Top signing: Hector Caro, Dominican Republic, $1.1 million
Six-figure signings: SS Grofi Cruz (Dominican Republic), C Francisco Mejia (Dominican Republic), C Yoiber Marquina (Venezuela), RHP Naoki Hashimoto (Japan).
The Indians have to be excited about their 2011 international signing class. Dominican shortstop Dorssys Paulino, who signed for $1.1 million on July 2, 2011, dominated the Rookie-level Arizona League last year and is arguably the best international amateur player signed in 2011. Outfielder Anthony Santander and lefthander Luis Lugo, both 2011 signings out of Venezuela, also had strong pro debuts last year.
While Paulino earned praise for his bat before he signed, the Indians went against the grain for their biggest signing of 2012, paying $1.1 million for Dominican outfielder Hector Caro on July 2. It was the second year in a row in which Caro’s trainer, Ivan Noboa, pulled off a signing that had a large number of international scouts taken aback at the size of a bonus for one of his players after outfielder Nomar Mazara signed with the Rangers for $4.95 million in 2011.
Caro, who turned 17 in October, is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and has flashed solid raw power from the right side of the plate thanks to his strength. Indians coaches will have to work with him to get his upper and lower half in sync and try to improve his hitting rhythm. Other teams also had concerns about Caro’s plate discipline and pitch recognition.
Caro is a below-average runner and fits best in a corner outfield spot. He showed an average arm when he signed but has improved his arm strength since then, so he’ll probably start out in right field. He’ll head to Arizona for extended spring training with a chance to stay when the Arizona League season begins.
On July 2, the Indians also signed Dominican shortstop Grofi Cruz for $400,000. Cruz, a 16-year-old who trained at La Academia, is around 6-foot-4, 180 pounds and stands out for his raw power and arm strength. Cruz is athletic for his size, but he’s a below-average runner who’s expected to slide over quickly to third base.
The Indians also signed a pair of rocket-armed Latin American catchers on July 2, including Francisco Mejia, who signed out of the Dominican Republic for $350,000. Mejia, who trained at La Academia and was represented by Hugo Catrain, is only 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, but his arm grades out as a 70 on the 20-80 scale. He has the hands, feet and athleticism to stay behind the plate. Mejia, who turned 17 in October, is a switch-hitter with more power righthanded but a better swing from the left side. His hitting may need some time to develop but he surprised some scouts with ability to handle the bat and shows gap power.
Yoiber Marquina, who signed for $260,000 out of Jose Montero’s program in Venezuela, is the other catcher the Indians signed on July 2. Like Mejia, some scouts have pegged Marquina with a 70 arm on the 20-80 scale. Marquina has plenty of experience catching, as he’s represented Venezuela at international tournaments since he was 10. He’s a more advanced receiver right now than Mejia and shows good feel for the position. At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, the 17-year-old has a fairly mature body and his bat isn’t as advanced as his defense. He shows occasional raw power but his swing tends to get big, so he’ll need to make adjustments. Marquina and Mejia will both be in Arizona for extended spring training, so they might get split up between the AZL and the Dominican Summer League to get both of them regular playing time.
While Shohei Otani attracted attention after he stated publicly that he would leave Japan after high school to sign with a major league team, he ultimately ended up staying in Japan to sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters. The Indians, however, signed three young Japanese players last year.
Cleveland’s top Japanese signing was righthander Naoki Hashimoto, who landed a $250,000 bonus in June. Hashimoto is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds and pitched for the Kobe Suns in the Japanese industrial leagues. Hashimoto, 22, throws a low-90s fastball that touches 94, a slider and a splitter. He has the deliberate, hesitating windup typical of many Asian pitchers. His control is still shaky, so his best chance is in a bullpen role.
Indians director of Pacific Rim scouting Dave DeFreitas lives in Tokyo, and the club signed two other Japanese players last year. Tayuka Tsuchida was not picked in the NPB draft, so the Indians signed the 18-year-old second baseman/center fielder out of high school for $50,000 in October. He’s a switch-hitter who runs well and is expected to play mostly center field, either starting out in the AZL or possibly Major League Baseball’s Australian academy.
The Yokahama Bay Stars drafted righthander Kota Kobayashi out of high school in the second round of the NPB draft in 2009. He spent three seasons in the Japanese minor leagues, ended up getting put on waivers and the Indians signed the 21-year-old for $15,000 in November. Scouting information on Kobayashi is limited, but it’s a low-cost flier with an unusual backstory.