relationships in the country over the years and were able to sign a pair of amateur Japanese pitchers in November. Righthander Kazuya Takano, who signed the day after his 18th birthday, was a senior out of Buntoku High in Kumamotu. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Takano has a solid delivery, good arm action and good control of a high-80s fastball that's touched 90 mph. He throws a variety of pitches, with reports of a slow curveball, a solid slider, cutter and a splitter/changeup, though he'll likely reduce his repertoire in pro ball. Takano will join the Dodgers in spring training and will likely stay back in extended spring training before joining a Rookie-level club this summer.
Lefthander Kazuki Nishijima, a 21-year-old senior at Meiji University in Tokyo, signed for $25,000. Nishijima became a starter his junior year and stands out more for his feel for pitching than his pure stuff. He's a finesse lefty who sits at 86-88 mph and changes speeds with a big, slow curve, a cutter/slider and a changeup.
In Latin America, the Dodgers' philosophy has been to target passed over pitchers from previous classes who might be late developers, such as de la Rosa. Last year in July the Dodgers added Dominican righthander Angel Sanchez, a 20-year-old with good arm action, a good delivery and a 90-94 mph fastball. Sanchez, who is around 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, also throws a power slurve in the low-80s with late break. Luis Silverio, a Dominican lefthander signed in June, throws 87-89 mph and has some projection with a loose arm and skinny 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame. Silverio, 19, also mixes in a curveball and a short cutter. Among position players, Venezuelan catcher Josmar Cordero, 19, hit .255/.319/.386 with four homers in 51 DSL games, showing some power and solid catch-and-throw skills.
San Diego Padres
Top signing: 3B Duanel Jones, Dominican Republic, $900,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: OF Edwin Moreno (Dominican Republic), SS Felipe Blanco (Dominican Republic) OF Henry Charles (Dominican Republic), C Rodney Daal (Netherlands)
Other six-figure signings: None
San Diego's top signing was Dominican third baseman Duanel Jones, a 2009-eligible player who received a $900,000 bonus in April but also missed the first 50 games of the DSL season because he tested positive for steroids upon signing. Jones hit .211/.384/.246 in 20 games, but from a scouting perspective there was plenty to like. Jones has great size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and despite his struggles he has good pitch recognition and an understanding of the strike zone. He showed more power before he signed, and with his size he should be able to develop more in the future. He still has work to do in the field, but he's improved his conditioning and shows a strong arm.
Dominican outfielder Edwin Moreno, San Diego's top July 2-eligible signing from 2010, also tested positive for steroids, though he will not have to sit out 50 games. MLB began a pilot program in the Dominican Republic prior to July 2 last year for 40 of the country's top prospects, who had to go through a background check and submit to a drug test. Those players were not subject to a suspension if they tested positive as long as they checked out OK on their drug tests upon signing, which Moreno passed.
Moreno, 17, waited to sign until late October, when he became a Padre for $500,000. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound lefthanded hitter, Moreno is a good athlete who does a bit of everything on the baseball field. At the plate he shows a good idea of the strike zone and feel for making contact, and while he flashes power he's still learning to turn on the ball in games. Though he has a stocky body, he runs surprisingly well with above-average speed and a strong arm. He'll start his career in the DSL and has the speed to start out in center field, though he profiles better in right field in the future.
In November the Padres added a pair of intriguing Dominican position players: 17-year-old shortstop Felipe Blanco and 17-year-old right fielder Henry Charles. A 6-foot-1, 175-pound righthanded hitter, Blanco still has a ways to go with the bat but is a standout defender with plus-plus speed. He has good range, soft hands and a strong arm. Charles is a long, skinny lefthanded hitter at around 6-foot-3, 165 pounds with a promising bat. Charles is a line-drive hitter with a good approach, a sound swing and a good trigger. He has shown some power, though he doesn't project as a physical monster. His average speed limits him to a corner, but he has a good arm and can handle right field.
The Padres don't have a full-time scout in Europe, but Pacific Rim coordinator Trevor Schumm spent time covering Europe for the organization. In August the Padres came away with Rodney Daal from the Netherlands for $195,000, the top bonus for a Dutch prospect last year. The Padres had followed Daal for more than a year as a third baseman in MLB's European Academy, then watched him in July at the 18U Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada. Daal hit .161/.235/.194 in 34 plate appearances at the tournament as his team's second-youngest player, but the Padres worked him out behind the plate prior to signing and moved him there full-time, bringing him over to Arizona in the fall for instructional league.
Daal, 16, has a catcher's body at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, a strong arm and aptitude for catching. Daal has some power potential from the right side but like most Europeans he hasn't faced much high-caliber competition. The Padres expect Daal to return to Arizona for spring training but will allow him to miss extended spring training go home to finish school before returning, likely for the Rookie-level Arizona League.
The Padres may have also gotten a bargain in August when they signed righthander Genison Reyes for $12,000. Reyes, 19, is the younger brother (by 14 months) of Padres righthander Eugenio Reyes, the hardest thrower in the organization after touching 98 mph last year in the Arizona League. While Eugenio has a big-bodied 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, Genison is a couple inches taller with more room to fill out at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Like his brother, Genison also has a power arm and has already hit 96 mph, regularly hitting 94-95. Reyes also throws a slider that has its moments and a changeup that is a work-in-progress.
San Francisco Giants
Top signing: OF Carlos Cartagena (Venezuela), $300,000
July 2 eligible six-figure signings: None
Other six-figure signings: RHP Joan Gregorio (Dominican Republic)
The Giants have awarded two of the top 15 international amateur bonuses of all-time, but they spent a little less than $1 million on international amateurs last year. As the market for Dominican and Venezuelan talent has exploded, the Giants have added personnel to help them find value in Latin America's less hotly-contested countries. Last year the Giants signed players from Colombia and Nicaragua and in 2009 from Panama, countries in which the franchise historically hasn't been active.
The Giants' top international signing last year was Reinier Roibal, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound righthander who signed for $425,000 last April. Roibal, 22, defected from Cuba after his final season with Santiago de Cuba in Serie Nacional in 2008-09. He pitched 103 innings in his final season in Cuba, finishing with a 4.63 ERA and a 65-57 K-BB mark. The Giants scouted him in the Dominican Republic and he showed a low-90s fastball, but he didn't show the same velocity last summer in the Arizona League, where he pitched briefly in nine relief appearances as he tried to get back into playing shape. At his best Roibal has two shown good pitches with his fastball and his changeup, though his slider still needs work.
Outside of Cuba, Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Cartagena was the Giants' top addition last year, signing for $300,000 on July 2. Cartagena, 17, stands out for his physical, well-developed frame (around 6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and athleticism. Some scouts saw Cartagena as an inconsistent in-game hitter, but others said he swings the bat well from the right side and can drive the ball the opposite way with occasional pull power. His size and speed project as a corner outfielder, so his bat will have to carry him.
Dominican righthander Joan Gregorio signed last March and is listed at a skinny 6-foot-7, 180 pounds, though he's added some weight since signing. Gregorio, 19, pitched well last summer, helping to lead the Giants to the DSL championship. Gregorio has a heavy fastball that he can run up to the low-90s and throws it for strikes, which he showed by walking 14 in 74 innings. He's remarkably coordinated for his size, which helps him repeat his mechanics despite his long levers and inexperience. He has some feel for a changeup but he'll need to improve his curveball going forward.
The DSL Giants rotation included Gregorio and 6-foot, 165-pound righthander Luis Angeles, a 21-year-old Dominican who signed for $55,000 last February. Angeles doesn't throw as hard as Gregorio, but he'll throw touch 91 mph, has a good breaking ball and throws four pitches (including a slider and changeup) for strikes.
The Giants started out with more aggressive spending in 2011, agreeing to terms for a $400,000 bonus with 19-year-old righthander Simon Mercedes in February after his showing at the Dominican Prospect League all-star game. Mercedes had been presenting himself as 16-year-old Jeffrey Tapia until an MLB investigation revealed the fraud last summer. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Mercedes has a low-90s fastball that has touched 95 and flashes an above-average curveball.