2014 International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays
Top signing: SS Yeltsin Gudino, Venezuela, $1.29 million
Six-figure signings: OF Freddy Rodriguez (Venezuela), SS Jesus Severino (Dominican Republic), 3B Bryan Lizardo (Dominican Republic), LHP Kelyn Jose (Dominican Republic), SS Miguel Almonte (Dominican Republic).
Total players signed: 26.
The Blue Jays have had promising early results targeting players who have shown they can hit in games and play a premium position in recent years, with Venezuelan shortstop Franklin Barreto making a strong impression on Rookie-level Gulf Coast League observers and Dominican shortstop Richard Urena coming off a strong debut in the Dominican Summer League.
They followed a similar path last year with their top two signings, including the $1.29 million they spent on July 2 to add Venezuelan shortstop Yeltsin Gudino (video) from Carlos Guillen's academy. Gudino, 17, was one of the most polished players in last year's signing class. His international tournament experience includes playing shortstop and hitting leadoff for the Venezuelan youth national team at the Pan American Championship in 2011 and winning a gold medal in Mexico at the 15U World Championship in 2012, when he hit .458/.611/.838 with a double, three triples, 10 walks, three strikeouts and five stolen bases in six tries.
While Gudino lacks one carrying tool that stands out, he does a lot of things well and his high baseball IQ is evident in all phases of the game. He hits in games with a short, simple swing from the right side with good bat path. He's a selective hitter who makes a lot of contact, doesn't expand his strike zone and has the patience to draw walks. He uses the whole field and can catch up to plus velocity. Signed at 6 feet, 155 pounds, Gudino has since put on 15 pounds, but he's a line-drive hitter who's never going to have much power. His lack of strength was a concern for some scouts, though it could also help his tools improve once he continues to get stronger. Gudino projects to stay at shortstop, where he's a smooth fielder with sound fundamentals, good hands and a knack for reading hops and being in the right place. He has a 50 arm and fringy to average speed, though he's a better basestealer than his running grade would indicate because of the way he already reads pitchers. He's advanced enough that he's expected to debut in the GCL, with the organization possibly pushing Urena up a level or two to give them both everyday reps at shortstop.
Toronto added another relatively advanced player for his age from Carlos Guillen's academy on July 2 with the $500,000 signing of Venezuelan outfielder Freddy Rodriguez (video). At 6-feet-1, 180 pounds, Rodriguez is a lefthanded hitter who impressed scouts with his bat and potential to play center field. Rodriguez is a 17-year-old with a compact stroke, good swing path and a sound hitting approach, although some scouts had concerns about him missing too many hittable fastballs. He has gap power now but has the room on his frame to project for an uptick in power once he gets stronger. Scouts highest on Rodriguez believe he's a center fielder with good defensive instincts. He's an above-average runner but he has minimal arm strength and an unusual throwing stroke that has him pushing the ball, so there are some scouts that wonder if he's better suited in left field. Rodriguez has the skills to start in the GCL, though it's not certain that he'll start there. The Blue Jays might start him in the DSL and wait to see if they have the roster space to get him regular playing time in the GCL before bringing him over in the middle of the season.
Dominican shortstop Jesus Severino signed with the Blue Jays for $400,000 on July 2. Severino had previously gone by Jesus Ramirez, but after signing changed his paperwork to use the last name of his mother, who raised him. Ramirez, 16, has grown an inch and gained 15 pounds since signing. He's now 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and made a strong impression on the Blue Jays for his ability to hit from both sides of the plate, hitting a grand slam lefty and a double righthanded in an intrasquad game in February. Severino, who trained with Astin Jacobo, is a below-average runner but the Blue Jays expect him to stick at shortstop because of his hands and plus arm. With Gudino in front of him, Severino is ticketed for the DSL.
When Bryan Lizardo (video) turned 16 on July 26, the Blue Jays signed the Dominican third baseman for $250,000. Lizardo trained with Fausto Garcia and played in the Dominican Prospect League, where he flashed solid raw power from both sides of the plate. His game hitting has been uneven, with better results from the left side. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds though may have been heavier when he signed, but he's lost weight since then to improve his conditioning. He's a below-average runner with sound defense at third base and a solid-average arm.
While Dominican lefthander Kelyn Jose (video) became eligible to sign in 2011, he went passed over until the Blue Jays locked him up for $150,000 in July. Jose, 18, has good size (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and good arm strength, working with a low-90s fastball he can run up to 93-94. The rest of his game is still raw, as he's still working on his control and bringing along his breaking ball and changeup.
Another July 2 addition, 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Miguel Almonte, signed for $100,000. Almonte's best tool is his bat. He's a contact-oriented hitter with a line-drive bat and limited power right now from his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. Almonte had been a righthanded hitter exclusively until only a couple of months or so before signing, at which point he started switch-hitting. He's not much of a runner and his bat is ahead of his glove, so he might end up at second base. His trainer is known as "Elpidio."