Top signing: CF Jhonny Santos, Panama $355,000
Six-figure signings: OF Isael Soto (Dominican Republic), RHP Jeremy Ovalle (Dominican Republic), C Pablo Garcia (Dominican Republic), SS Garvis Lara (Dominican Republic), SS Luis Alcala (Dominican Republic).
Total players signed: 32.
For the first time in years, the Marlins had more than a nominal amount of money to spend on the international market. The Marlins entered the 2013-14 international signing period with the sixth-largest bonus pool ($3,395,200), and while they probably won’t spend their full pool allotment, 2013 still represented a substantial increase in spending for the franchise.
Their biggest signing came on July 2, when they signed center fielder Jhonny Santos for $355,000, the biggest bonus for a player from Panama in 2013. Santos, 17, played for the Chiriqui Occidente youth team in the Panama junior national league, where last year he hit .386/.480/.566 with nine stolen bases in 20 games, then this year hit .286/.458/.400 in 20 games to rank third in the league in OBP with 20 walks and three strikeouts.
A wiry 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, Santos is an excellent athlete with a good running gait who improved his speed to above-average as July 2 approached. He’s lacking physical strength right now, so it’s possible his speed even improves more over the next year or two. He projects as a center fielder with an average arm. At the plate he’s a righthanded hitter with a quick, short stroke that should help him hit for average. He doesn’t have much power yet, but he does have some strength in his forearms and should grow into more pop once he gains weight. He’s expected to debut this year in the Dominican Summer League.
Later in July the Marlins gave $310,000 to 17-year-old Isael Soto, a lefthanded outfielder from the Dominican Republic. Soto, who trained with Wellington Gonzalez, is 5-foot-11, 193 pounds with a strong, physically mature frame and above-average raw power that generates loud contact. Soto has short limbs and has a solid, consistent path to the ball, which has helped his power play in games already, as he hit six home runs in about a month during the Marlins’ Dominican instructional league. He’s an average runner who will probably begin his career as a center fielder, though with his build he will likely end up in a corner. With Santos ticketed for the DSL, Soto could debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Marlins signed four other players to six-figure bonuses last July, including Dominican righthander Jeremy Ovalle, a $200,000 signing. Ovalle, a 17-year-old who trained with Erlin Valentin (known as “Mape”) and played in the Dominican Prospect League, is a projectable 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and throws strikes with a repeatable delivery. Ovalle stood out for his feel for pitching, but his fastball has also started to come along. After throwing 86-89 mph before signing, Ovalle hit 92 at Dominican instructional league in November and already shows the ability to spin an advanced curveball for his age.
The Marlins gave $100,000 to another DPL player, 17-year-old shortstop Luis Alcala. Alcala has a lot of room to add size to his 6-foot-1, 155-pounds frame and will probably end up at second or third base, but he impressed the Marlins with his smooth lefthanded swing and feel for the game over raw tools. Alcala trained with Alberto Polo, also known as “Gwynn.”
In 2012, La Academia produced Francisco Mejia, a small, switch-hitting Dominican catcher with a rocket arm who had an impressive debut last year with the Indians. Last year the academy had Pablo Garcia, who has some similarities to Mejia and signed with Miami for $100,000. A 17-year-old switch-hitter listed at 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Garcia has a well above-average arm and stands out for his advanced catch-and-throw skills. He has a short, quick stroke, though his size and lack of strength limit his power potential.
The Marlins also gave $100,000 to Dominican shortstop Garvis Lara, who trained with Enrique Soto, the Dominican trainer who was previously convicted of sexually assaulting two boys but is now free, and also had his son, George Soto, sign with the Mariners for $700,000 in 2007 using a false age. Lara, 16, is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with a lanky, athletic build who impressed the Marlins with his defense, athleticism and contact skills from the left side of the plate.