2013-14 International Reviews: Los Angeles Dodgers
Top signing: SS Lucas Tirado, Dominican Republic, $1 million.
Six-figure signings: 3B Alberto Estrella (Dominican Republic), OF Michael Medina (Dominican Republic), SS Moises Perez (Venezuela), OF Daniel Padilla (Venezuela), SS Dennis Santana (Dominican Republic), RHP Takumi Numata (Japan), RHP Miguel Urena (Dominican Republic), RHP Osiris Ramirez (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 48.
The Dodgers went through their first July 2 under vice president of international scouting Bob Engle and Latin American supervisor Patrick Guerrero. Throughout the 2013 calendar year, the Dodgers spent more money on the international market than any other team that didn't go past their 2013-14 international bonus pool (the Rangers and Cubs), signing 48 players in all to try to beef up the lower levels of an international program that had been relatively dormant under previous ownership.
When Engle and Guerrero were in Seattle, they weren't afraid to pay big money for players who were not consensus top talents. They did so last year with Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero as well as their top two amateur signings, including Dominican shortstop Lucas Tirado, who signed for $1 million in July. Tirado, 17, played at the Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field in 2012, and his trainer, Jaime Ramos, put him in both the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League.
Tirado shows a nice, compact lefty swing, with occasional power but mostly working gap to gap. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, there's room for more strength gains down the road. Tirado does a solid job of managing his at-bats and plays under control, but his scouts expressed concern that his swing got longer in games and he swung through too many fastballs, which may be related to his bat speed. Tirado doesn't project as a shortstop, as teams before July 2 consistently called him a below-average runner without great range and a fringy arm. The Dodgers believe his speed and arm have both improved since then. He could end up at second or third base, with his pro debuted expected to come this summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
The Dodgers signed 16-year-old Dominican third baseman Alberto Estrella for $600,000 in July. Estrella is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and impressed the Dodgers with his strength and power potential from both sides of the plate. Given Estrella's size, well below-average speed and limited athleticism, first base could be in his future, though the Dodgers were impressed with how he improved his conditioning since signing, so a corner outfield spot might be possible. Scouts from other organizations expressed reservations about his hitting against live pitching and stiffness to his game. Estrella, who was with Arquimedes Guerrero (who goes by "Pla") and Rob Plummer, is slated to open in the AZL.
In Venezuela, the Dodgers signed a pair of intriguing prospects in July, including shortstop Moises Perez for $250,000 when he turned 16 on July 18. Perez is a 16-year-old who looks like he's 14, with a skinny 5-foot-10, 150-pound build. He's well beyond his years in the field, where he has clean hands, smooth actions and an above-average arm. He's an average runner and a good athlete who plays under control in the field, slowing down the game with a good internal clock and a nose for the ball. Perez's defense is ahead of his righthanded bat, but he has a good approach to hitting and stays within the strike zone. Power will never be part of his game, but getting stronger will help him at the plate. Perez trained with Carlos Rios and will start in the Dominican Summer League.
Venezuelan outfielder Daniel Padilla has loud tools packed into his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, signing for $200,000 on July 2 after training with Dennys Suarez. Padilla is a plus-plus runner with an above-average arm in center field. He has good power potential as well if the Dodgers can get his righthanded bat to click.
The Dodgers caused a bit of a stir in Japan when they signed 19-year-old Japanese righhander Takumi Numata for $155,000 in September. Numata graduated from Ohkaki Nihon University High in 2012, then pitched for Edion of the Japanese industrial league in 2013. The Japanese Amateur Baseball Association was upset that Numata signed with the Dodgers and allegedly didn't follow the organization's protocol in doing so, but the Dodgers performed a status check on Numata before signing him and weren't found to have violated any MLB rules, so the contract went through. Numata is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with a low-90s fastball and a splitter that he leans on more than his breaking ball. He will likely come over for the AZL this summer.
Before July 2, the Dodgers also dropped more than $1.6 million into the international amateur market on players in the first half of 2013 during the 2012-13 signing period. The biggest bonus of that group went to Dominican outfielder Michael Medina, who trained with Amauris Nina and played in the IPL, then signed for $275,000 in January. Medina, who turned 17 in August, ranked second in the DSL in both home runs (10) and strikeouts (94), hitting .198/.289/.411 in 56 games. With a thick, physically mature frame at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Medina has plus raw power from the right side. When he gets a fastball grooved into his swing path, he has the bat speed and strength to leave the yard. Contact frequency is a problem for Medina, who swings uphill with an extreme pull-oriented approach in games. He's a below-average runner with a solid arm in right field.
Dominican shortstop Dennis Santana signed for $170,000 in March, then hit .198/.312/.256 in 56 games as the Dodgers' starting shortstop in the DSL. Santana, 17, isn't a total free swinger and has some sense of working the count while showing occasional power form his skinny 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame, but he's still raw at the plate and a work in progress in the field.
Dominican righthander Miguel Urena, who turned 19 last month, signed for $140,000 last year in January. Urena is enormous at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds and looks like a power forward. He throws in the low-90s and can reach the mid-90s at times with steep downhill angle. Everything about Urena is raw, from his secondary pitches to his ability to keep his mechanics together, understandable for someone his size with limited experience. He finished with a 7.76 ERA and a 21-16 K-BB mark in 26 2/3 innings last year in the DSL.
Osiris Ramirez had been a shortstop in the Dominican Republic but transitioned to the mound a couple of years before signing with the Dodgers for $100,000 in April. Ramirez, 18, is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds and his athleticism is apparent on the mound. He signed from Laurentino Genao's program throwing 87-91 mph but has jumped up a little to be in the low-90s with more frequency. His breaking ball has solid bite at times but is inconsistent, though it's ahead of his changeup. His pitchability is still fairly raw, as he allowed 18 runs (11 earned) in 16 1/3 innings last year in the DSL.
One of the best players the Dodgers signed last year was 18-year-old Ibandel Isabel, a Dominican outfielder who landed an $80,000 bonus in April. In his pro debut, Isabel hit an impressive .327/.398/.500 in 57 games. At 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Isabel has natural hitting actions and instincts from the right side. His hands work well at the plate with a sound swing, quick wrists and good bath path. Isabel has mostly doubles power now with occasional over-the-fence pop, but with the room he has to add size to his frame, he could grow into above-average power. The development of that power will be important, since Isabel's speed and arm are both below-average and restrict him to left field, with first base a potential option down the road.
Dominican outfielder Deivi Castillo could be another sleeper after signing for $70,000 last year in January. Castillo, 18, hit just .190/.308./240 in 37 DSL games last year, but he played through some injuries last year. He's a well above-average runner who covers a lot of ground in center field with good defensive actions. He has good size (6-foot-3, 170 pounds), but is more of a line-drive hitter than a power guy from the left side.
The Mariners were among the most active teams in Europe, and the Dodgers went in there last year to sign German righthander Sven Schuller for $70,000 in June out of the same program that had Twins outfielder Max Kepler. Schuller is a good athlete with a solid delivery who throws strikes with an 88-91 mph fastball and has a solid breaking ball that he's still learning to use more in games, along with the makings of a promising changeup that he's added as well.