Top signing: 3B Henry Pujols, Dominican Republic, $600,000.
Total signings: 24.
Once president Mark Shapiro left for Toronto last year in August and vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins went to join him as general manager, the Indians decided to take their international program in a new direction. Last year was their final July 2 under the watch of Ramon Pena, who is no longer in the organization. Koby Perez, who had been an Indians international crosschecker the prior two years and before that worked in international scouting for the Phillies, is now in charge as the team’s Latin American scouting director.
Dominican shortstop Jose Fermin separated himself for his bat control and ability to stay at the position, prompting the Indians to sign him for $500,000 on July 2. Fermin, 16, is 5-foot-11, 160 pounds with a mature hitting approach and good contact skills. He routinely finds a way to barrel the ball and goes with where the pitch is thrown, taking pitches on the outer third to the opposite field with a line-drive approach. Fermin lacks strength, so he’s mostly a singles hitter now with occasional pop to the gaps, but he should be able to do more damage once he gets stronger.
Fermin isn’t a flashy defender, but he’s steady at the position with solid instincts. His speed and arm strength are both average to slightly above-average tools. Fermin’s game skills were among the more advanced of last year’s July 2 signings and already speaks English fairly well, though because he’s still lacking strength, he might start the year in the Dominican Summer League. Fermin played in the International Prospect League and trained with Pablo Lantigua.
Henry Pujols, signed on July 2 for $600,000, fits a similar profile to many 16-year-old Dominican third basemen. He’s a heavy-bodied 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, standing out for his righthanded power potential, separating himself to the Indians for his ability to show his power in game situations. Pujols is an offensive-oriented player who will have to watch his body to avoid a move to the outfield or first base. Pujols also played in the IPL and trained with Laurentino Genao. Under Pena, the Indians’ spending had been heavily focused in the Dominican Republic.
Their biggest signing last year out of Venezuela was righthander Luis Oviedo for $375,000, which could end up one of the better values of the 2015-16 signing period. Oviedo’s projection arrows are all pointing in the right direction: He’s 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, still 16 with a good delivery, a quick arm and a fastball that sits 86-90 mph and can reach 91-92. Once he adds weight to his lanky frame, he should be throwing in the mid-90s. Oviedo’s changeup is advanced for his age and is ahead of his fringe-average breaking ball, giving him a chance for three average to plus pitches. Oviedo comes from Jose Montero’s program, which also produced Carlos Carrasco, and there are similarities between the two pitchers at the same age.
Carlos Ventura is a 17-year-old outfielder born in Miami who went to high school in Florida, but the year before he signed he moved to the Dominican Republic. That enabled him to sign as an international free agent with the Indians for $350,000 on July 2. At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Ventura is a corner outfielder who’s likely limited to left field, so the Indians were banking on his lefthanded bat, though that has been inconsistent. Ventura is the grandson of Johnny Ventura, a famous merengue and salsa singer in the Dominican Republic who also served as mayor of Santo Domingo from 1998-2002.
International bonus pool space is use it or lose it in the year it’s allotted, so back in June a few days before the 2014-15 signing period closed, the Indians paid $300,000 for Dominican righthander Luis Valdez. He’s a 19-year-old with a 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame and a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can reach 95-96 mph. His secondary stuff will need to come along, but he has big arm strength and could eventually come along as a bullpen arm. He trained with Alberto Barjan.
Another 2014-15 signing was corner outfielder Luis de la Rosa, who got $150,000 in May. At 16, de la Rosa is 6-foot-4, 170 pounds and is more a physical projection than anything else. He trained with Wason Brazoban, a Dominican singer whose pop single “En Un Solo Dia” appeared on Billboard magazine’s Hot Latin Songs chart at No. 47. He also trained Oscar Gonzalez, an outfielder the Indians signed for $300,000 in 2014 and hit .203/.262/.324 in 70 DSL games last year.