International Reviews: Kansas City Royals
Top signing: OF Seuly Matias, Dominican Republic, $2.25 million.
Total signings: 23.
The Dodgers got the most attention for going over their bonus pool this year because of their unprecedented spending spree, particularly in the Cuban market. The Cubs made a lot of noise way in advance of July 2 last year, making it well-known more than a year ahead of time that they were going to be breaking their bonus pool in 2016. The Giants and Blue Jays also exceeded their bonus pool, primarily to sign one player in each case; Lucius Fox with the Giants and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the Blue Jays. The Royals also went beyond their bonus pool for the first time, with a haul that included two of the more highly regarded players in the Dominican Republic with very different skill sets.
Several scouts loved the upside of Dominican outfielder Seuly Matias, who signed for $2.25 million on July 2 after playing in the Dominican Prospect League and training with Victor Marmolejos. Matias, 17, is a lean, lanky 6-foot-2, 190 pounds with quick-twitch athleticism and a high physical ceiling to add a lot of strength. Matias isn’t a burner, but he has solid-average speed and the Royals liked his instincts in the outfield, projecting him to stick in center field. Some scouts from other clubs shared that opinion, though even if he ends up outgrowing the position, he has a cannon arm that’s a 70 on the 20-80 scale and would be a weapon in right field.
Matias drew a split camp based on what scouts thought of his hitting ability. Those who saw him hit well against live pitching saw good bat speed on a simple, direct swing with good balance and extension, minimal extraneous movement, the ability to use the whole field and above-average raw power. Others saw him as more of a high-risk prospect whose hitting would need more time to come around, citing improvements he will need to make with his pitch recognition, swing-and-miss rate and pull-oriented approach. Matias will likely debut in the Dominican Summer League, though it’s possible he could make his way to the Rookie-level Arizona League at some point this year.
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The same opening assignment could be true for 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Jeison Guzman, who signed for $1.5 million on July 2 from John Carmona’s program and also played in the DPL. Guzman grew up playing a lot of baseball in La Javilla youth league, which also produced Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara and Mets shortstop Amed Rosario. His baseball experience shows, as he’s a highly instinctive player with excellent game awareness relative to his peers. He’s athletic and agile, so even though he’s a below-average runner, scouts widely projected him to stay at shortstop. He was one of the better defenders at the position in his class and has a chance to be a plus fielder at shortstop, where he has clean hands, sound footwork and fluid actions to go with a solid-average arm and quick transfer.
At 6 feet, 160 pounds, Guzman lacks strength but should gain more first-step quickness and perhaps even speed with natural physical maturity. Guzman’s game experience also manifests itself at the plate, where he manages his at-bats well with good strike-zone knowledge and a sound lefthanded swing. He’s a contact-oriented hitter with a line-drive approach, albeit with minimal power.
In Venezuela, the Royals spent $450,000 to sign 17-year-old catcher Sebastian Rivero in July. Rivero’s makeup and intelligence behind the plate along with his catch-and-throw skills impressed the Royals, who already brought him over to the U.S. last fall for instructional league. He has a thin frame for a catcher (6-foot-1, 180 pounds when he signed) but he’s added 10 pounds since then and showed the Royals a sound righthanded swing.
Another Venezuelan player, 17-year-old shortstop Angel Medina, signed with the Royals for $425,000 in July. Medina has a good frame (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and righthanded power, with solid athleticism and average speed, likely ending up at third base or in an outfield corner.
Switch-hitting Dominican outfielder Raymond Lopez signed for $225,000 in July. Lopez, 17, is a true center fielder with good speed and defense. He has a skinny frame (6-foot-1, 155 pounds) that he’s already added strength to since signing, which has helped him start to drive the ball more, though his offensive game is more line drive and contact-oriented with gap power.
Dominican righthander Janser Lara is a 6-foot, 170-pound righthander who signed for $200,000 in July. Lara is 19 and a harder thrower than the Royals typically sign out of Latin America, standing out for his arm strength with a low-90s fastball up to 94 mph and feel to spin a curveball with three-quarters type break, though he’s still more thrower than pitcher at this point.
Colombian shortstop Rafael Romero signed for $150,000 in July. A skinny 5-foot-10, 15 pounds, Romero is a 17-year-old defensive-oriented player with soft hands, a slightly above-average arm and average speed, with his defense ahead of his switch-hitting bat.
While Matias and Guzman were the headline players for the Royals in 2015, the sleeper of the class could be Dominican shortstop Esteury Ruiz, a 17-year-old who signed for $100,000 in July. For a player who’s a wiry thin 6 feet, 145 pounds, Ruiz is able to drive the ball with authority thanks to his quick bat speed, strong wrists and loft in his swing. He does it not just in batting practice but against live pitching as well, with a knack for hitting in games. He’s an average runner with an average arm.