2013 International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays
Top signing: SS Franklin Barreto, Venezuela, $1.45 million.
Six-figure signings: SS Richard Urena (Dominican Republic), LHP Jonathan Torres (Venezuela), RHP Yonardo Herdendez (Venezuela), LHP Oscar Cabrera (Dominican Republic), RHP Jose Brito (Dominican Republic), OF Andres de Aza (Dominican Republic), SS Ronniel Demorizi (Dominican Republic), LHP Wilfri Aleton (Dominican Republic).
The Blue Jays were one of the most aggressive teams in Latin America around July 2. Many sources believed they were going to sign Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica, who ended up signing with the Rays instead for $1 million. When they couldn’t sign Mujica, they instead signed Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro for $800,000, but that deal fell apart when Castro had problems with his physical and he ended up signing with the Rockies for $50,000.
Several teams had Venezuelan shortstop Franklin Barreto ranked as the No. 1 international prospect eligible to sign on July 2, when the Blue Jays landed him for $1.45 million. Barreto, 16, is one of the most decorated players to ever come out of Venezuela. He has excelled during international tournaments since he was 10, winning MVP honors at the Pan American 12U tournament and leading Venezuela to a Criollitos de America championship in 2008 en route to becoming the Corporacion Criolltos of Venezuela athlete of the year. After winning another MVP at the 14U Pan American championship in 2010, he exploded at the 16U World Championship in Mexico in 2011, hitting .515/.568/.978 in 33 at-bats and tying for the tournament lead with three home runs (two of which came against Team USA) while going 8-for-8 in stolen bases.
Barreto, who trained with Ciro Barrios, has two standout tools: his bat and his speed. He’s a potential plus hitter with quick hands and a compact stroke from the right side. He has good pitch recognition and is willing to work deep counts, but he’s an aggressive hitter in the strike zone and doesn’t swing and miss much. His hands work well through the zone and he hits hard line drives to all fields. The concerns scouts have about Barreto’s offense are his power ceiling because he’s not a big man and relatively physically mature for his age at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, but he’s strong and can go over the fence in games, so he could have average power.
Barreto will start off as a shortstop, but most scouts believe he will end up at either second base or center field. Barreto’s above-average arm is plenty for shortstop, but his footwork and actions with the glove both need a lot of work to be able to stay in the infield. High-end comparisons range from Shane Victorino to Rafael Furcal. Barreto could start in the GCL, but he’s advanced enough that he could follow the path of top 2011 international signing Roberto Osuna and begin his career in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
One of the reasons the Blue Jays may be tempted to push Barreto to the Appalachian league is their enviable depth of young Latin American shortstops at the Rookie ball level. They will have to find playing time for Barreto, Dawel Lugo, Rolando Segovia and Richard Urena (video), a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed on July 3 for $725,000.
While Barreto may ultimately move off the position, the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Urena projects as a true shortstop. Urena, who is from San Francisco de Macoris, trained with Decarte Corporan and played in the Dominican Prospect League. Urena has several average tools that play up because of his baseball instincts. He drops his hands when he swings, but he has an otherwise sound lefty stroke. He has good rhythm at the plate, solid plate discipline and sprays line drives with gap power. An average runner, Urena has clean hands, good footwork and an above-average arm. He’s advanced enough to be pushed to the GCL, but with an abundance of shortstops at the Rookie level, it’s possible he could spend a year in the DSL.
The Blue Jays raised some eyebrows with the signing of Venezuelan lefthander Jonathan Torres, whose $520,000 bonus was the biggest of the year for a Venezuelan player signed before July 2. Like Barreto, Torres also trained with Barrios, but since Torres signed before July 2, his bonus doesn’t count against Toronto’s 2012-13 international bonus pool. Torres, who turned 18 in December, made four starts in 11 appearances last year in the DSL, where he posted a 4.29 ERA, struck out 24 and walked 21 in 21 innings. The Blue Jays say they saw Torres up to 93 mph before signing but that he came down with an arm issue after signing.
In December, the Blue Jays signed 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Yonardo Herdenez for $283,000. Herdenez touched 88-89 mph and impressed the Blue Jays with his fastball command. He’s 6-foot-1, 165 pounds with a changeup that’s more advanced than his breaking ball. Shortly before signing Herdenez, the Blue Jays also added Dominican lefthander Wilfri Aleton (video) for $100,000. Aleton trained with Edwin Sabater and played in the DPL, where he showed a fastball up to 91 mph. Aleton has a loose arm and room to fill out his 6-foot-3, 170-pound body. He throws with some effort and will need to iron out his mechanics to improve his control. His slurvy curveball flashes as a solid pitch, though it could eventually morph into a slider. He also throws a changeup, his third-best pitch.
Dominican lefthander Oscar Cabrera originally signed with the Angels for $150,000 in November 2010, but the deal fell apart after MLB has issues with Cabrera’s paperwork during the investigation process in part because he was missing paperwork on his mother’s side. He signed with the Blue Jays last year in January for $275,000, then stood out as one of Toronto’s top prospects in the DSL by posting a 2.54 ERA in 39 innings with 45 strikeouts and 16 walks. Cabrera, who turned 18 in May, is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and touched 89 mph before he signed with the Angels, but most recently he’s been as high as 93. He throws strikes and flashed an above-average curveball, while his changeup has also shown some promise.
Toronto made a few other six-figure signings before July 2 as well. Dominican righthander Jose Brito signed for $160,000 in April, made four appearances in the DSL, then got hit with a 50-game suspension due to a positive test for Stanzolol, an anabolic steroid commonly sold as Winstrol. Brito’s trainer, Lucas Garcia, also trained Erick Hurtado, a lefty whose $150,000 deal with the Cardinals was terminated and received a 50-game suspension after he tested positive for Stanozolol, then later signed for $50,000 with Houston. Brito, who turned 18 in December, is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and threw 92-96 mph before he signed. After his steroid test, his velocity dropped, so the Blue Jays will have to hope his velocity will return drug-free.
Josue Herrera trained Dominican outfielder Andres de Aza, who signed for $150,000 in February. De Aza, who turned 18 in November, hit .227/.294/.371 with three home runs in 109 plate appearances in the DSL. De Aza is a physical, righthanded-hitting right fielder at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with intriguing power potential that comes from his size and strength. He’ll need to improve his approach at the plate to be able to tap into that power, however. He’s a below-average runner with an average arm.
Dominican shortstop Ronniel Demorizi signed for $105,000 last year in January. A switch-hitter who turned 17 in July, Demorizzi struggled in the DSL by hitting .178/.282/.233 in 152 plate appearances. A native of San Francisco de Macoris who trained with Basilio Vizcaino (known as “Cachaza”), played at the Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field with Rangers outfielder Ronald Guzman in 2010, but his offensive game hasn’t developed as quickly as some had hoped. He has a chance to stick at shortstop but he’s gotten thicker since signing, so he may have to repeat the DSL.