2014-15 International Reviews: Boston Red Sox
Top signing: RHP Anderson Espinoza, Venezuela, $1.8 million.
Seven and six-figure signings: RHP Christopher Acosta (Dominican Republic), 3B Elwin Tejeda (Dominican Republic), RHP Roniel Raudes (Nicaragua), OF Willis FIgueroa (Venezuela), RHP Jhosmar Cortez (Nicaragua), C/INF Hemerson Serven (Venezuela), OF Marino Campana (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 32.
The Red Sox have several promising Latin American position prospects in the system already with third baseman Rafael Devers, outfielder Manuel Margot and second baseman Wendell Rijo, among others. They didn't set a strategy of targeting pitchers, but they knew they would have the ability to exceed their $1.88 million bonus pool, which was the second-lowest in baseball coming off a World Series championship. When they identified the players they liked early on, they felt the value for the top pitchers they signed were a better match than many of the hitters available.
So when July 2 arrived, the Red Sox went over their international bonus pool, signing the top pitcher on the best pitcher from Venezuela and the best pitcher from the Dominican Republic, among other players. They went into the maximum penalty range on the first day of the 2014-15 signing period, which means they won't be able to sign anyone for more than $300,000 for the upcoming 2015-16 signing period that begins on July 2 and the 2016-17 period.
Already over their international bonus pool, the Red Sox then signed Yoan Moncada in March for a $31.5 million bonus, which will result in a total cost of $63 million due to the 100 percent pool overage tax. While the signing period is still ongoing, the Red Sox will be paying at least $35 million in overage taxes to the commissioner's office.
The best pitcher on the international market last year was Venezuelan righthander Anderson Espinoza, who grew up a die-hard Red Sox fan and signed with them for $1.8 million on July 2. Experienced scouts say they haven't seen a Venezuelan righthander with Espinoza's talent and smaller frame (6 feet, 170 pounds) since Francisco Rodriguez(^) set the country's bonus record by signing with the Angels for $900,000 in 1998. Espinoza has electric arm speed, pitching at 89-92 mph with good life and touching 93-94. Even though Espinoza doesn't have a tall build that's typically associated with projection, his thin frame, quick arm speed, loose arm action and easy delivery lead scouts to believe he could be consistently reaching the mid-90s eventually.
Usually when kids that age can crank their fastball that high, they tend to be more thrower than pitcher, but Espinoza has plenty of experience in national and international tournaments, with feel for pitching and ability to manipulate his secondary stuff that ranks among the best in his class. He throws slightly across his body but his delivery is simple and repeatable, he attacks hitters aggressively and throws plenty of strikes. His ability to command his offspeed pitches is advanced for his age. He throws a sharp true curveball with tight spin, giving him a swing-and-miss pitch that projects as a plus offering. Espinoza hasn't needed to throw his changeup much yet, so it's not as advanced as his curveball, but he has long fingers and shows feel for throwing his changeup with good arm speed, giving him a chance for three average to plus pitches. Espinoza trained with Felix Luzon.
Righthander Christopher Acosta, a 17-year-old who signed for $1.5 million on July 2, was the best pitcher in his class from the Dominican Republic. Compared to Espinoza, Acosta has a more conventional pitcher's build that scouts seek, with a long, lanky body now up to 6-foot-4, 180 pounds. Unlike many skinny, long-levered pitchers his age, Acosta is able to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes consistently with advanced pitchability. He combines it with quality stuff, throwing 89-92 mph and touching 94. His fastball is difficult for hitters to square up because of the combination of velocity and hard, heavy action from his low three-quarters arm slot.
Acosta also has good movement on one of the best changeups in the class, projecting as a potential plus pitch. Acosta's low arm angle makes it a challenge for him to stay on top of his curveball, so that's the pitch that needs the most work and was a focus for him at instructional league. While most teams would likely send Acosta and Espinoza to a Rookie-level complex league in the United States for their pro debuts, the Red Sox are taking a more cautious approach by having them open in the Dominican Summer League, the same as they did for Devers last year. Acosta trained with Alberto "Chico" Fana and pitched in the Dominican Prospect League.
Venezuelan righthander Junior Espinoza (no relation to Anderson) signed with the Red Sox for $400,000 on July 2. He's a tall, physical pitcher with broad shoulders at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds with an overhand, heavy-angle fastball that consistently reaches the low-90s and has been as high as 93 mph. Espinoza, 17, should eventually be a power arm throwing in the mid-90s, though he's not as polished as Acosta or Anderson Espinoza in terms of his command or secondary pitches. He has huge hands and shows some feel for his changeup, which is more advanced than his in-between breaking ball, which could turn into a true slider.
The Red Sox paid $300,000 to sign 17-year-old Dominican infielder Elwin Tejeda on July 2. Even after adding 12 pounds since signing, Tejeda, who played in the DPL, has an extremely skinny 6-foot-2, 140-pound build, but despite the lack of strength he's a good hitter for his age. He has a sound righthanded swing, goes up to the plate with a mature plan and uses the whole field. The power is still a projection, but he hits the ball with surprising exit speed for a skinny kid and performs well in games, leading Boston's Tricky League team (an unofficial league for recently July 2 prospects) in hitting. Tejeda showcased as a shortstop but the Red Sox are planning to use him as their third baseman this summer in the DSL.
Boston snapped up a pair of pitchers from Nicaragua on July 2, including 17-year-old righthander Roniel Raudes for $250,000. Raudes, whose uncle was a standout pitcher on the Nicaraguan national team, has a lean, athletic build (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) with advanced pitchability and breaking stuff for his age. With a mid-80s fastball up to 87 mph, Raudes isn't a hard thrower, but he pitches off his fastball, throws strikes and separates himself with a good curveball he can use to get swing-and-miss.
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The other Nicaraguan pitcher the Red Sox signed was Jhosmar Cortez, who landed a $125,000 bonus. Cortez, 17, was a lower-profile pitcher than Raudes but he's another strike-thrower with a mid-80s fastball. He's not big (6 feet, 165 pounds) but he has a lean frame that offers some physical projection to add to a fastball more notable for its sink than speed. While Raudes throws a curveball, Cortez shows feel for a true slider.
Dominican outfielder Marino Campana signed for $100,000 on July 2 after training with Raul Valera, who is known as "Banana." Campana, 17, is a tall (6-foot-4, 185 pounds), athletic outfielder who's still a crude talent learning to translate his tools to game skills. He shows big raw power in batting practice and shows some ability to use the middle of the field, but his lack of game experience will require patience. He's an average runner with a 45 arm and fits best in a corner outfield spot.
Hemerson Serven was another $100,000 signing for the Red Sox on July 2. Serven, 17, earned the nickname is Panda Jr. as a stocky Venezuelan at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds with a knack for hitting in games from both sides of the plate. He has a short, quick stroke and uses the whole field with backspin, showing more line drives than power right now, with his lefthanded swing a little bit advanced right now. While training in Felix Olivo's program, Serven played catcher and third base. He's likely to split time between those positions, as well as first base and possibly even left field this year in the DSL.
In August, the Red Sox added Willis Figueroa out of Venezuela for $150,000. Figueroa is a burner with 70 speed on the 20-80 scale. He mostly showcased at shortstop, but the Red Sox want to take advantage of his speed and will play him in center field, where he has an average arm. Figueroa isn't big but he has some strength in his 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame, although he's still ironing things out at the plate. He's a 17-year-old switch-hitter whose natural righthanded swing is more advanced than his lefty stroke, with a chance to be a spark plug type if the bat develops.