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International Reviews: San Diego Padres

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Top signing: RHP Andres Munoz, Mexico, $700,000. 
Total signings: 38. 
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The Padres hired A.J. Preller as their general manager last year in August after he played a pivotal role in building one of the game’s most productive international pipelines with the Rangers. In September, Preller brought Chris Kemp, who had been an area scout for the Rangers in the Carolinas, as his international scouting director. The pace of the international market moves quickly, even a year before the signing period begins, so the Padres were a little behind other clubs to start the year. With the Padres in strong pursuit of Yoan Moncada, they had to be somewhat conservative with any seven-figure prospects for July 2, since signing Moncada would have put them in the penalty box for 2015-16 and unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000. Instead Moncada went to the Red Sox in March, but the Padres remained aggressive in signing players, especially in Venezuela, with promising arms from Mexico and the Dominican Republic mixed in as well.

San Diego signed 17-year-old righthander Andres Munoz from the Mexico City Red Devils for $700,000 on July 2. Only $175,000 of that counts against San Diego’s bonus pool, since the commissioner’s office only counts the 25 percent that goes to the player (the Mexican League team pockets the rest) against the pools for players signed from Mexican League clubs.

Munoz has a lean, wiry frame (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) with quick arm speed and a fastball that was 88-92 mph when he signed and has already climbed to 95. His low-80s changeup has good separation from his fastball with late diving action. It’s more advanced that his low-70s curveball, the pitch he needs to tighten up the most. Munoz’s command has been erratic at times, but getting more consistent with his direction to the plate has helped him throw more strikes. He has a chance to debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, though he could stay back in the Dominican Summer League to start.

Several teams liked Kelvin Melean, a 17-year-old who signed for $500,000 on July 2, for his combination of hitting ability, athleticism and high probability to stick at shortstop. He’s an instinctual player at 6 feet, 165 pounds with a gamer mentality and a player who grows on scouts the more they see him. Melean has a short, sound swing from the right side with a flat bat path and a high contact rate. He’s able to manipulate the barrel to hit to all fields with gap power and room to add strength, though his skill set will be more about getting on base than power. Melean isn’t flashy, but he’s athletic and should stick at shortstop, where he plays steady defense with average speed and arm strength. A broken hamate bone after he signed in the fall requiring surgery slowed Melean for a month and a half, but he’s in Arizona for spring training now with a good chance to stay when the AZL starts. He trained with Ricardo Petit.

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With Melean on the sidelines for the fall, 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Reinaldo Ilarraza took advantage of the opportunity going to Arizona for instructional league last fall, making a strong enough impression that he’s there now for spring training and might stay for the AZL. A $300,000 signing from Carlos Guillen’s academy on July 2, Ilarraza isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) but he’s an aggressive, hard-nosed player with good instincts. His baseball acumen stood out more than his tools before he signed, when most scouts projected him as a second baseman. Since then, his arm improved to a 55 and his speed improved to above-average underway, increasing the odds that he could remain at shortstop. He has a knack for hitting from both sides of the plate with a contact-oriented bat, albeit with minimal power, but he uses the whole field and finds a way to get on base.

Another Venezuelan signing, 17-year-old Kelvin Alarcon, got $425,000 on July 2, but after signing he broke his foot and missed nearly five months. He just started getting back to hitting batting practice and doing running drills, so he will start in the DSL. Alarcon showcased at shortstop, which he might get to play in a pinch but is more likely to play second base and center field. He’s a 6-foot-1, 155-pound switch-hitter with better bat speed than Melean and Ilarraza and a chance to have more physicality and impact down the road. He’s an offensive-minded player with a short swing, a line-drive approach and gap power now, with the size projection and bat speed suggesting power will come later. He’s a good athlete who should be able to stay up the middle, with solid-average speed and a fringy arm.

Dominican righthander Henry Henry, who signed for $400,000 on July 2, is already trending in the right direction. He’s a 17-year-old with a tall, projectable frame that’s added another inch since he signed, up to 6-foot-5, 180 pounds with long, lanky arms. For such a long-levered young pitcher, Henry has a fairly loose, easy delivery that he’s able to keep under control, which he showed at the MLB international showcase last year in February by firing two scoreless innings without a hit or a walk and recording two strikeouts. He signed sitting 86-89 mph and touching 91, but he’s since been up to 93 and is flashing an average curveball when he stays on top of the ball. He’s progressed enough that he might also get a chance to go to the AZL this year. Henry trained with Raul Valera, who is known as “Banana.”

Venezuelan lefthander Jose Cabrera also pitched well at the MLB international showcase last year in the Dominican Republic, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts and no walks. The Padres signed him for $400,000 on July 2 out of Jose Guacaran’s program. Cabrera, 17, is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, standing out more for his pitchability than his stuff or size. He has a loose arm and a clean, althetic delivery, throwing strikes with his fastball and his curveball. Cabrera’s fastball ranges from 86-90 mph but he has enough room to add weight and potentially sit more comfortably in the low-90s. His curveball has good depth, with a slider and changeup also in his repertoire. He’s in Arizona right now, though he might head back to the DSL when that season begins.

Eguy Rosario (or “Eggy”) is a Dominican shortstop who signed for $300,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 25, making him only a week ahead of the cutoff to be eligible to sign in 2015 instead of having to wait for July 2 this year. He’s one of the youngest players in the class but already stands out for his strength at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. His strong forearms generate quick bat speed on a short righthanded swing and help make him a good fastball hitter with a line-drive approach and gap power. Rosario is an average runner who probably fits better at second base. He’s built like a catcher and has a feisty, fiery mentality that led to some wondering whether he might move behind the plate, though that’s not the Padres’ plan right now. Rosario played in the Dominican Prospect League and trained with Basilio Vizcaino, who is known as “Cachaza.”

The Padres also gave $100,000 to 17-year-old Dominican righthander Adonis Santana, who like Henry also trained with Banana. He’s 6-foot-1, 160 pounds with a low-90s fastball that has bumped up to 94 since signing. His fastball is ahead of his secondary pitches, with more strikes a focal point for his development. Before July 2, the Padres signed four other players to six-figure bonuses in the tail end of the 2014-15 signing period.

Dominican righthander Emmanuel Clase, an 18-year-old who got $125,000 last year in January, pitched well in the Dominican Summer League with a 1.99 ERA in 54 1/3 innings an a 49-21 K-BB mark. When Clase signed, he had a clean arm stroke and an 86-89 fastball, which jumped to touch 93 mph during the DSL. After putting on weight, he’s 6-foot-2, 175 pounds and will lose plane on his fastball with some drop and drive to his delivery, but he makes up for a flatter angle with good cutting action, with a sweepy, three-quarters curveball his No. 2 offering.

Starlin Cordero had been showcasing as an outfielder, but he’s built like a small forward at 6-foot-7, 220 pounds and had been pitching for around six months when the Padres signed him for $100,000 last year. At the time, Cordero had good arm speed, downhill plane and obvious physical projection with an 87-91 mph fastball, which quickly jumped to touch 94 when he signed, with a chance there’s more in the tank. It’s not the cleanest delivery and he’s still learning to repeat it, little surprise for a 17-year-old with his height and lack of pitching experience, coming off a DSL season in which he had a 4.94 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 28 walks in 31 innings. His best offspeed pitch is a curveball with solid shape.

In February, the Padres also gave $320,000 to 18-year-old, switch-hitting Dominican center fielder Carlos Taveras, who is also from Banana’s program. He showed some basestealing instincts in the DSL (13-for-16) and the patience to take his walks with 34 in 189 plate appearances, but he hit just .171/.342/.240 with 55 strikeouts.

They also gave $115,000 in April to Dominican righthander Jonathan Guzman, who came from the same program as Rosario. Guzman, 21, is a stout 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and posted a 3.68 ERA with a 30-26 K-BB mark in 36 2/3 innings as a reliever in the DSL.

One of their more intriguing lower-level signs early in 2015 was Venezuelan catcher Jose Lezama, who landed a $50,000 out of Carlos Guillen’s program. Lezama’s 5-foot-10, 195-pound build and lack of any standout tools hampered him during tryouts, but his offensive instincts and game aptitude were evident when he got to the Dominican Summer League. An 18-year-old switch-hitter, Lezama batted .320/.463/.376 in 162 plate appearances with nearly twice as many walks (32) as strikeouts (17). He’s a line-drive hitter who controls the strike zone with minimal power, with his hitting more advanced than his receiving behind the plate.

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