2014-15 International Reviews: Chicago White Sox
Top signing: SS Amado Nunez, Dominican Republic, $900,000.
Six-figure signings: C Jhoandro Alfaro (Dominican Republic), SS Ricardo Mota (Dominican Republic), C Jose Colina (Venezuela), INF Jorgen Rosas (Venezuela), RHP Andres Sanchez (Venezuela/Cuba), INF Feliz Mercedes (Dominican Republic), RHP Yosmer Solorzano (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 18.
For several years, the White Sox were a complete zero in Latin America. Dave Wilder was corrupt and didn't bring in any talent, and after he left the White Sox waited years to rebuild their international program, which led to a drought of Latin American prospects at all levels of the farm system. Finally after the 2011 season, the White Sox hired Marco Paddy away from the Blue Jays as a special assistant to run their international operations. The returns have already been evident at the big league level, with Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu turning into a star despite heavy skepticism from other veteran scouts when he signed. Among the younger Latin American signings, those will take more time to come up through the system, but the White Sox finally have prospects in the lower levels worth following.
The best international player the White Sox signed last year was 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Amado Nunez, who went for $900,000 on July 2. Nunez is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and impressed some scouts with his ability to hit in games. A smart player who has represented the Dominican Republic at international tournaments, Nunez has a short, quiet stroke with quick bat speed and good balance from the right side. He has a simple approach, uses the whole field and has pop to the gaps right now with the physical projection for average future power once he gets stronger. When Nunez signed, he was an average runner who scouts thought had a chance to be a bigger-bodied shortstop who could make the routine plays with an average arm and a quick exchange, but many felt he would eventually outgrow the position and slide over to second base. Since then, he has shocked the White Sox by getting faster, running plus or better times for them from home to first. With the improvement he's made, his overall baseball acumen and the impression he's made on White Sox officials since signing, Nunez has a good chance to start his career in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Nunez trained with Aldo Marrero.
The White Sox also paid $750,000 on July 2 to Colombian catcher Jhoandro Alfaro, who is the 17-year-old brother of Rangers catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. Like his older brother, Alfaro moved from Colombia to the Dominican Republic to train, joining the program of Rafael Montero (known as "Spilman") and Kelvin Nova. Alfaro doesn't have the same raw power or athleticism of his brother, but he also changed physically as much as any high-profile player last year. Alfaro was around 5-foot-9 with a heavy frame heading into 2014, but he shot up several inches and improved his conditioning, now standing around 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. That rapid physical development makes it harder to gauge Alfaro, since reports from when scouts with other clubs saw him last year before July 2 may now be obsolete. Even then, however, Alfaro always stood out for his arm strength, which is at least plus, and his receiving, which is more advanced than his brother's was at the same age. He's a switch-hitter with more loft in his lefthanded stroke, so he might hit for more power from the left side, but he's more of a line-drive hitter with gap power now. Some scouts felt his defense was ahead of his hitting, but that was before his growth spurt. Now he's shown the White Sox enough that he has a chance to debut in the AZL.
Dominican shortstop Ricardo Mota trained with Jaime Ramos, who has had some of the most expensive players in Latin America in recent years, and landed Mota a $750,000 bonus with the White Sox, who had followed Mota since he was 14. Now 5-foot-11, 170 pounds at 17 years old, Mota wasn't seen a lot leading up to July 2, but the White Sox were drawn to his high-energy style and defense at shortstop, where he showed them quick feet and hands, a good arm, solid-average speed and some flashiness to his game. He's a smoother defender than Nunez but he isn't as prolific at the plate, but he has a chance to be a line-drive bat from the right side with occasional pop to the gaps.
The organization's other six-figure signing on July 2 was Felix Mercedes, who signed for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic after training with Edwin Guzman, who goes by "Fulano." Mercedes, who became eligible to sign in 2013, is an 18-year-old who showcased at shortstop but will play third base in pro ball. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Mercedes impressed the White Sox mostly with his power to all fields, as well as his arm strength and present speed.
The White Sox added four Venezuelan players for six-figure deals in August, including catcher Jose Colina for $450,000 from Jose Blasini. Colina, 17, has a big body (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) he will have to monitor, but while he's not as advanced behind the plate as Alfaro, the White Sox were impressed with his defense, above-average arm and on target throws. He's a potential power bat with loft in his swing from both sides of the plate and hit well in games in front of White Sox scouts.
Righthander Edinxon Arias has grown bigger and stronger since he signed for $350,000, now up to around 6-foot-3, 200 pounds as a 17-year-old. After topping out in the high-80s early in the year, he touched 91-92 mph with good movement from his low three-quarters arm slot. Despite his low slot, he does show solid feel for a slider that's ahead of his changeup.
Ciro Barrios runs one of the most prominent Venezuelan programs, one that has produced a couple of small infielders with excellent bat control in Houston's Ronald Torreyes and Oakland's Franklin Barreto. The White Sox are hoping Jorgen Rosas, who signed for $380,000, can be next in line. Rosas, 17, is 5-foot-9, 160 pounds and excited the White Sox because of his ability to hit in games from the right side of the plate, staying inside the ball to make consistent contact with a good approach and above-average speed, although power will never be a big part of his game. Rosas isn't flashy on defense but the White Sox believe he can play shortstop with good quickness and a solid-average arm.
Righthander Andres Sanchez signed for $300,000 out of Venezuela, though he was born in Havana, Cuba. Sanchez grew up in Cuba, bus his father was working on a Cuban mission in Venezuela and brought his son over to the country a couple of years ago. Sanchez, 18, would have been eligible to sign the previous year due to his age, but because of Major League Baseball's policy at the time, he had to wait to obtain a specific license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before he could sign. Now he's 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with a low-90s fastball that has touched 94, with a curveball that has its moments but it inconsistent. He has a chance to be a starter but could end up a power arm out of the bullpen. Sanchez trained with Guido Mendez and Emiro Barboza.
The White Sox also added Dominican righthander Yosmer Solorzano for $100,000 in September. Solorzano is an 18-year-old who's 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and saw his fastball improve from 85-87 mph to touching 91-92 mph before he signed. With a loose arm and room to add another 30-40 pounds, there should be more velocity in the tank once he gets stronger, and he complements his fastball with a sharp breaking ball. He's a good athlete who's still learning to repeat his mechanics to throw more strikes. Solorzano trained with the father of Mets outfield prospect Wuilmer Becerra, who originally signed with the Blue Jays when Paddy was in Toronto.
One of the best players the White Sox signed last year, Venezuelan catcher Carlos Perez, cost them just $50,000 in March. The younger brother of Angels Triple-A catcher Carlos Perez (yes, they have the same name), Perez is an 18-year-old who hit .305/.356/.326 with seven strikeouts and seven walks in 104 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League last year. Perez has a good hitting approach and a loose, fluid swing from the right side with a knack for putting the bat to the ball, mostly with gap power. He's a good receiver for his age with an average arm.