2014-15 International Reviews: Texas Rangers
Six-figure signings: SS Yonny Hernandez (Venezuela), RHP Domingo Pena (Dominican Republic), SS Edgar Pineda (Venezuela), RHP Emmanuel Betances (Dominican Republic), SS Juan Ventura (Dominican Republic), 2B/3B Anderson Tejeda (Dominican Republic), OF Starling Joseph (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 35.
Texas exceeded its international bonus pool in 2013-14 with big bonuses for outfielder Jose Almonte, righthander Marcos Diplan and shortstops Yeyson Yrizarri and Michael De Leon, among others. That put them in the maximum penalty range, which meant they couldn't sign any pool-eligible players for more than $250,000 during the current 2014-15 signing period that began last year on July 2. As a result, the typically heavy-spending Rangers had to alter their approach last year, waiting for players' prices to fall and getting an aggressive start on scouring the top players eligible to sign this year on July 2, when they won't face any single-player signing limits.
The Rangers went to their maximum $250,000 bonus for one player, Dominican righthander Jeifry Nunez, who pitched in the International Prospect League and trained with Luis Coronado. Nunez is a competitive pitcher who played for the Dominican team that went to the 15U Pan American games in Colombia in 2013. He's an athletic pitcher with good feel for his craft for a 17-year-old, although he's still learning to repeat his delivery and maintain consistent command. Nunez isn't big (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) but he has a quick arm with a fastball up to 92 mph and feel to spin a curveball, with more velocity likely coming despite his smaller, slight build.
Another Dominican pitcher, Domingo Pena, signed for $200,000 on July 2. Pena, 17, is a stepson of Sandy Rosario, who pitched in parts of four major league seasons with the Marlins and Giants from 2010-2013 and helped work with Pena. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Pena has gained strength in his lower half and his core since signing. He throws 87-91 mph with feel for a curveball and a changeup. His stands out more for his ability to locate than his pure stuff, staying in control of his delivery to help him throw all three pitches for strikes.
Venezuelan shortstop Yonny Hernandez, a standout at the 2011 Little League World Series, signed for $200,000 on July 2 after training with Ciro Barrios. Hernandez is small (5-foot-9, 140 pounds) but he's a polished, instinctive player for a 16-year-old. He has good plate discipline, tracks and recognizes pitches well to put together quality at-bats with a patient approach. He's a switch-hitter with a quick swing, though he's mostly a singles hitter who won't have many home runs in his future. Hernandez is scrappy, gamer type with a high baseball IQ in all phases of the game. His defensive tools don't jump out--he's fringy to average with his both speed and arm strength--but he has quick actions and everything plays up because of his game awareness. Hernandez was a shortstop as an amateur but will slide over to second base in pro ball. He's also experimented some in center field but is likely a second baseman going forward.
Another smart Venezuelan shortstop, Edgar Pineda, signed with the Rangers for $135,000 on July 2. Pineda, who trained with Alexi Quiroz, has a skinny frame at 6 feet, 160 pounds with more natural shortstop actions than Hernandez. He's a fundamentally sound defender with average speed that could tick up and a strong arm that has a chance to be plus. He's a contact-oriented hitter with a line-drive bat and gap power.
Dominican righthander Emmanuel Betances is a raw projection arm with a big, lanky 6-foot-5 frame who signed for $125,000 in July. The ball comes out of his hand well anywhere from 86-91 mph. If he can smooth out the way his lower half works in his delivery, he should be able to throw more strikes, with projection for his velocity and developing curveball to improve once he gets stronger.
The best tools for 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Juan Ventura, who signed for $115,000 in November, are his righthanded bat and his arm. At 6 feet, 165 pounds, Ventura has a loose, clean swing, buggy-whipping the bat head through the zone with the ability to square up plus velocity, although he's still learning to adjust to soft stuff. He's a line-drive bat with gap power and the strength projection to grow into more extra-base sock in the future. Ventura has fluid actions at shortstop and close to a 60 arm already at a young age. He's not much of a runner though, so improving his speed and lateral agility will be a priority.
Dominican infielder Anderson Tejeda, a $100,000 sign in September, also stood out for his bat and arm strength. An 18-year-old lefthanded hitter who's 6 feet, 165 pounds, Tejeda has good pitch recognition, maintains his balance and hits line drives to all fields. Tejeda's arm earns plus to plus-plus grades with a compact throwing stroke, but he's an offensive-minded player who will have work to do to stay in the infield, likely bouncing between second and third base.
Starling Joseph is a 16-year-old Dominican outfielder who looks the part, with a tapered, athletic frame at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, though he's very much a raw project. Joseph, who signed for $100,000 after training with Negro Chal (known as "Aguila"), is a hard worker with a promising combination of athleticism, bat speed, power potential and above-average arm strength for right field. Tapping into that potential could take time as Joseph learns to hit breaking pitches.
Before the 2013-14 signing period ended, the Rangers gave one last six-figure bonus to Eudys Rivera, a 17-year-old Dominican center fielder who got $100,000 in May. At 6-foot-1, 155 pounds, Rivera is a high-energy player who stands out for his center field defense, with slightly above-average speed and an average arm. Rivera has a quick, handsy swing from the right side and shows flashes of putting it together, but his pitch selection and recognition will have to come along after he hit .195/.305/.204 in 37 games last year in the Dominican Summer League.