2014-15 International Reviews: Los Angeles Angels
Top signing: SS Julio Garcia, Dominican Republic, $565,000.
Six-figure signings: CF Johan Sala (Dominican Republic), LHP Jose Suarez (Venezuela), RHP Jesus Castro (Venezuela), RHP Lianmy Galan (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 16.
When July 2 passed, there was nothing out of the ordinary for the Angels. They had a $2.38 million bonus pool, right in the middle of the pack, and spent around $1.66 million when the 2014-15 signing period opened in July. Everything changed when they decided to sign Cuban shortstop for Roberto Baldoquin for $8 million, which shattered their bonus pool and put them into the maximum penalty territory. While some teams would hesitate to break their pool for one player, the penalties will have a smaller impact on the Angels than they would on most teams. In addition to the 100 percent pool overage tax they will have to pay later this summer, the Angels will be prohibited from signing any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods beginning on July 2. However, the Angels have the smallest bonus pool this year, and they rarely spend more than $300,000 on an international prospect anyway, with Venezuelan lefthander Ricardo Sanchez for $580,000 in 2013 a notable exception.
Aside from Baldoquin, the only other player the Angels signed for more than $300,000 last year was Dominican shortstop Julio Garcia, who got $565,000 on July 2. Garcia, who turned 17 on July 31, had been eligible in 2013, but he was around 5-foot-9, 140 pounds at the time, so his smooth defensive actions alone weren't enough to draw much attention at the time. Then Garcia hit a growth spurt, jumping to 6 feet, 175 pounds with more strength and made an impression on the Angels, who had been tracking him in Carlos Guzman's program for a while. The Angels were drawn to Garcia's easy actions at shortstop, where he bounces around with quick-twitch actions, compensating for below-average foot speed with good reads off the bat. With his build and athleticism, it's possible he could increase his speed with more strength. Garcia is a flashy defender with an above-average arm, though he will have to learn to corral some of his flair to cut down on youthful mistakes. The Angels like his swing, but he has to learn to manage the strike zone better after hitting .162/.234/.176 with 19 strikeouts and only one extra-base hit in 19 Dominican Summer League games last year, especially since power won't be part of his game. He's still young, so he's going to start 2015 back in the DSL.
Dominican outfielder Johan Sala is a 17-year-old with good defensive instincts who signed for $300,000 on July 2. Sala is an average runner who covers good ground in center field by getting good reads off the bat and taking direct routes to the ball, along with an average arm. He's a high-energy player who earns rave reviews for his makeup and work ethic to get the most out of his tools. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Sala is a righthanded hitter with a fairly short, line-drive swing from the right side with gap power and an aggressive approach.
Jose Suarez is a pitchability lefty who signed out with the Angels of Venezuela for $300,000 in July. While Suarez doesn't have much projection on a thick 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame he will have to keep in check, he's surprisingly athletic for his size and fills up the strike zone. His pitching smarts are advanced for his age, attacking both sides of the plate and keeping hitters off balance by throwing his offspeed stuff behind in the count. He sits in the upper-80s and will scrape 90-91 mph but doesn't project to be a hard thrower. His changeup and curveball both have promise as potential average or better pitches, with scouts split on which they prefer right now.
Right after the Angels signed Suarez, they added Venezuelan catcher Jeans Flores for $200,000. Flores, 17, is a lean 5-foot-11, 165 pounds with good catch-and-throw skills. He's an experienced receiver with close to an average arm and the defensive skills to stick behind the plate. Getting stronger to be able to do more offensive damage should help Flores, who has solid contact skills and an idea of the strike zone from the right side of the plate.
Another July 2 signing out of Venezuela, 17-year-old Jesus Castro, got $125,000. He's a 6-foot, 165-pound righthander whose arm works well, has a good delivery and fills up the strike zone. He throws 86-90 mph and is starting to show some feel for his breaking ball and changeup.
Last year in January during the 2013-14 signing period the Angels also signed Lianmy Galan for $115,000 from Alberto "Chico" Fana. Galan, 18, was originally a shortstop who had converted to pitching five months before he signed. He's an athletic pitcher who touched 91 mph before he signed, though his velocity has been up-and-down as he refines his mechanics. He throws strikes in his DSL debut, posting a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings with 13 strikeouts and six walks, with his breaking ball and changeup still developing given how new he is to pitching.