2012-13 International Reviews: Los Angeles Dodgers
Top signing: LHP Julio Urias, Mexico, bonus unconfirmed.
Notable Cuban signings: OF Yasiel Puig.
After years of being handcuffed by ownership to sign international players, the Dodgers have gone to the other extreme, first with the seven-year, $42 million contract (including a $12 million bonus) for Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig from agent Jaime Torres in June. After the season, the Dodgers won the posting bidding for Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu for a reported $25,737,737.33, then signed the Boras Corp. client to a six-year, $36 million deal including a $5 million signing bonus (Ryu’s full scouting report is available here).
In between, the Dodgers also added several international scouts. They hired Bob Engle as vice president of international scouting after he had just stepped away from the same role with Seattle. They also brought aboard Patrick Guerrero to serve as Latin American coordinator after he was fired by the Mariners in the same role. Guerrero, who lives in the Dominican Republic, had worked with Engle in Seattle since 2000. Los Angeles also brought in two other scouts from Seattle, hiring Pat Kelly as Pacific Rim coordinator and Jamey Storvick, who lives in Taiwan, as a special assignment scout. Gene Grimaldi is the organization’s new European coordinator, while Mike Tosar will be the coordinator of Mexico. Pedro Avila, who was with the Mariners from 2000-08, helped Seattle signed Felix Hernandez, and has since been with the Rangers, will be the team’s Venezuelan coordinator.
Before the new scouting team came aboard, the Dodgers blew away the international scouting community with the Puig signing. Puig, 22, was a man among boys when he played in Cuba’s junior national circuit. While playing center field for Cienfuegos in Cuba’s 18U league, Puig hit .427 and slugged .685 in 143 plate appearances. He led the league in batting average, slugging, hits, home runs (four), triples (eight), RBIs (31) and total bases. He also ranked fourth with 10 stolen bases but was also caught eight times, second-most in the league. He played at the 18U World Championships that year in Edmonton and made the all-tournament team.
Puig made his Serie Nacional debut in 2008-09 for Cienfuegos, batting .276/.371/.425 in 174 at-bats. He sat out the 2009-10 season for disciplinary reasons, then started to break out in 2010-11, his final season playing in Cuba. Puig hit .330/.430/.581 with 17 home runs, 49 walks and 39 strikeouts in 327 at-bats while splitting most of his time between right field and left field. Puig never played for Cuba’s top national team, but he played for the Cuban national B team at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands in June 2011, hitting .333/.419/.481 in 31 plate appearances as Cuba’s left fielder.
Other than that tournament, however, scouts didn’t have much opportunity to evaluate Puig in person, so it was curious that the Dodgers would sign a player who hasn’t been seen in a game in more than a year for that amount of money. Yoenis Cespedes was easily one of the top five players in Cuba, in the prime of his career, and had played in front of scouts at several international tournaments. Jorge Soler didn’t have experience in Cuba’s top league, but between international competition and tryouts in the Dominican Republic, some teams had logged more than 100 at-bats on Soler.
Puig, on the other hand, didn’t have time to showcase for teams after he showed up in Mexico in June, with a brief workout more notable for its circus atmosphere than anything that happened on the field. Puig received what appears to be unprecedented express service by obtaining permanent Mexican residency documents in a matter of weeks, then signed with the Dodgers before July 2, exempting him from the international bonus pools.
In some ways, Puig has similarities to Victor Roache, the 21-year-old Georgia Southern outfielder the Brewers drafted in the first round with the 28th overall pick and signed for $1.525 million. Like Puig, Roache is a physical, righthanded-hitting corner outfielder with impressive raw power. And like Puig, scouts had to make decisions on Roache based largely off information from the previous year, since a broken left wrist in February cost him the rest of his season.
Puig did get off to a promising start in pro ball, hitting .354/.442/.634 in 23 games split between the Rookie-level Arizona League and high Class A California League, but he followed that up with a .232/.308/.333 showing in 20 games for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican League. Puig has great bat speed, his bat stays in the zone and he generates plus raw power. He showed solid plate discipline in his introduction to pro ball, though he’s susceptible to chasing breaking balls away from him. He runs well for his size (he looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-3, 215 pounds), but as he’s matured physically he’s slowed down and fits best in a corner outfield spot. He most likely will return to the Cal League for his first full season.
The Dodgers’ major international signing in the July 2 market was Mexican lefthander Julio Urias, who signed soon after he turned 16 in August. Urias had been with the Mexico City of the Mexican League and signed in a package deal believed to be worth around $1.8 million, though because of the difficulties involved in tracking Mexican League money, the amount intended for Urias is unconfirmed. Regardless of the money, Urias was the best amateur prospect the Dodgers signed last year. Urias, who pitched at the 14U Pan-American Championships in Nicaragua in 2010, is 6 feet, has a loose arm, a smooth delivery and advanced feel for pitching for his age. He throws 88-92 mph, can cut his fastball and mixes in a changeup that could be anywhere from a plus to plus-plus offering in the future.
Dominican shortstop Cristian Gomez worked out at La Academia and trained with Alberto Mercedes, who is known as "Pelkin” and also trained Indians shortstop Dorssys Paulino and Mariners shortstop Ketel Marte. The Dodgers signed Gomez for $250,000 in July. Gomez, 17, is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and has soft hands, good range and instincts in the field with an average arm. He’s a righthanded hitter with gap power whose defense is ahead of his offense.
The organization’s top Venezuelan signing last year was righthander William Soto, who got $190,000 on July 2. Soto, who turned 17 this month, is a projectable 6-foot-4, 180 pounds with an 86-90 mph fastball that has heavy action and good angle. With his size, fluid arm action and clean delivery, he could be sitting in the low-90s eventually. He’s shown feel for his high-70s changeup with solid sink and his low-70s curveball that could become an average offering.
After Engle and Guerrero took over, the Dodgers signed Dominican outfielder Ariel Sandoval for $150,000 in December. Sandoval, a 17-year-old from Haina who trained with Jaime Ozuna, is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and caught the Dodgers’ attention for his ability to hit for average and power from the right side of the plate. With his above-average speed, Sandoval should start his career in center field, but he also has a strong arm should he need to move to right field.