2014-15 International Reviews: Chicago Cubs
Top signing: Several at $250,000.
Six-figure signings: LHP Wander Cabrera (Dominican Republic), RHP Emilio Ferrebus (Venezuela), SS Yeiler Peguero (Dominican Republic), OF Jose Jules (Dominican Republic), 3B Rafael Mejia (Dominican Republic), SS Fidel Mejia, OF Samir Lara (Dominican Republic), SS Francisco Garay (Panama), LHP Riger Fernandez (Venezuela), OF Yovanny Cuevas (Dominican Republic), SS Rafael Narea (Venezuela), Tony Rijo (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 47.
Going over their international bonus pool in 2013-14 secured outfielder Eloy Jimenez, shortstop Gleyber Torres and righthander Jen-Ho Tseng among others for the Cubs, but the penalty for doing so restricted them from signing any player for more than $250,000 during the 2014-15 international signing period. That cost them an opportunity to be in the mix for Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada and altered their international strategy, waiting for prices to drop when trainers overestimated the market for their players and getting an aggressive start evaluating the 2015 class. Even though they couldn't sign anyone for more than $250,000, the Cubs still had the fourth-highest bonus pool at $3.96 million, so they were aggressive signing players in the $100,000-$250,000 range, spending more than $3 million during the current signing period with Dominican Summer League and Venezuelan Summer League rosters to fill out.
The Cubs signed several players shortly after the 2014-15 signing period opened, including Dominican lefthander Wander Cabrera for $250,000. Cabrera, who trained with Amauris Nina (the same trainer who had Jimenez) and played in the International Prospect League, is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with good arm strength on a fastball that touches 92 mph, a solid breaking ball at times for a 17-year-old lefty and an occasional changeup. He's still erratic and will have to iron out his delivery to throw more strikes and maintain more consistent stuff.
They also gave $250,000 to 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Emilio Ferrebus, who trained with Luis Camba and Henderson Martinez. Ferrebus is 6-foot-2, 165 pounds with late, above-average running life on a fastball that touches 93 mph. With the physical projection left in his frame, his fastball could develop into a plus pitch. With his three-pitch mix that includes a breaking ball and changeup that each have a chance to be average to a tick better, Ferrebus has a starter profile.
Dominican shortstop Yeiler Peguero, another $250,000 signing, stands out more for his instincts than his raw tools. He's not big (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) but he grew up playing a lot of baseball so his game awareness is mature off his age. He's a gamer with good actions in the middle of the field and an average arm, splitting time between shortstop and second base, and a line-drive approach from both sides of the plate. He trained with "Mon" and played in the IPL.
Dominican 17-year-old center fielder Jose Jules is on the other end of spectrum from Peguero in terms of raw tools vs baseball skills. Jules, who signed for $250,000, is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds with plus speed, excellent athleticism and projectable raw power potential from the right side. Jules has promising tools but his game skills are still crude at this point.
Rafael Mejia is a 17-year-old Dominican third baseman the Cubs signed for $250,000 in August. He has a strong, physical frame (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) with lift to his swing and a chance to hit for power from the right side. He has solid hands at third base and an above-average arm.
Shortly after that, the Cubs signed switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Fidel Mejia (no relation to Rafael) for $250,000. Mejia turned 16 on Aug. 28, so he's one of the youngest players in the 2014 signing class and born only a few days ahead of being a 2015-eligible player. He has long arms on a gangly, high-waisted frame (6 feet, 170 pounds) that he's starting to fill out. His hands work well at the plate with a loose, fluid swing, especially from the left side. With his youth and lack of strength, there's a lot of projection involved, but he has a chance to hit and shows solid hands and actions in the infield, though he might move off the position.
Mejia trained with Mon, as did 18-year-old Dominican outfielder Samir Lara, who signed for $250,000 in December. Lara, who became eligible to sign in 2013, is a 6-foot, 165-pound righthanded hitter who impressed the Cubs with solid tools in his speed, arm strength and raw power, profiling as a right fielder.
Tony Rijo is an offensive-oriented Dominican infielder the Cubs signed right after July 2 for $100,000 from Jonathan Rosario (known as "Tejano") .At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Rijo is a righthanded hitter with quick hands, a line-drive stroke and gap power. His bat is ahead of his glove, with Rijo likely to start out at second or third base with an average arm, though he could end up in an outfield corner.
The Cubs went to the outskirts of Panama to sign 17-year-old shortstop Francisco Garay for $200,000. Garay has a long, lean frame at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, standing out for his athleticism and the physical upside in his gangly build. He has good actions and hands at shortstop with a strong arm and average speed. The arm and speed have a chance to improve once he gets stronger, and he could stick at shortstop as long as he doesn't get too big. He's a switch-hitter who was an inconsistent performer for Bocas Del Toro in the Panamanian junior leagues.
Rafael Narea, a 16-year-old who signed for $150,000, is a defensive-oriented Venezuelan shortstop. At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Narea is an instinctive defender who has good actions, instincts and gets quick reads off the bat, with average speed and a 50-55 arm. He's still skinny and lacks strength, so he's glove is ahead of his righthanded bat.
Riger Fernandez is 17, lefthanded, touches 90 mph with good tailing action and has a sound delivery and arm action, which is why the Cubs signed him for $200,000. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Fernandez's secondary stuff is still raw, with his curveball ahead of his nascent changeup.
The Cubs also gave $200,000 to 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Yovanny Cuevas, who like Cabrera also trained with Nina and played in the IPL. He's a 6-foot, 170-pound corner outfielder who impressed the Cubs with his righthanded bat and occasional power.
The team also signed a few intriguing young players out of the Mexican League. Hector Garcia, a 16-year-old righthander the Cubs signed from Yucatan, is 5-foot-11, 160 pounds with a fastball up to 92 mph, feel for a slider and changeup and advanced pitchability for his age. While Garcia will open in the Dominican Summer League, Carlos Sepulveda and Jesus Camargo (both signed from Mexico City) will debut in the United States. Sepulveda, who is 5-foot-10, 18-year-old second baseman who impressed the Cubs with his lefthanded bat. Camargo is an 18-year-old righthander with a fastball that's hit 93 along with a changeup that flashes above-average and is ahead of his breaking ball.