International Reviews: Boston Red Sox
Top signing: Eight players for $300,000 each.
Total signings: 45.
When the Red Sox smashed through their international bonus pool in 2014-15, the crown jewel of their class on July 2 was Venezuelan righthander Anderson Espinoza, the No. 1 pitcher on the market at the time. Espinoza’s stuff and stock have soared since then to put him among the elite pitching prospects in baseball. Before the signing period closed, they also landed Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. As a penalty for their spending spree, the Red Sox were limited to signings of no more than $300,000 last year when the 2015-16 signing period opened on July 2.
Despite those limitations, the Red Sox were still able to sign two of Baseball America’s Top 30 prospects for July 2, giving $300,000 to Venezuelan outfielders Albert Guaimaro (No. 15) and Simon Muzziotti (No. 24). The Red Sox blanketed Venezuela, a country that has become increasingly difficult for scouts to navigate for reasons beyond baseball. The Red Sox were so active in Venezuela that 15 of the 17 players they signed last year for at least $100,000 are Venezuelan, including several players who came from the same programs. All of the players they signed since July 2 are expected to debut in the Dominican Summer League.
Guaimaro, who trained with Francisco Ortiz, has an impressive combination of physicality (6 feet, 215 pounds), athleticism and hitting polish for his age. Guaimaro stood out on Venezuela’s 15U World Cup team in 2014 in Mexico, where he hit .375/.364/.531 in 32 at-bats with three doubles, a triple, no walks and six strikeouts, including two hits against Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon, the tournament MVP. He’s a righthanded hitter with a compact, physically mature frame and a short, compact swing geared for line drives. Guaimaro has good bat speed and drives the ball with good exit speed, though he focuses first on being a good hitter and using the whole field rather than focusing on power. He’s a smart hitter who studies opposing pitchers, although he will have to improve his pitch recognition and tighten his strike-zone discipline against better pitchers.
During showcases, Guaimaro played right field, though the Red Sox saw him in center field and plan to have him start his career there. Guaimaro is a 55 runner with an above-average arm, and while he takes pride in his defense, his body type suggests he will slow down and ultimately end up in right field. The other option—one many scouts wanted to see—would be to move behind the plate. Guaimaro has a catching background, though he showcased as an outfielder and the Red Sox want to keep him in the outfield for now. Guaimaro has a high level of overall game awareness, showing attention to detail in the little things that most players his age are just learning.
The Red Sox were also able to sign Muzziotti for $300,000 out of the program of Pascuale Fiorello and Pablo Leal on July 2. A little more than a year before he signed, Muzziotti had an elbow injury in his throwing arm and had trouble staying on the field, which hampered his market. Rest, treatment and a structured program have helped, with Muzziotti participating in the team’s Dominican instructional league program and expected to be at 100 percent for the DSL season. At 17, Muzziotti has a thin, athletic frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds), plus speed and an easy, gliding gait, with good instincts and range in center field. He has a below-average arm, though it’s possible that could improve once he’s healthy. He’s a lefty with good bat control, keeping his swing short and staying through the ball well without much swing-and-miss. He sets up close to the plate and strides toward home, so he can slices line drives to all fields but is prone to cutting himself off and rolling over weak groundballs. Muzziotti has added strength over the past year but doesn’t project to have much power, relying more on hitting line drives and using his speed to get on base.
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Venezuelan shortstop Antonio Pinero, who was represented by Felix Olivo, signed for $300,000 in July. Pinero, 17, separated himself for his defensive skills. He has a long, lean frame (6-foot-1, 155 pounds) that should add weight and allow his pure tools to tick up, but he’s already a fundamentally sound fielder with good hands, natural shortstop actions and a strong arm that could become plus with natural strength development. Like Padres shortstop (and former Red Sox international signing) Javier Guerra, Pinero is a below-average runner but has the first-step quickness and lateral range for scouts to feel comfortable with him not only sticking at the position but playing it well. Pinero is a switch-hitter whose swing and power are better from the right side, projecting as a line-drive hitter whose offensive game could come along once he gets stronger.
Eduardo Torrealba, another Venezuelan shortstop signed for $300,000 last July, has a more polished bat than Pinero. The Red Sox haven’t shied away from undersized players like Torrealba (5-foot-8, 150 pounds) internationally or in the draft, with Torrealba compensating for his lack of size with his hitting ability and high baseball IQ. He’s never going to be a power hitter but he has surprising strength for his size, hitting line drives and using the whole field with gap power. Torrealba is a smart, instinctive player all-around, with average speed, good hands at shortstop and an internal clock for the position, though some scouts think he fits better at second base. Torrealba trained with Jose Montero.
Venezuelan righthander Cesar Gonzalez signed for $300,000 on July 2 after training with Ruben Garcia. Gonzalez is a 17-year-old who isn’t that tall but has physical projection left in his frame (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) with a quick arm and good arm action. He throws 86-88 mph with ability to spin a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup, with work to refine his delivery and command.
Rafael Rincones is a 16-year-old Venezuelan center fielder who signed for $300,000 in August and, like Pinero, also came from Olivo’s program. The Red Sox signed a lot of players in recent years with a relatively high level of game polish for their age, but Rincones stood out more for his raw tools and athleticism than his game skills. He’s a plus runner with good range in center field, an average arm and physical projection on his 6-foot-, 160-pound frame. He’s a righthanded hitter who has toyed with the idea of switch-hitting, with some things to iron out at the plate but a short stroke and a line-drive approach with gap power.
Venezuelan righthander Junior Figueroa was one of the youngest players in the class, turning 16 last year on Aug. 16, which means he would have been a 2016-eligible sign had he been born a few weeks later. Instead, he signed for $300,000 the day after his 16th birthday. He’s an intriguing blend of youth, physical projection (6-foot-4, 175 pounds), bouncy, quick-twitch athleticism and a fast arm, sitting around 86-88 mph and touching 92. He’s smoothing out some things in his delivery to be able to throw more strikes, but he already shows feel to manipulate a changeup with late fade, with a slider that’s still in the nascent stage. Figueroa trained with Jose Montero.
Another extremely young player for his class that the Red Sox signed last year was Gregory Santos, who signed for $275,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 28 after training with Basilio Vizcaino, known as “Cachaza.” He’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and was already touching 93 mph with good angle at Dominican instructional league. He projects as a starter, impressing the Red Sox wit his ability to spin a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup, but with big hands that bode well for that pitch to come around. Santos is a good athlete with broad shoulders and a repeatable delivery that helps him throw strikes.
While the Red Sox went on a frenzy in Venezuela, they did sign two Dominican players to six-figure deals, with Santos the most expensive and also shortstop Yeison Coca for $220,000 on July 2. Coca, 16, is a 5-foot-11, 155-pound switch-hitter with some similarities to Torrealba, with a little more strength and speed on Coca but more present game instincts with Torrealba. Coca is an advanced game player for his age though as well, with a line-drive approach, the ability to use the middle of the field and the ball coming off his bat surprisingly well for a 155-pound hitter, though he doesn’t project to be a big power threat. At shortstop he shows a quick first step, good hands and a solid, accurate arm.
Everlouis Lozada, 17, signed for $250,000 out of Venezuela and will go straight to second base, where he projects best, though he might see time at shortstop or third base as well given how the Red Sox like to rotate their DSL infielders for exposure at different positions. Lozada has grown an inch or two since he signed but is still on the smaller side at around 5-foot-9, 150 pounds. He’s a smart, hard-nosed player with a line-drive swing from both sides of the plate and gap power. His instincts allow his tools to play up, with average speed, sure hands, good range and a knack for being in the right spot on the field. Lozada trained with Jorge Aguadelo.
Ronald Gutierrez was working out in Florida where he has family when the Red Sox first scouted him. He went back to Venezuela to continue training, and the Red Sox continued to evaluate him there before signing him for $200,000 on July 2. At 16, Gutierrez is 6-foot-2, 175 pounds with good athleticism, a loose arm a nice mechanics that stay on line to the plate. The projection indicators are there for him to add to his 87-90 mph fastball, with feel to spin an overhand curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.
One other six-figure signing in the 2015-16 signing period was 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kervin Suarez, who got $100,000 on July 2. Suarez is a quick-twitch athlete with plus speed and first-step burst. He showcased as an infielder, though he will likely move around between shortstop, second base and center field, with his speed potentially playing better in the outfield. He’s a natural righthanded hitter who started switch-hitting shortly before he signed, something he will continue going forward, though he stands out more for his athleticism and is still learning to slow the game down. Suarez trained with Eduardo Andrade. The Red Sox also signed four Venezuelan players for $200,000 each before July 2 during the 2014-15 signing period, deals that essentially cost $400,000 apiece because the Red Sox were over their pool and owed the commissioner’s tax a 100 percent overage tax.
One of them, 17-year-old catcher Keibert Petit, signed in March, and he came from the same program as Pinero and Rincones. Petit (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) is a righthanded hitter who batted .201/.241/.246 with five walks and 33 strikeouts in 41 games. He was an outfielder the Red Sox moved behind the plate, with the team drawn to his power potential and arm strength, though the Red Sox say he dealt with some injuries last year getting dinged with foul balls and crossed signals.
Righthander Luis Rivero, 18, signed in May from the same program as Muzziotti. He’s 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and had a solid debut as a DSL reliever, with a 1.61 ERA and an 18-7 K-BB mark in 22 1/3 innings. The Red Sox saw him up to 91 mph when he signed but he’s been up to 93 since then. He has a changeup but mostly leans on his fastball and a solid slider with the ability to stay around the strike zone.
Angel Hernandez, 18, is a Venezuelan corner outfielder the Red Sox signed in May from the same program as Guaimaro. He has a strong frame at 6 feet, 195 pounds with a chance to grow into power because of his physicality, though his righthanded bat will need time after he went 2-for-27 with 12 strikeouts last year in the DSL. He’s a fringy runner with an average arm, most likely fitting best in left field.
Boston’s other $200,000 Venezuelan signing before July 2 was Carlos Pulido, an 18-year-old catcher signed in March who batted .273/.384/.331 in 36 DSL games. A stocky 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Pulido stands out for his ability to hit in games from both sides of the plate with a good approach and gap power. He’s an offensive-minded catcher whose receiving will need to develop, but he does have a good arm and the Red Sox were pleased with his progress behind the plate last year. Pulido trained with Jose Montero.
The Red Sox also picked up a pair of low-dollar sleepers last year in February, including 18-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Lorenzo Cedrola for $35,000. Cedrola, a righthanded hitter who is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, jumps out for his quick-twitch athleticism and 70 speed, which played well in center field when he moved there after showcasing as a shortstop. It was even more encouraging when he performed well last summer in his DSL debut, batting .321/.420/.415 in 312 plate appearances with 23 walks, 33 strikeouts and 27 stolen bases in 34 attempts. He also recorded 11 outfield assists in 63 games.
A few days before they signed Cedrola, the Red Sox landed Stanley Espinal for $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic, with both players traveling to Florida last fall for instructional league. Espinal led both DSL Red Sox teams in home runs (6) and hit .281/.323/.437 in 322 plate appearances with 14 walks and 50 strikeouts. Espinal was a late bloomer physically who’s now 6-foot-2 190 pounds with a power righthanded bat and an aggressive hitting approach. An outfielder as an amateur, Espinal played third base last year and committed 24 errors in 58 games but impressed the Red Sox with his defensive progress last year.