2014-15 International Reviews: New York Yankees
Top signing: SS Dermis Garcia, Dominican Republic, $3 million.
Seven- and six-figure signings: 3B Nelson Gomez (Dominican Republic), OF Juan De Leon (Dominican Republic), OF Jonathan Amundaray (Venezuela), SS Wilkerman Garcia (Venezuela), C Miguel Flames (Venezuela), SS Hoy-Jun Park (South Korea), OF Antonio Arias (Venezuela), SS Diego Castillo (Venezuela), OF Raymundo Moreno (Venezuela), OF Lisandro Blanco (Dominican Republic), OF Brayan Emery (Colombia), OF Pablo Olivares (Venezuela), OF Frederick Cuevas (Dominican Republic), SS Danienger Perez (Venezuela), OF Leobaldo Cabrera (Venezuela), SS Griffin Garabito (Dominican Republic), OF Erick Mendez (Dominican Republic), C Jason Lopez (Venezuela).
Total signings: 52.
Where to even start . . .
Other teams have broken their bonus pools, and other teams have spent big money on international amateur talent before the bonus pool era, but no team has ever done what the Yankees did last year. From the opening of the 2014-15 international signing period on July 2 through the end of the calendar year, the Yankees spent more than $17 million on international players subject to the bonus pools. With a $2.19 million bonus pool to start and a 100 percent overage tax for demolishing their pool, the Yankees will be paying around $30-$35 million (and counting) between bonuses and taxes. While the Angels and Diamondbacks soared past their pools to sign an expensive Cuban player, the Yankees' shattered their pool without entering the Cuban market, focusing all of their spending by grabbing the top international teenagers on their board. In all, that meant 10 of Baseball America's top 30 prospects for July 2. They signed more international players than anyone else in 2014, spent nearly $12 million more on bonuses than the second-highest spending team and paid more in bonuses than what the bottom 10 teams did combined, excluding Cuban players.
When the 2015-16 singing period begins on July 2, the Yankees won't be able to sign anyone subject to the bonus pools for more than $300,000 for two years. But while some teams that went over got as little as one, two or a few premium players, the Yankees simply blitzed the market, attacking early and aggressively to grab just about all the top players on their board. In doing so, they added several years worth of talent in one class, picking up a high volume of premium players that they wouldn't have been able to pick up over three signing periods had they simply stuck to their bonus pool every year and added one or possibly two top players each signing period. And while the penalty will affect them going forward, the Yankees have secured some of their best prospects for under $300,000 under the watch of international scouting director Donny Rowland, including No. 1 prospect Luis Severino and exciting young shortstop Jorge Mateo. They're also still free to sign any Cuban players who come out who aren't subject to the bonus pools.
Half of the Yankees' top 10 prospects were players the organization signed out of Latin America, and the team's unprecedented 2014 international haul will continue the trend of the system's most exciting players coming from overseas. With two teams in the Dominican Summer League, two clubs in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and a new Pulaski affiliate in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, the Yankees have plenty of roster spots available, but they're still figuring out who is going to debut in the United States this year and where exactly everyone is going to play.
The team's biggest bonus went to 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia, who signed for $3 million on July 2. Garcia's raw power, a 70 on the 20-80 scale, was unmatched in last year's class. He's already packed on significant weight since signing, now listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and his combination of bat speed, strength and big loft in his righthanded stroke helps him hit towering shots during batting practice. Garcia trained with Moreno Tejada, the same trainer who had Miguel Sano, and the Yankees believe Garcia compares favorably to Sano. Other teams expressed more reservations about Garcia's game hitting. Garcia has a fairly loose, fluid swing, but other clubs were concerned about his pitch recognition and tendency to fly open early and sell out for power. Garcia is unlikely to stay at shortstop, but he has the tools to play third base. He's run average times in the 60-yard dash, but that will slow down significantly due to his body type. His hands are fine and his plus arm would be a weapon at third base, though like many young infielders he's still working on accuracy. If he gets so big that he outgrows third base, he could end up in right field.
Dominican third baseman Nelson Gomez signed for $2.25 million on July 2 after training with Victor Baez and playing in the Dominican Prospect League. Gomez, 17, is a thickly-built 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and was one of the top power bats available in 2014. With his strength and bat speed from the right side, Gomez generated plus power last year, driving the ball with authority to all fields. Since signing, Gomez has impressed the Yankees even more, showing equal or better power to Garcia. There was a split among scouts about his game hitting, with some saying he put together good at-bats by keeping his swing short and staying within the strike zone, though others though he had a tendency to get big with his stroke that led to a fair amount of swing-and-miss. The Yankees, obviously, were in the more optimistic camp, believing Gomez was one of the best game hitters available in the 2014 class. Gomez will have to rake, because many scouts believe he will end up at first base. That's not a foregone conclusion--his arm earns 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale and he has the hands to play third. But while he's worked hard to keep his body in check, his athleticism and mobility are already limited, and it's going to be a challenge for him to not outgrow the position.
Of all the players the Yankees signed last year, the consensus favorite among other clubs was Dominican outfielder Juan De Leon, who ranked as the No. 2 prospect for July 2 last year with a dynamic, well-rounded skill set. De Leon, 17, signed for $2 million, and given the reviews from rival scouts and increasing prices expected for the 2015 market, he probably could have commanded twice that much money had he been hitting the market this year. De Leon, 17, has already grown taller since signing and is around 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. With strong wrists and lightning quick hands, De Leon generated the best bat speed in the 2014 class. With his short, compact swing, De Leon was also one of the best game hitters available last year, according to several scouts. He does tend to pull off the ball and leaves the outer third of the plate exposed, so he will have to learn to use the opposite field more, but he excels when he stays with a straightaway approach. De Leon projects to be a big, physical player and his sock is already coming around, driving the ball with backspin and plus raw power. De Leon is an athletic, high-energy player who's aggressive in all phases of the game, to the point where he will have to learn to reign it in at times. With average speed, he runs well enough that he could play center field right now, but more realistically he will be a right fielder. With his athleticism and plus arm, he has all the tools to be an above-average defensive right field eventually. De Leon trained with Raul Valera, who goes by "Banana."
Jonathan Amundaray is a 17-year-old Venezuelan outfielder heavy on raw tools and athleticism who signed for $1.5 million on July 2. Amundaray, 16, is 6-foot-2, 175 pounds with wide shoulders on a lean, athletic build that suggest he's going to be a physical force once he fills out. He has plenty of bat speed with average raw power that should be plus when he's physically mature with a slight uppercut stroke from the right side. The physical attributes are there, but Amundaray is an aggressive player who's prone to overswinging and still learning to slow the game down and put it together against live pitching, understandable for a player on the younger end of the 2014 class. He's not a natural hitter and there's some length to his swing, his his development will require a bit more patience. He's a similar project in the field, where he has the prototype tools for right field with solid-average speed that will likely slow down along with an funky throwing stroke but above-average arm, though he's still learning to get better reads off the bat. Amundaray trained with Dennys Suarez.
Wilkerman Garcia is a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop who signed for $1.35 million on July 2 after training with Carlos Guillen, and Garcia even has some similarities to the former big league shortstop. With a broad shoulders on a compact frame (6 feet, 175 pounds), Garcia is a switch-hitter with baseball smarts beyond his years. He has a good hitting approach, a sound swing from both sides and makes consistent contact. He does a good job of going with where the ball is pitched, turning on pitches he can drive and using the opposite field when the ball is on the outer third. He stays within his swing and his strengths, which is hitting line drives and getting on base, with gap power now that could develop into average power in the future. There were conflicting reports on Garcia's defensive tools, some of which may stem from what some scouts saw as a low-energy approach, while others think he just has a knack for slowing the game down and playing under control. He's not a big runner, with average speed at best, and Garcia's wide hips and thickness in his lower half and ankles suggests he could lose a step as he fills out. His above-average arm, field awareness, instincts and solid actions should play somewhere in the infield, with many scouts from other clubs looking at him as a second or third baseman due to his footwork and lateral quickness, but the Yankees strongly disagreed with those assessments, viewing Garcia as a definite shortstop.
Miguel Flames hit well at a Venezuelan national tournament in the summer of 2013, drawing attention for his bat and righthanded power. With a big, heavy frame at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Flames was a third baseman with question marks about where he would play, but in September he moved behind the plate and showed the Yankees enough back there to get a $1.1 million bonus from them on July 2, making him the top-ranked catcher on the international market last year. The main draw with Flames is what he does at the plate. For a 17-year-old, he recognizes pitches well, stays within the strike zone and puts together quality at-bats, which allows him to hit in games. While some scouts saw some swing-and-miss to Flames' game, others believed he was one of the best game hitters in Venezuela last year. With Flames' size and strength, the ball jumps off his bat with good exit speed, showing 50 to 55 raw power right now. The Yankees had previously converted fellow Venezuelan signing Luis Torrens from a third baseman to a catcher with encouraging early returns, though Flames has a much different body type and could take longer to come around. When Flames was a third baseman, he showed solid hands and a plus arm, attributes that should translate behind the plate. Whether is lack of athleticism and body type will allow him to stick at catcher is the bigger question. If he can't, third base could still be a backup plan, since some scouts liked him there, though if he gets too big he might end up at first base. Flames trained with Alexi Quiroz.
The Yankees also landed the top Asian amateur prospect when they signed South Korean shortstop Hoy-Jun Park for $1 million on July 2, with Yankees Pacific Rim coordinator Steve Wilson following Park early on to help sell him on signing with the Yankees. Park turned 19 yesterday, so he's older than the top Latin American players who signed last year, but even for his age Park stood out for his combination of tools and polish, both in Korea and when scouts watched him in California with Yatap High teammates. Park is a wiry 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and a quick-twitch athlete who showed plus speed even while dealing with an ankle problem last year. He projects as a shortstop with a quick first step, smooth actions, good body control and a plus arm. Park earned praise for his lefthanded bat, though if anything some scouts who have seen him a lot believe his offensive game might even be undersold because of his power potential. He has a nice lefthanded swing, squares up plus fastballs and hits to all fields with good bat control. He used to pull off the ball more but has gotten better about hanging in and not rolling out on his swing. Unlike some of the other prominent Asian amateur signings in recent years, like Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, Park isn't just a line-drive hitter. He shows surprising home run pop for someone without much strength yet, with a chance to grow into average or better power, giving him an exciting chance for five average to plus tools across the board at a premium position.
Antonio Arias is a speedy Venezuelan center fielder who signed for $800,000 on July 2. Arias is a skinny kid at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and doesn't turn 17 until June. Arias, who trained with Yassir Mendez, was one of the best athletes in last year's class, with plus-plus speed that he should be able to maintain even as he adds weight. Arias was one of the younger players signed last year, so his baseball skills don't stand out as much as his pure athleticism and physical projection. His bat speed is solid but his righthanded swing is still inconsistent, staying short with feel for the barrel at times but getting out of rhythm and having trouble putting the bat to the ball at others. He has the size and swing extension to grow into power, but that is still a projection at this point. His speed should allow him to cover plenty of ground in center field, though he will have to work to try to improve his arm.
While Arias is more of a raw athlete still learning the game, Venezuelan shortstop Diego Castillo's baseball instincts were about as good as it gets in the 2014 class and should foster a smooth transition to pro ball. Castillo will be a manager's dream because of the way he plays the game with maturity and fundamentals well beyond his 17 years of age. At 6 feet, 170 pounds, Castillo has a simple, low-maintenance swing from the right side with good bat path. He models his swing after Derek Jeter, keeping his weight back and inside-outing the ball to right field. He's a high-contact hitter who uses the whole field and doesn't expand the strike zone. Castillo hit well against live pitching before and after signing, as he was one of the team's top offensive performers in the Tricky League (an unofficial league for July 2 signings) and during Dominican instructs. He's not a big power threat, working gap to gap for now with a chance to grow into 6-10 home runs. Castillo doesn't have super tools or athleticism but his instincts translate to the field as well. He has a good internal clock with a knack for reading hops and slowing the game down, fielding his position smoothly with good jumps off the bat, clean hands and easy footwork. He's an average runner with an average or better arm. Some scouts thought he might fit better at second base, but he should with the way his tools play up due to his instincts, he could stick his shortstop.
How Some International Signings Find Upside In Low Signing Bonuses
Teams fill Dominican Summer League roster holes with signings of $10,000 or less.
The Yankees gave $600,000 on July 2 to Raymundo Moreno, a 17-year-old Venezuelan center fielder with above-average speed. Moreno is 6 feet, 170 pounds and shines most on defense. He projects as a true center fielder with good defensive instincts and range along with an average, accurate arm. Moreno has a quick righthanded bat, though he swing gets long, but if the hitting clicks he has a chance to be a line-drive bat who works gap to gap with occasional power. Moreno trained with Wilmer Becerra.
Dominican outfielder Lisandro Blanco is an 18-year-old who became eligible to sign in 2013 but waited until last year on July 2 to join the Yankees for $550,000. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Blanco is a tool shed with an exciting power-speed combination. His righthanded bat speed and raw power are both plus, as is his speed, which should allow him to play center field. Putting it all together will be the challenge for Blanco, whose tools are ahead of his skills, but it's a promising set of tools for player development to work with if everything clicks.
Brayan Emery is a Colombian outfielder who moved to the Dominican Republic to train with Ivan Noboa. Emery's combination of size, power and prototype right field tools helped make him a high-profile player leading up to July 2, but he was never able to reach an agreement over the summer, finally signing with the Yankees for $500,000 in November. When Emery signed, he was 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, but he's grown an inch and packed on plenty of muscle since then, grow to 6-foot-4, 220 pounds at age 17. Emery generated easy average or better raw power before signing, but since adding another 30 pounds his power has continued to improve. His smooth lefthanded stroke is much more advanced than his righthanded swing, to the point where some scouts thought he would be better off hitting exclusively lefthanded, though he's still switch-hitting now. Emery's lefty swing works well but he still swung and missed a fair amount when he faced live pitching and had trouble putting together good at-bats. After July 2, he cleaned up his setup to help him take a more direct bat path to the ball, which helped, but he trained in a fairly restrictive environment and, much like Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara who came from the same program, might just need more game experience before everything clicks. Emery had showcased in the infield and the outfield, but he will be a right fielder all the way for the Yankees. He's a below-average runner but he's a good athlete for his size with an above-average arm, although his outfield reads are a work in progress.
Venezuelan outfielder Pablo Olivares signed with the Yankees for $400,000 on July after training in Carlos Guillen's academy. At 6 feet, 160 pounds, Olivares is a 17-year-old with excellent athleticism, plus speed and defense in center field, where he has good range and instincts. He jumps out more for his athleticism than his bat, but he's a line-drive hitter with gap power from the right side of the plate. Some scouts considered him more advanced at the same stage than Mikey Edie, another speedy, athletic outfielder who came out of Guillen's program in 2013 when he signed with the Giants for $500,000.
For Dominican outfielder Frederick Cuevas, who signed for $300,000 on July 2, his value is entirely in his bat. A17-year-old lefty with a compact frame at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Cuevas doesn't have any standout tools but he's a high-contact bat consistently performed well against live pitching, hitting line drives with gap power. Cuevas' lack of speed and arm strength fit best in left field, so his hitting will have to carry him, with a chance to become a player along the lines of Yankees Triple-A outfielder Ramon Flores. Cuevas trained with Pablo Lantigua and played in the International Prospect League.
Danienger Perez is a slick-fielding Venezuelan shortstop who signed with the Yankees for $300,000 on July 2. Perez, 17, has excellent hands at shortstop, where his feet work well and he has a quick transfer with around an average arm. At 5-foot-10, 155 pounds, Perez stands out the most in the field, but he has a chance to be a solid hitter who shoots line drives to all fields along the lines of fellow Yankees Venezuelan shortstop Thairo Estrada, though power will never be part of Perez's game.
The Yankees signed 17-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Leobaldo Cabrera from Carlos Guillen's academy for $250,000 on July 2. Cabrera's best tool is his outstanding arm, a well above-average tool with good accuracy. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Cabrera has a good frame but isn't a big runner, so he fits best in right field. After signing, the righthanded-hitting Cabrera drew attention by consistently put together quality at-bats in the Tricky League and during Dominican instructs.
Dominican infielder Griffin Garabito was a passed over player from the 2013 class who signed with the Yankees for $225,000 on July 2. A 17-year-old with a compact frame (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), Garabito is an offensive-minded infielder with a good swing and hitting instincts from the right side of the plate, using the whole field with gap power. Garabito showed a 55 arm when he showcased as a shortstop, but he's not a big runner and shortstop doesn't come naturally to him, so he's better suited for second base.
For $200,000 on July 2, the Yankees signed toolsy Dominican center fielder Erick Mendez, who turned 18 yesterday. The commissioner's office still hasn't approved his contract yet, but Mendez, who is 6 feet, 185 pounds, has the plus speed and arm strength to play center field, with good bat speed and a sound righthanded swing that also impressed the Yankees.
For $100,000, the Yankees signed Jason Lopez out of Venezuela on July 2. Lopez, 17, had been showcasing at Carlos Guillen's academy as a third baseman, but the Yankees asked to see him behind the plate and quickly liked what they saw. He's made a fast transition to catching, throwing out more than 50 percent of runners in the Tricky League (the unofficial league for recently signed July 2 prospects) thanks to a solid arm that plays up due to a quick release and good accuracy. At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Lopez has a solid swing from the right side of the plate with gap power.
The Yankees had also agreed to sign Venezuelan righthander Servando Hernandez on July 2 for $200,000, but his contract was not approved by the commissioner's office.