2012-13 International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals
Top signing: RHP Alex Reyes, Domincian Republic, $950,000.
Six-figure signings: C Joshua Lopez (Venezuela), SS Edmundo Sosa (Panama), OF Luis Bandes (Venezuela), OF Henry Alvarado (Dominican Republic), RHP Julio Mateo (Dominican Republic), OF Magneuris Sierra (Dominican Republic), RHP Ronald Medrano (Nicaragua).
When the Cardinals have spent big money in Latin America in the last few years, it typically hasn’t been on 16-year-old players for July 2. The Cardinals gave $1.1 million to Dominican third baseman Roberto de la Cruz when he was 16 in 2008, then tried to sign Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo for $3.1 million the following July 2 but his contract never went through.
Since then, however, the Cardinals have been aggressive for players outside of the typical July 2 window, paying $1.5 million for Dominican righthander Carlos Martinez in 2010, then agreeing to a $750,000 deal with Dominican righthander Andres Serrano in 2011, though that deal fell apart last summer when Major League Baseball declared Serrano ineligible to sign for one year.
The organization’s biggest signing last year was 18-year-old righthander Alex Reyes, who signed for $950,000 in December. Reyes was born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., where he pitched and played shortstop in high school. After his junior year last winter, he left New Jersey to move to the Dominican Republic to stay with extended family. He was living in Palenque and trained with former Nationals scout Juan Valera and then also with Basilio Vizcaino, who is known as “Cachaza.”
Vizcaino is one of the most well-known trainers in the Dominican Republic, but very few teams were able to see Reyes. In March, Reyes drew the attention of Rodney Jimenez, a second-year Dominican scout for the Cardinals who covers the southern part of the island, who saw him at shortstop and recommended putting him on the mound.
Over the summer, however, Reyes seemed to disappear. Felix Francisco, who was running the Astros’ Latin American scouting last year, had been close to Reyes. When Houston parted ways with Francisco at the end of the summer and he joined the Royals as a special assignment scout in November, the Royals made a push for Reyes, who spent time in Kansas City’s academy. Reyes had also spent a month in the Cardinals academy between October and November, but he was expected to sign with the Royals. Instead, once Reyes had been in the Dominican Republic for one year and thus became eligible to sign in December, he ended up signing with the Cardinals. Cubs 22-year-old righthander Juan Carlos Paniagua ($1.5 million) was the only Dominican pitcher who signed for more money last year.
Reyes has an athletic 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame with long arms and saw his fastball increase from the high-80s to sitting at 90-94 mph by the time he signed. He has a quick arm and a clean, repeatable delivery that allows him to throw strikes down in the zone. He doesn’t have one knockout pitch, but he maintains his arm speed on a changeup that grades out a tick above-average. His 74-77 mph curveball has three-quarters break that he’ll have to tighten up, which if he does would give him three average to above-average pitches. Reyes is fluent in English and Spanish and should make his debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Cardinals made three significant signings on July 2, the best of whom might be 16-year-old shortstop Edmundo Sosa (video), whose $425,000 bonus was the biggest of the year for a player from Panama. Sosa, who trained with German Gil, led his Panama Metro youth team to a junior national title before he signed, then represented his country at the 18U World Championships in South Korea in September. In January, Sosa excelled again in the junior national championships, hitting .370/.459/.521 with just four strikeouts in 73 at-bats for Panama Metro en route to another title.
Some other teams were lukewarm on Sosa’s tools, but he’s shown well consistently in game situations. At 6 feet, 160 pounds, the righthanded-hitting Sosa has good hand-eye coordination, a level swing and good bat control. He has good rhythm and balance and doesn’t swing and miss much. He doesn’t project to be a home run hitter, but he works the gaps for doubles and triples. He showed he can handle himself against stiffer competition by hitting over .300 during the Cardinals’ Dominican instructional league. Sosa flashed above-average times in the 60-yard dash before signing, and since adding strength he’s now consistently a plus runner. He has the range, athleticism, arm strength and instincts to remain at shortstop. Sosa will go to Jupiter, Fla. for extended spring training, though he’s most likely ticketed for the Dominican Summer League.
St. Louis paid a little bit more ($475,000) for Joshua Lopez, a Venezuelan catcher out of Valencia who trained with Henderson Martinez. Lopez, 16, has a stocky 5-foot-9, 190-pound body and hits the ball hard to the opposite field, though some scouts had concerns about some stiffness to his righthanded stroke. He receives well, has good footwork and an average arm that plays up because of his quick release. He doesn’t have the most athletic body, so he’s going to have to work on his agility and maintaining his fitness. He gets good reviews for his leadership and maturity behind the plate. Lopez is going to spring training next month in the United States, but he’ll probably start in the DSL.
The Cardinals’ third big July 2 signing, Venezuelan outfielder Luis Bandes, trained with Ciro Barrios and signed for $350,000. Bandes, a 16-year-old from Ocumare del Tuy, has a thick 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and impressed the Cardinals with his offensive potential. He has a good approach, hangs in well against breaking pitches, uses the whole field and has shown usable power in games. An average runner, Bandes moves well for his body type, but he has a fringy arm and profiles best in left field.
The consensus top two prospects in Nicaragua last year were lefthander Corby McCoy, who signed with the Yankees for $150,000, and righthander Ronald Medrano. For the $100,000 contract he signed with the Cardinals in August, Medrano could be an excellent value. Medrano, a 17-year-old from Dennis Martinez’s academy, is 6 feet, 170 pounds with solid stuff and advanced feel for pitching. His arm action is clean, his delivery is repeatable and he throws plenty of strikes with his 88-91 mph fastball. He’s shown feel for both of his secondary pitches, with his curveball the more advanced weapon right now with a chance to be above-average in the future. After a strong showing at Dominican instructs, Medrano will head to extended spring training, although he’s likely to start out in the DSL.
Dominican outfielder Henry Alvarado (video), who turned 17 in January and trained with Felix Taveras, signed for $150,000 in August. Alvarado is 6-foot-3, 180 pounds and stood out for his bat, with a sound swing, a good hitting approach and projectable power, as he showed he could take the ball out of the park in games when he was trying out for teams. Alvarado has a fringy arm and his athleticism isn’t great, so he projects best either in left field or at first base.
Julio Mateo is a Dominican righthander who signed for $125,000 in August out of Carlos Guzman’s program in San Pedro de Macoris. Mateo, who turned 17 in September, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with an 87-89 mph fastball and a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.
The Cardinals signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Magneuris Sierra for $105,000 out of San Cristobal in July. Sierra is a 5-foot-11 lefty who can play center field with speed and arm strength that both grade out a tick above-average along with a swing geared for line drives rather than power.
Dominican righthander Frederis Parra was a low-profile signing for $60,000 in April, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. Parra, who turned 18 in October, pitched almost exclusively in relief in the DSL last year and had a strong debut, posting a 2.21 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 10 walks in 36 2/3 innings. Parra has long arms and long legs on his skinny 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame. He signed throwing 86-88 mph but he’s up to 88-90 mph now along with good spin on his big-breaking curveball, a key pitch for him.