International Reviews: Colorado Rockies
See Also: 2014 Rockies International Review
See Also: 2013 Rockies International Review
See Also: 2012 Rockies International Review
Top signing: OF Daniel Montano, Venezuela, $2 million. Total signings: 18.
The Rockies have long been a productive and highly respected program under the watch of Rolando Fernandez, their vice president of international scouting and development, churning out talent for many years on a modest budget. The Rockies had the second-highest international bonus pool in 2015-16 at $4,966,300 and they took advantage of it by spending just about all of their pool space last year, focusing on position players with high baseball instincts whose tools could improve with strength (and already have in, in some cases) and projectable, strike-throwing pitchers.
There were just three Venezuelan players last year who signed for at least $1 million.
By far the biggest bonus went to Daniel Montano, a 17-year-old outfielder who got $2 million on July 2. Montano established himself early on as one of Venezuela’s top 2015 prospects. He played center field and hit well on Venezuela’s 15U World Cup team in Mexico in 2014, batting .375/.483/.542 in 29 plate appearances with one home run, one double, three walks and six strikeouts. Montano is a smooth player who does a lot of things well, with his tools already ticking up since he signed. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Montano has a calm, balanced swing from the left side, using his quick hands well with good rhythm and follow-through. He shows a keen sense for recognizing offspeed pitches and staying within the strike zone. The Rockies saw him hit consistently in games, though other clubs saw up-and-down performance with surprising swing-and-miss, but his sound swing, batting eye and ability to use the whole field should translate into being a good hitter. Montano has a hit-over-power offensive profile, with gap power that should came later on once he gets stronger given his size.
One of the reasons Montano drew a range of opinions was that he was a fringe-average runner who didn’t look like he could play center field, which would put more pressure on his power taking a big leap forward as a corner outfielder. The Rockies have been pleasantly surprised that Montano’s speed has improved since signing, running plus times in the 60-yard dash and home to first. His defensive instincts will need to improve, but whereas Montano figured to be a player who would start his career in center field and eventually migrate to a corner, there’s now a higher probability that he could stick in the middle of the diamond. In many ways he’s similar to Carlos Gonzalez, another Rockies Venezuelan outfielder, with Gonzlaez originally signing with the Diamondbacks because of his sweet swing and knack to hit, only for his speed and power to improve after he signed. Montano has enough polish that he would probably start in a Rookie-level complex league for a lot of organizations, but the Rockies don’t have an Arizona League team, so they send all of their July 2 signings to the Dominican Summer League for their debuts.
Venezuelan righthander Anderson Amarista had a promising arm and a high profile training with Ciro Barrios, but his market didn’t materialize until after July 2, with the Rockies signing him for $600,000 later that month. Amarista doesn’t project to be a power arm, but he’s a 17-year-old who throws strikes with a chance to develop three solid pitches as a starter. He’s 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with a wide back, long arms and big hands, throwing his fastball at 87-92 mph now with a chance to park in the low-90s in the next few years. Amarista had one of the better curveballs in the class. It has tight spin and sharp action to be a swing-and-miss pitch when he stays on top of it, though it can get away from him and get slurvy at times. He shows feel for a changeup as well and didn’t have any trouble at MLB’s international showcase last year in the Dominican Republic, where he struck out four batters in three shutout innings without allowing a hit or a walk.
Enrique Saldana is an instinctive Panamanian shortstop the Rockies signed for $500,000 on July 2. Saldana, 16, played in the 15U World Cup in 2014, batting .333/.371/.424 in 35 plate appearances with two walks and eight strikeouts. He’s an energetic, aggressive player whose tools don’t stand out yet because he’s still physically underdeveloped at 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, but he has a high baseball IQ and a good internal clock at shortstop. His speed is fringy at best and his arm is average, so depending how his tools develop, he might fit better at second base, but he has good hands and defensive instincts. Saldana has minimal power but he makes contact at a solid clip from the right side.
Dominican shortstop Christopher Navarro, who signed for $450,000 on July 3, could be one of their better signings of the year once he gets stronger. He’s the younger brother of Blue Jays shortstop Jesus Navarro, an 18-year-old who played shortstop and second base for their DSL team last year. Christopher is still 16 and lacks strength in his skinny 6-foot-1, 155-pound frame, but he projects to stick at shortstop and puts the bat to the ball. Navarro is an instinctive player who fields his position well and has a knack for slowing the game down. With his long arms and underdeveloped build, Navarro has solid-average arm strength now that should grow into plus. He has a quick release, throws from all angles and shows a mature understanding of when to uncork a throw and when do dial it back. Navarro’s offensive game will improve with strength, but he swings hard and doesn’t miss much, with good hand-eye coordination and bat control on a handsy righthanded stroke. Navarro played in the International Prospect League and trained with Negro Chal (known as “Aguila”) and Nelson Montes de Oca.
Venezuelan righthander Gabriel Estrada signed for $360,000 on July 2 after training with Alvaro Valdez. Still 16, Estrada is a lean, underdeveloped 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with good pitchability for his age, though he did struggle at MLB showcases. He has good arm action, a delivery without much effort and he throws strikes, starting with an 88-92 mph fastball when he signed that has since touched 94, with a chance to grow into more velocity. He also impressed the Rockies with his feel for his secondary pitches, a curveball and a changeup. The Rockies signed a Venezuelan righthander Carlos Gonzalez—no relation to their major league outfielder of the same name—for $130,000 on July 2. Gonzalez is a 17-year-old with a lean, athletic frame (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) and impressed the Rockies with his feel for pitching, easy delivery and feel for his secondary pitches (a curveball and changeup), ranging from 87-91 mph with his fastball.
Among the three other pitchers the Rockies signed to low six-figure deals on July 2, the most promising one is 16-year-old Panamanian lefthander Ever Moya, who got $110,000. He was 6-foot-4, 160 pounds when he signed and has put on 10-15 pounds since then. That has helped him add to a fastball that was 84-87 mph in July to touching 90 mph now, with a chance to reach the mid-90s once he’s done filling out. Moya has a sound delivery and arm action, mixing in a curveball and a changeup. In the Dominican Republic, the Rockies signed righthanders Guillermo Paulino and Erlis Filpo for $120,000 each. Paulino, who turned 19 earlier this week, was an outfielder who moved to the mound a few months before he signed. His feel for pitching obviously isn’t as far along as the Rockies’ other notable signings, but he has an athletic, highly projectable build (6-foot-4, 180 pounds) with a fastball that’s already up to 94 with more growth potential. He’s a potential power arm who is still learning his figuring out his secondary stuff and strike-throwing ability. Filpo, 17, is more of a long-range projection with room to add weight to his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, with fringier stuff and pitchability that’s also further away right now.
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One of their under-the-radar signings from July 2 last year was Antonio Santos, a 19-year-old Dominican righthander who got $50,000. He pitched well in the DSL after signing, posting an ERA of 0.75 in 24 innings with 17 strikeouts and five walks. He had a strong frame (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) and threw strikes with a fastball up to 92 mph when he signed, but he now sits at 92-95 mph and touched 97 last year when he came over to Arizona for instructional league, mixing an effective curveball and changeup as well. Given his age and ability to throw strikes, he’s likely headed to Rookie-level Grand Junction in the Pioneer League this summer.