2013 International Reviews: Tampa Bay Rays
Top signing: RHP Orlando Romero, Venezuela and C Rafelin Lorenzo, Dominican Republic, $250,000.
Six-figure signings: SS Carlos Guzman (Dominican Republic), 3B Juan Carlos Arias (Dominican Republic), CF Randhi Balcazar (Venezuela), C Alexander Alvarez (Venezuela), RHP Luis Serrano (Venezuela), OF Manny Sanchez (Dominican Republic), RHP Estarly Cedeno (Dominican Republic), C Rene Pinto (Venezuela).
Total players signed: 45.
Tampa Bay became the first team to blow past their international bonus pool during the 2012-13 signing period. Doing so allowed them to sign a trio of promising Venezuelan players in lefthander Jose Castillo, righthander Jose Mujica and catcher David Rodriguez, but by going well beyond 15 percent of their $2.9 million pool, the Rays were not allowed to sign anyone for more than $250,000 during the current 2013-14 signing period that began last year on July 2.
Given their limitations, the Rays spread out their money among several players in the $100,000 to $250,000 range, along with other lower priced players to fill out their rosters in both the Dominican Summer League and Venezuelan Summer League.
One of those players, Venezuelan righthander Orlando Romero, has already taken steps forward after signing or $250,000 in July. Romero, 17, is 6 feet 2, 200 pounds with wide shoulders and threw 88-92 mph and touched 93 before signing. When the Rays sent him to play in the Venezuelan Parallel League (the minor league version of the Venezuelan League), he was throwing 93-95 mph and popped 97 in November. Romero is a power arm with a hard curveball, though he's still more thrower than pitcher right now. Romero, who trained with Ricardo Petit, could get the chance to debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League given the jump in his stuff, though he might stay back in the VSL.
Tampa Bay also paid $250,000 for Dominican catcher Rafelin Lorenzo (previously referred to as Rafelin Guzman) from Fausto "Chiqui" Mejia on July 2. Lorenzo (video), a 17-year-old who played in the Dominican Prospect League, has a strong frame (6-foot-1, 195 pound) and made an immediate impression with his plus arm by throwing out the first eight runners who attempted to steal against him at the Rays' Dominican instructional league. Lorenzo has a leg lift and some lift to his righthanded swing with occasional over-the-fence pop in batting practice, though his defense is ahead of his bat right now. He's ticketed for the DSL.
The Rays gave $245,000 on July 2 to 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Carlos Guzman out of San Pedro Macoris (no relation to the prominent trainer Carlos Guzman from San Pedro). Guzman trained with William Santo, who is known as "El Loco," and showed good righthanded bat speed from his skinny 6-foot-1, 155-pound frame. The Rays liked his ability to square balls up in games and his actions at shortstop. More strength will help his body control and gap power.
Another July 2 signing, 17-year-old Dominican righthander Estarly Cedeno, landed a $125,000 after training with Melky Torres, the brother of former major league righthander Salomon Torres. Cedeno is a converted outfielder with a loose arm and and a projectable frame (6-foot-3 180 pounds) that should allow him to add to an 88-90 mph fastball with solid sink to go with a developing curveball.
The Rays signed went or athleticism with the $150,000 signing of Venezuelan center fielder Randhi Balcazar in August. Balcazar, 17, is a 70 runner with a quick first step and a chance to be a plus defender in center. He has a wiry 6-foot, 160-pound frame, with his defense ahead of his righthanded bat. He trained with Hender Martinez.
The same day they signed Balcazar, the Rays signed two more Venezuelan players for $150,000 bonuses. One was 17-year-old catcher Alexander Alvarez, who had been a third baseman but moved behind the plate coming into 2013. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Alvarez is a solid athlete for a catcher and has a 55 arm that could tick up, with the move behind the plate taking some pressure off his developing righthanded bat. Alvarez trained with Andres Puerta, whose nickname is "Colombiano."
The other Venezuelan the Rays signed that day, Luis Serrano, is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound righthander who throws 88-91 mph. Serrano, 16, has a projectable body, gets good angle on his fastball with a mid-70s curveball that's slightly ahead of his changeup. Serrano trained with Alvaro Valdez.
In October, the Rays gave $100,000 to 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher Rene Pintofrom Jaime Torres' program. Pinto's father, also named Rene Pinto, is a former Yankees minor league catcher who reached Double-A in 2000 and also played for the Venezuelan national team at international tournaments. Pinto is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and scouts highest on him saw Pinto with a loose swing, good balance and use the whole field, though scouts were mixed on his bat and he will need to bring along his defense.
During the 2012-13 signing period, the Rays made two more six-figure signings last year. The Rays had already gone well beyond 15 percent of their $2.9 million bonus pool at that point, which means they were essentially paying double for those players, since the penalty for going that far over the pool is a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
They were quickly rewarded on their April acquisition of Dominican outfielder Manny Sanchez, who led the DSL with 13 home runs while hitting .247/.344/.466 with 36 walks and 47 strikeouts in 294 plate appearances. Sanchez is similar to Dominican outfielder Micker Zapata, who signed with the White Sox for $1.6 million last year on July 2, but Sanchez's $132,500 bonus came at a fraction of Zapata's price. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Sanchez is a strong, physical righthanded hitter with 70 raw power. He takes an uppercut, power-oriented stroke from the right side with a pull approach, but he can hit balls out to any part of the park. He's a good athlete for his size with average speed and a solid-average arm in right field. Sanchez trained with Rudy Santin.
Just as the 2012-13 signing period closed on June 15, the Rays signed Dominican third baseman Juan Carlos Arias for $200,000. Major League Baseball had previously declared Arias ineligible to sign for one year because he did not pass his age investigation, though he did pass on his identity. Arias became eligible to sign last year on June 12 and passed his investigation using the same Sept. 16, 1995 date of birth he used during his penalty. Arias, who trained with Alfredo Arias (no relation), is a physically mature 18-year-old at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and his best tool is his plus raw power from the right side of the plate. His performance against live pitching has been uneven, so he will need to make adjustments to get to his power in games. Arias has a strong arm, can throw from different angles and has solid hands, but with his size he could end up at first base.