International Reviews: Los Angeles Dodgers
See Also: 2014 Dodgers International Review
See Also: 2013 Dodgers International Review
See Also: 2012 Dodgers International Review
Top signing: OF Starling Heredia, Dominican Republic, $2.6 million.
Total signings: 42.
The Dodgers had an expensive, chaotic year on the international side. They signed Cuban infielder Hector Olivera to a six-year, $62.5 million contract in May. Then they signed Cuban righthander Pablo Millan Fernandez to a minor league contract with an $8 million bonus, a stunning number given Fernandez’s track record and modest stuff.
While they smashed through their international bonus pool on July 2, they got a relatively late start jumping into the mix for the top Dominican and Venezuelan players, many of whom went off the board quickly with early agreements. They still dropped nearly $8 million on non-Cuban international free agents last year, but the majority of their international expenditures under the pool were on three Cuban players. First, they signed Cuban righthander Yadier Alvarez for $16 million on July 2. In November, they signed outfielder Yusniel Diaz for $15.5 million and second baseman Omar Estevez for $6 million. They also traded away all four of their international slot values, leaving them with a $700,000 pool.
With approximately $45 million in spending so far for their 2015-16 pool, the Dodgers are looking at total tab of $90 million and counting once they have to pay the 100 percent pool overage tax to the commissioner’s office. Despite their lavish spending, the Dodgers weren’t entirely pleased with their international scouting department. They fired vice president of international scouting Bob Engle and Latin American scouting coordinator Patrick Guerrero, his right-hand man in the Dominican Republic. The Dodgers didn’t fire everyone on the international department, but they let go nearly anyone who was associated with Engle and Guerrero. They also traded Olivera to the Braves two months after signing him.
In November, the Dodgers hired Ismael Cruz away from the Blue Jays as their new vice president of international scouting. Aside from their more expensive Cuban signings, the Dodgers’ top bonus went to Dominican outfielder Starling Heredia, who signed for $2.6 million on July 2 after playing in the Dominican Prospect League and training with Franklin Ferreras. Heredia stood out early in the scouting process for his tools and physicality, finishing runner-up at the Under Armour All-America game home run derby in August 2014 at Wrigley Field, when he was hitting balls out of the stadium at age 15.
Now 17, Heredia doesn’t have much physical projection left on his thick, muscular frame (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), but he already brings impressive tools and athleticism. Heredia’s combination of physicality, athleticism, righthanded power and speed stood out. He has quick bat speed, loads his swing with a big leg kick an flashes above-average power. Heredia isn’t a pure hitter, but he has been a solid game performer who makes hard contact and does cut down on his swing in two-strike counts. Nicknamed “Pit bull,” Heredia is a hyper-aggressive player in all aspects of the game, including his free-swinging approach, so he will have to improve his pitch recognition and learn to slow the game down at the plate and in the field. He runs much better than his body type suggests, with above-average speed that will allow him to start out in center field, though he will likely rotate between all three outfield spots, ultimately profiling best in right field with a body type that suggests he will slow down. He’s similar physically and in terms of his overall skill set to Brewers outfielder Rymer Liriano.
Ronny Brito was one of the best defensive shortstops in the class, signing for $2 million on July 2 out of the Dominican Republic after playing in the International Prospect League and training with Laurentino Genao. Brito, 17, is 6 feet, 175 pounds with good body control, sure hands and smooth defensive actions. He’s athletic and agile with plus speed and a plus arm, projecting as a true shortstop. Brito’s defense is ahead of his hitting. A natural righthanded hitter, Brito experiment with switch-hitting for six months in 2014, but he never got in rhythm from the left side and had more thump batting righthanded, so he’s hitting exclusively from the right side. Dropping the lefty swing could help, but Brito still has work to do form the right side. The Dodgers liked his hitting approach with the ability to use the whole field and understand the strike zone. Other clubs questioned his bat path on an uphill stroke with a raw approach that left him caught out front a lot, though his believers liked that he had some rhythm and looseness to his swing with workable hitting mechanics. Brito does have quick hands with the size and strength projection to grow into solid power for a shortstop, occasionally yanking one over the fence to his pull side already in batting practice. Brito and Heredia should both be in Arizona for extended spring training, though whether they stay for the Rookie-level Arizona League or start in the Dominican Summer League is still to be determined.
While a lot of other clubs didn’t view Dominican shortstop Oneil Cruz as a premium prospect, the Dodgers signed him for $950,000 on July 2. He’s also changed considerably from his amateur days to when he signed, growing from 6-foot-1 as a 15-year-old up to 6-foot-4, 170 pounds now at 17. That means he’s probably not going to stay at shortstop, with third base a possibility and an outfield corner a fallback option. The Dodgers liked Cruz’s smooth lefty swing with natural loft and leverage to generate power, which should increase once he fills out his skinny frame, though other clubs thought his game hitting would need time to come around. Cruz trained with Raul Valera, who goes by “Banana.”
Christopher Arias, 16, is a Dominican corner outfielder who signed with the Dodgers for $500,000 on July 2 after playing in the IPL and training with Amauris Nina. He’s 6-foot-2, 175 pounds and showed the Dodgers a well-rounded skill set, with a chance to hit and hit for power, though other clubs felt he made hard contact when he connected but needed to cut down his swing-and-miss rate. He’s an average runner with a below-average arm who could start out in center field but fits better in left field.
Another Dominican outfielder, 17-year-old Carlos Rincon, signed for $325,000 on July 2. Rincon is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds with big power from the right side, though he’s still learning to translate his power from BP into the games. He’s a corner outfielder with a solid arm.
Damaso Marte pitched 11 seasons as a major league reliever, including four with the White Sox and his final three with the Yankees, with his last season coming in 2010. His son, 17-year-old Damaso Marte Jr., signed with the Dodgers for $300,000. Born in Orlando but signed out of the Dominican Republic, Marte is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and is a good athlete with steady but not flashy tools, and while he has big league bloodlines, he’s still developing his baseball skills. In November, shortly after Cruz took over, the Dodgers signed Dominican righthander Bryan Castillo for $185,000. He has a projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame with long limbs and loose arm action, touching 94 mph with his fastball with room for more velocity. He flashes the secondary pitches to project as a starter, with his curveball ahead of his changeup.
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The Dodgers in October also gave $90,000 to Dominican shortstop Sauryn Lao, who was under the radar as one of the youngest players in the class, since he turned 16 on Aug. 14. It might take time for his baseball skills to come around, but he’s extremely athletic and the ball jumps off his righthanded bat well for a skinny kid, so he has intriguing upside.