2012-13 International Reviews: Boston Red Sox

Baseball America’s annual International Reviews begin today in the American League East, with scouting reports on every team’s top international amateur signings from
the 2012 calendar year, as well as a look at any notable signings from the Cuban market.

Boston Red Sox
Top Signing:
 SS Tzu-Wei Lin, Taiwan, $2.05 million
Six-figure signings: RHP Simon Mercedes (Dominican Republic), RHP Jose Almonte (Dominican Republic), SS Wendell Rijo (Dominican Republic), CF Luis Alexander Basabe (Venezuela), 2B Luis Alejandro Basabe (Venezuela), LHP Daniel McGrath (Australia), RHP Heri Quevedo (Dominican Republic).

The Red Sox were one of the most aggressive teams across the globe in 2012 both before and after July 2. Their top international signing of the year came in June, when they signed 18-year-old Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin for $2.05 million. Lin’s bonus is the highest of all-time for an Asian amateur position player and the second-highest bonus ever for an amateur player from Taiwan, behind only the $2.2 million the Rockies spent on righthander Chin-Hui Tsao when he was 18 in 1999. Excluding Cubans, Lin’s bonus was the second-highest bonus of the year for an international amateur player after Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras, who signed with the Rangers for $4.5 million.

Lin originally agreed to a $350,000 deal with the Yankees in 2010 when he was 16, but that agreement fell apart. The Yankees performed a status check protocol and MLB had declared Lin a free agent, but the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association threatened to ban Lin from playing or coaching Taiwan if he signed before graduating high school, so the deal was never finalized.

Lin, who was represented by the Boras Corporation, was the MVP of the 18U World Championship in 2010 in Thunder Bay, Ont. when he was 16. He led the tournament in batting average, OBP and slugging with a .607/.656/.907 mark in 32 plate appearances over seven games in a prospect-packed tournament that included Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler among others.

After signing, Lin hit .255/.341/.318 in 29 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and ranked as the GCL’s No. 8 prospect, though he missed some time and wasn’t at full strength after experiencing soreness in his right knee. There was no structural damage to Lin’s knee, so when he was finished in the GCL he went to South Korea in September for the 18U World Championships, where he hit .308/.457/.346 in 35 plate appearances, led his team in OBP and was named the tournament’s most outstanding defensive player. He also went 1-for-3 with a hit by pitch in a game in which Japanese flamethrowing ace Shintaro Fujinami threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout.

Lin has a small frame at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, but he’s a plus-plus runner with a quick first step. He’s a potential above-average hitter with good bat control, strike-zone awareness and an approach that allows him to spray line drives to all fields. Lin doesn’t have much power now and it will never be a big part of his game, so his offensive value will come mostly from his on-base skills and speed. Scouts who liked Lin’s defense praised his hands and a natural rhythm at shortstop, so he could be an average defender with an average arm.

Boston made another big signing before July 2, landing Dominican righthander Simon Mercedes (video) for $800,000 in March. Mercedes at one point was presenting himself as a 16-year-old named Jeffrey Tapia, but by the summer of 2010 he started going by Simon Mercedes and saying he was 18. After pitching in the Dominican Prospect League all-star game in January 2011, Mercedes signed with the Giants for $400,000.

That deal was never consummated, however, after MLB investigated Mercedes’ background and declared him ineligible to sign for one year. The league never announced why Mercedes was penalized, though his punishment was more of a penalty for the Giants than for Mercedes, who doubled his signing bonus once he became eligible to sign last year. The 20-year-old Mercedes signed with the Red Sox using the same Feb. 17, 1992 date of birth he presented to the Giants. After Mercedes signed with Boston, MLB declared his age undetermined, which puts the onus on the signing club of whether to accept the risk that he may be older or walk away from the deal, so the Red Sox elected to continue with the contract.

Mercedes, who trained with Felix Liriano and Edwin Sabater, is a physical, power pitcher. He has a thick 6-foot-4, 220-pound body with a fastball he can get up to 96 mph. He’s also flashed an above-average breaking ball at times, and with his huge hands, he’s shown some feel for a changeup. Mercedes has quite a few things to smooth out in his rigid delivery and is still more of a thrower than a pitcher. If he can’t iron out the rough edges in his game, he could profile as a power reliever. The contract approval process prevented Mercedes from making his pro debut last year, but he should pitch for one of Boston’s U.S. affiliates in 2012.

On July 2, Boston’s most expensive international signing was Dominican righthander Jose Almonte for $610,000. It probably didn’t hurt the Red Sox that Almonte, like Mercedes, also trained with Liriano, as well Rafael De Leon (known as “Batata”). Almonte, who turned 17 in September, doesn’t throw as hard as Mercedes but has an easier delivery. Almonte has already added around 15 pounds to his signing weight (around 6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and has a fastball that’s mostly 88-91 mph and touches 92. He has clean arm action, smooth mechanics and projection to add more velocity. Almonte has shown good feel for his changeup. It’s his second-best pitch right now, as his curveball has its moments but still needs a lot of work. He will most likely begin his career in the DSL.

Dominican shortstop Wendell Rijo (video) signed for a tick less money ($575,000) than Almonte, but several teams considered Rijo the superior prospect and he could end up a bargain. Rijo’s price tag took a hit when he injured his knee in March while in the United States for the DPL’s spring training tour. The injury, later diagnosed as a torn ACL, prevented Rijo from playing thereafter. He signed on July 7 and had surgery soon after.

Rijo, who turned 17 in September, is from La Romana and trained with Victor Brus. He’s also the son of Dodgers scout Rafael Rijo, which is evident in Rijo’s baseball IQ. Rijo grew up around the ballpark and was playing games at an early age. Despite his size, which some scouts believe is a generous 5-foot-11, Rijo routinely performed well in the DPL and in other environments against live pitching. He has a good eye at the plate, an advanced approach to hitting, quick hands and a sound righthanded swing. His size may limit his power projection, but he has surprising juice for his size and routinely squares up the ball for hard line drives.

Rijo will start his career at shortstop, but many scouts see him as a future second baseman because he doesn’t have a great arm. He’s a plus runner with solid hands and has advanced fundamentals, as he recognizes situations and knows where to position himself both pre-pitch and on relays. Rijo spent quite a bit of time in Fort Myers already and is expected to be back there for spring training with no physical restrictions. Given his present ability, he might be advanced enough to skip the DSL and start his career in the GCL.

The Red Sox also made a pair of signings that sound almost too bizarre to be true. They signed identical twins from Venezuela, both named Luis Basabe, both switch-hitters who throw righthanded, both are around the same size and each of whom signed for $450,000 when they turned 16 on Aug. 26. Luis Alexander Basabe is an athletic, 5-foot-11, 165-pound center fielder with above-average speed, a 55 arm that could be plus in the future and solid power. Luis Alejandro Basabe is a 5-foot-10, 160-pound second baseman who also has plus speed. Alejandro has shown better ability to manipulate the bat head than his brother, though Alexander has more power. Alejandro has an average arm and some scouts think he might end up joining his brother in the outfield too. The brothers are from Anaco and trained with Jorge Agudelo.

Last year in February the Red Sox signed lefthander Daniel McGrath for $400,000, the second-highest bonus for an Australian player in 2012. McGrath, who turned 18 in July, spent most of 2012 in Australia finishing school, but he’ll join the Red Sox full-time this year in spring training. McGrath also pitched for Australia at the 18U World Championships in South Korea in September, when he had a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings with seven walks and seven strikeouts. McGrath is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds—some scouts say he’ll have to work to maintain his conditioning, while others see it as a durable frame—and has a quick, easy arm. He throws 86-89 mph, touches 91, flashes a solid breaking ball and mixes in a changeup at times, although he’ll need to improve his control.

Panamanian shortstop Javier Guerra was a July 2 signing who got $250,000. Guerra turned 17 in September and is a lefthanded hitter with good feel for the strike zone and a line-drive stroke. He has smooth hands in the field and a good internal clock at shortstop. Scouts were mixed on his defense, however, as his below-average speed limits his range and he has an average arm, so some scouts think he might end up at second base.

Lefthander Dedgar Jimenez, who signed for $175,000 in late July, has represented Venezuela since he was 10 at international competitions alongside teammates like Yankees catcher Luis Torrens and Blue Jays shortstop Franklin Barreto. Jimenez, 16, has always been one of the largest players on the field in his age group, and he was up to 6-foot-3, 254 pounds at the beginning of last year. He trained with Felix Olivo and then went to the Dominican Republic to work out at La Academia, where he cut down to around 230 pounds, but it’s something he’s going to always have to work to maintain. His big-game experience is evident in his pitchability, poise and ability to slow the game down. He throws strikes with a fastball he can get up to 88-89 mph. He also has feel to spin a curveball and sprinkles in an occasional changeup.

Dominican righthander Heri Quevedo had previously signed with the Yankees as Heri Olivo and made three starts for the DSL Yankees in 2010, but he ran into hurdles with MLB’s investigation into his age and identity and the deal fell apart. Red Sox Dominican supervisor Manny Nanita stayed on him and Boston signed him shortly before July 2 for $150,000 at age 22. Quevedo is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds with a low-90s fastball that can hit 95 with some deception and natural sink. He throws strikes and has good feel for his secondary pitches, which include a curveball, a slider and a changeup. Quevedo overmatched the hitters he faced in intrasquad games in the Dominican Republic, but he won’t face a real test until he gets to the United States this year and gets pushed to either low Class A Greenville or short-season Lowell given his age.

One smaller Red Sox international signing to keep an eye on is Victor Acosta, a Venezuelan shortstop from Maturin who signed for $50,000. Acosta, a 16-year-old who trained with Pascual Fiorello, is a plus runner with natural hitting rhythm, good bat speed, feel for the barrel and a line-drive stroke from the right side, though at 5-foot-11, 165 pounds he probably won’t have huge power. He could end up at second or third base eventually.

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