2013-14 International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals
Top signing: OF Carlos Talavera, Venezuela, $500,000.
Six-figure signings: SS Hector Linares (Dominican Republic), RHP Oneiver Diaz (Venezuela), OF Andres Luna (Venezuela), RHP Sandy Alcantara (Dominican Republic), C Dennis Ortega (Venezuela), OF Carlos Rodriguez (Venezuela), SS/2B Luis Flores (Dominican Republic), OF Jonathan Rivera (Panama).
Total signings: 25
Carlos Guillen's academy produced several Venezuelan outfield prospects last year, including Carlos Talavera (video), who signed with the Cardinals for $500,000 on July 2. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Talavera is a 17-year-old switch-hitter with a chance to hit and play a premium position, with an overall package that elicits comparisons to Giants outfielder Angel Pagan. Scouts who followed him closely were impressed with his ability to make a lot of contact and hit in games. He's a patient hitter who takes quality at-bats, understands the strike zone and could be a high on-base threat with his potential to hit and draw walks. He has occasional power when he pulls the ball, with more thump from the right side and a smoother stroke lefty, but he's mostly a gap-to-gap guy for now. Talavera is a good athlete and a 55 runner on the 20-80 scale with an average arm. Some scouts liked his defensive instincts, his reads off the bat and the way he was light on his feet in the outfield, leading them to believe he can play center field. Others wonder whether he may end up shifting to a corner, which would place more demands on the power developing.
Dominican shortstop Hector Linares was the Cardinals' other big July 2 signing, grabbing a $400,000 bonus. The Cardinals were drawn to Linares for his righthanded bat, with good bat speed, quick wrists and the ability to turn on fastballs. He's a 17-year-old with an inside-out swing and can drive the ball the other way with surprising pop from a wiry 6-foot, 160-pound frame. He's not driving the ball over the fence much yet, but with his bat speed and physical projection, more power should be on the way. Linares is an offensive-oriented player whose defense will have to catch up to the rest of his game to stay at the position. He has an unorthodox running stride but he's a slightly above-average runner. Linares trained with "Ninote" and was represented by Angel Santana, who is known as "Aroboy."
Dominican righthander Sandy Alcantara also signed on July 2, though he turned 18 in September and had been eligible during the previous signing period. At 6-foot-4, 170 pounds, Alcantara is long and gangly but can reach 92 mph with feel for a changeup that some scouts think is more advanced than his curveball. Some scouts have seen him throwing strikes but he's still raw overall, including with his mechanics. A heavy dose of calories should help him throw harder and potentially help him maintain his delivery. Alcantara signed for $125,000 after training with Felix Liriano.
In November the Cardinals gave 17-year-old Dominican righthander Oneiver Diaz a $200,000 bonus. Diaz has projection in his 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame to add to his 87-90 mph fastball. He has good feel for pitching for his age, with a 75-78 mph curveball with good rotation that he's still learning to locate and a firm changeup that he maintains his arm speed on. Diaz trained with Franklin Rodriguez, the same trainer who had Adrian Beltre and Melky Cabrera.
The Cardinals signed a Venezuelan catcher for a six-figure bonus in 2011 (Jose Godoy for $200,000) and 2012 (Joshua Lopez for $475,000). They did so again in 2013, signing 16-year-old Dennis Ortega for $125,000 in August. Ortega is a defensive-oriented catcher with quick feet and good flexibility behind the plate. He has a good arm that could be plus in the future and makes accurate throws in games. Ortega's righthanded swing isn't the smoothest, as he'll get underneath the ball and drag the bat a little bit, but he has some quickness to the bat with room to fill out his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame with long limbs and broad shoulders. Ortega trained with Oswaldo Camacho.
Four more players signed with the Cardinals for low six-figure bonuses in November. One of them was Venezuelan outfielder Andres Luna, who signed for $130,000 after training with Guido Mendez. Luna turned 16 last year on July 17, making him one of the youngest players from last year’s signing class. At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Luna’s best tool is his speed, a 70 on the 20-80 scale. He wraps the bat from the right side but his bat speed helps him generate hard line drives. Luna’s speed should keep him in center field, where his arm is below-average at best.
The Cardinals signed Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Rodriguez for $110,000. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Rodriguez is a thickly-built righthanded hitter who stood out for his bat speed, strength and raw power. With below-average speed and arm strength, Rodriguez’s value will be almost entirely tied into his bat, as he’s going to be limited to either left field or first base. He trained with Jorge Agudelo.
Luis Flores, a 17-year-old Dominican infielder who trained with Ivan Noboa, signed for $100,000. Noboa showcased Flores as a shortstop but his future is at second base. He has a strong, compact frame (6 feet, 190 pounds) and is a switch hitter with gap power, with more juice from the left side. He’s not a flashy player but he’s solid fundamentally, with steady defense at second base to go with an average arm and a quick release.
After promising early returns on Panamanian shortstop Edmundo Sosa in his debut last year, the Cardinals went back to his trainer, German Gil, to sign 16-year-old outfielder Jonathan Rivera for $100,000. The Cardinals had plenty of history with Rivera after following Sosa in the same program and saw him perform in games with power. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, Rivera has some moving parts to his righthanded swing and it can get big on him, but he’s strong for his age and can smoke a fastball over the fence from center field over to his pull side. He will play a corner outfield spot, with possibly enough arm for right field.