Top signing: C Luis Torrens, Venezuela, $1.3 million.
Six-figure signings: OF Alexander Palma (Venezuela), SS Yancarlos Baez (Dominican Republic), RHP Manolo Reyes (Dominican Republic), LHP Corby McCoy (Nicaragua), LHP Carlos Diaz (Dominican Republic).
Notable Cuban signings: LHP Omar Luis, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Yeral Sanchez.
The new CBA will hurt the Yankees, who finished with baseball’s third-best record and will have one of the lowest signing bonus pools for the 2013-14 signing period. Before then, however, the Yankees picked up two of the premier position prospects in Latin America for July 2, added a Cuban lefty with a strong track record on the Cuban junior national team and a power-armed Dominican righthander before July 2. They also saw two players they had previously agreed to terms with—Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin and Dominican righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua—sign seven-figure deals with the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively.
New York’s top July 2 signing this year was catcher Luis Torrens (video), who signed out of Venezuela for $1.3 million. At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Torrens trained with former Yankees international scouting director Carlos Rios and had one of the most advanced bats in Latin America. Torrens developed plenty of seasoning at international competitions, representing Venezuela on travel teams since he was 10. He even played in Panama’s inaugural winter league before he signed as a 15-year-old in
2011, showing he could hold his own in a league full of adults.
A righthanded hitter from Carobobo, Torrens has a sound hitting approach and a loose, easy swing. He has good bat speed and quick hands that help him turn on the inside pitch. His bat head stays in the zone along time, which helps him use the whole field and work the ball from the right-center field gap to his pull side. Torrens generates loft in his swing, but he’s not a huge power threat right now, so his game is more about hitting and getting on base.
Torrens spent most of his life playing shortstop and had some experience at third base, but he doesn’t run well and scouts think his frame will only slow him down as he matures, so teams were curious to see him behind the plate. While Torrens was hesitant to make the move initially, he was close to Yankees Venezuelan scout Alan Atacho, as the two grew up in the same area, and Torrens followed Atacho’s career when he was a minor leaguer. When the Yankees were able to get Torrens to work out for them as a catcher at Magallanes Stadium in Valencia before July 2, they were quickly sold on his catching potential. Yankees scouts saw him throw out runners in games while recording pop times in the high 1.8s with solid hands, footwork, a quick transfer and a solid, accurate arm. Torrens caught a little bit when he was younger, but as a 16-year-old converted infielder, his blocking is still a long ways away.
Torrens should join Venezuelan outfielder Alexander Palma (video) this year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Palma, a 17-year-old signed for $800,000 on July 2, trained at Carlos Guillen’s academy and generated attention at the 16U World Championship in Mexico in August 2011, when he hit .429/.462/.514 in 35 at-bats. He played well again at the MLB showcase in in the Dominican Republic in February and established himself as one of the more advanced hitters in last year’s class. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Palma is a physical righthanded hitter who has hit well in games with a sound swing, good bat speed and a good approach to hitting for his age. Palma routinely barrels up balls and shows he can make adjustments to breaking pitches. Scouts were mixed on his power, with some projecting average power, though those who were high on him think he has the potential for more. He’s an average runner who will probably slow down and has a thick lower half that he will have to keep in check, with a solid-average arm that profiles in right field.
While Torrens and Palma were consensus top prospects for July 2, the Yankees seemed to be higher than most teams on 17-year-old Yancarlos Baez (video), a Dominican shortstop from San Cristobal who signed for $650,000. Baez, who is 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, trained with Josue Mateo and played in the Dominican Prospect League. He is a switch-hitter with wide, bony shoulders and an athletic, high-waisted frame. The Yankees see Baez as a fundamentally sound shortstop with a good internal clock and a chance to be an above-average hitter with good bat speed and gap power, though other teams were more mixed on his bat.
The Yankees’ fourth significant signing for the 2012-13 signing period that began on July 2 was 17-year-old Nicaraguan lefthander Corby McCoy, who signed for $150,000 in August. The Yankees signed McCoy from Hubert Silva in a package deal along with 17-year-old lefthander Luis Garcia, who signed for $50,000 and is a raw projection at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds with an 85-88 mph fastball that touches 90. McCoy is athletic and projectable at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, but his velocity fluctuated leading up to July 2. He threw 85-88 mph for some teams, but he’s touched 91-92 at his best. He throws strikes but he’ll need to bring along his breaking ball, which is still raw.
Prior to July 2, the Yankees also landed a player they had long targeted, signing Dominican righthander Manolo Reyes for $600,000 out of the Arias and Goodman academy. Reyes originally signed with the Braves in May 2009 when he was 19 and pitched that summer on a pending contract in the DSL, where he allowed 15 runs (11 earned) in 9 2/3 innings with more walks (13) than strikeouts (11). MLB terminated his contract, however, and suspended him for one year over issues with his paperwork. Reyes, according to the story he presented to MLB, is one of 14 brothers and was declared late. His father, who passed away in 1996, is of Haitian descent. Reyes’ original birth certificate said he was born to a midwife, but an MLB investigation revealed that Reyes was born in a hospital. MLB has since approved the contract for Reyes using the same Nov. 19, 1989 date of birth that he used to sign with the Braves, though Reyes is still awaiting his visa from the U.S. Consulate, so he’s been limited to pitching in simulated games at the Yankees academy.
The Yankees bought Reyes for his power arm, which launches mid-90s fastballs that have touched 99. He throws a power breaking ball that can be above-average at times, along with a splitter that’s inconsistent because he tends to overthrow the pitch. Despite being at least 23, Reyes’ pitchability is more commensurate with his lack of experience than his age, as he’s still raw when it comes to throwing strikes. Given his age and profile, he may end up in the bullpen.
Dominican shortstop Jorge Mateo signed for $250,000 last year in January, then had a solid year in the Dominican Summer League at 17, hitting .255/.382/.382 in 69 plate appearances. Listed at 6 feet, 185 pounds, Mateo stands out for his speed, which grades out near the top of the 20-80 scale. He’s an excellent athlete with a chance to be an above-average defender thanks to his excellent range, quick feet, clean exchange and solid-average arm strength. The righthanded-hitting Mateo had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in the DSL, though like many young hitters he’s still learning strike-zone management and how to hang in against breaking balls. His athleticism would make him an exciting prospect if his bat develops, which is why some scouts prefer him to Baez.
Dominican lefthander Carlos Diaz was another pre-July 2 signing for the Yankees, who trained at La Academia and agreed to a $100,000 bonus in March. Diaz appeared in one DSL game on July 30, then got hit with a 50-game suspension from MLB when he tested positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid commonly sold as Winstrol. Diaz, 17, is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds with an unconventional low three-quarters arm angle. His slot gives him good armside life on his fastball, which parks in the high-80s and reaches 90-91. He’s still raw, both with his control and his sweeping, slurvy slider, so he could end up moving to a relief role eventually.
The Yankees may have also found a pair of sleepers in Dominican righthander Simon de la Rosa and Venezuelan shortstop Thairo Estrada. De la Rosa, a 19-year-old signed for $50,000 in October, is 6-foot-3 and gets great extension on a low-90s fastball that touches 96. He also flashes an above-average curveball with tight spin. Estrada, a 16-year-old who signed for $49,000 in August, has a lively 5-foot-11 frame with plus speed, fast hands and quick feet in the field. He’s a line-drive hitter who has shown the ability to take the ball to the opposite field.
The Yankees were also one of the busiest teams in the Cuban market last year. They signed five Cubans, most notably lefthander Omar Luis for a $4 million bonus right before July 2, so his bonus won’t count against their 2012-13 international signing bonus pool. Luis, 20, was one of the Praver Shapiro Sports Management players who used permanent Haitian residency papers and is still stuck in Haiti trying to get his visa. Though he never pitched in Serie Nacional, Luis was one of the top pitchers that Cuba’s junior national team leaned on during international competitions. Luis was an all-star in 2010 at the 18U World Championship in Thunder Bay, Ont., where he threw 137 pitches in a complete-game shutout with 10 strikeouts against Canada. Later in the tournament he allowed two runs in a 145-pitch complete game to beat Team USA, striking out five with just two walks in a 3-2 victory. Luis also pitched in the 16U COPABE Pan American Championships in Mexico in 2008, where he held Team USA scoreless over eight innings with six strikeouts, two walks and three hits in a game Cuba lost 3-1 in extra innings.
With a stocky 5-foot-11, 205-pound body, Luis doesn’t have one pitch that grades out as plus, but he has a five-pitch mix and earns praise from scouts for his competitiveness and ability to change speeds. Despite a head whack at the end of his delivery, Luis throws strikes to all areas of the strike zone with a fastball that has solid sink and run, ranging from 86-93 mph. He throws a 73-78 mph curveball that flashes average to both lefties and righties, though some scouts prefer his changeup. He also has a slider and a cutter that he’ll use at times.
MLB declared Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia ineligible to sign for six months in August 2011 due to fraudulent residency papers. After scouting him while he played winter ball in Venezuela and
had an outstanding postseason, the Yankees signed Garcia for $400,000 in April 2012. Garcia broke into Serie Nacional in 2004 and struggled early in his career until the 2008-09 season, when he hit .355/.426/.613 in 282 at-bats for Ciego de Avila. In his final season before leaving Cuba, Garcia batted .334/.397/.623 in 308 at-bats in 2010-11. His cousin, outfielder Yem Prades, signed with the Royals in 2011.
Garcia, 27, had a solid season split between high Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, batting .263/.311/.424 in 57 games. He followed that up by hitting .292/.319/.481 in 39 games for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican League this winter. At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, Garcia is undersized for a left fielder, but he has surprising power for his size. He chases too many pitches out of the strike zone, which hampers his on-base percentage. An average runner, Garcia has played a lot of center field since signing, but his reads and routes need a lot of work and he’s a better fit in a corner spot. Garcia also has some experience at second and third base, so he provides some depth and versatility for the organization.
In July, the Yankees also signed Cuban outfielder Yeral Sanchez for $400,000 from agent Jaime Torres. Since he signed at age 27 and played for Holguin in Serie Nacional since the 2005-06 season, Sanchez is exempt from having his bonus count against New York’s 2012-13 international signing bonus pool. Sanchez, now 28, had his best year in Cuba in 2008-09, when he hit .352/.404/.576 in 335 at-bats with a career-high 17 home runs. His final season in the league came the following season, when he batted .313/.392/.478 with nine home runs in 224 at-bats. Sanchez has a chiseled 6-foot-1 frame with an aggressive approach and solid power, though he wasn’t a huge home run threat in Cuba. He rarely stole bases in Serie Nacional, but he is around an average runner with an arm that’s average to a tick above-average that should play in right field.