International Reviews: Seattle Mariners
Top signing: SS Carlos Vargas, Dominican Republic, $1.625 million.
Total signings: 9.
The Mariners used several of their recently lower-level international signings in trades this offseason. They gave Dominican righthander Enyel de los Santos $15,000 in 2014, he broke out in the short-season Northwest League last year, then in November the Mariners traded him to the Padres with second baseman Nelson Ward in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit. In December, the Mariners sent Brazilian righthander Daniel Missaki (who pitched at low Class A Clinton last year) and Dominican righthanders Freddy Peralta (Rookie-level Arizona League) and Carlos Herrera (Dominican Summer League) in the Adam Lind trade.
With a $2,150,300 bonus pool in 2015-16, the Mariners spent most of their money on Dominican shortstop Carlos Vargas, who signed for $1.625 million on July 2. Vargas, who trained with Jaime Ramos and played in the Dominican Prospect League, was a member of the Dominican team that played in the 15U Pan American Championships in 2013. He had a big showing at MLB’s international showcase last year in February, going 3-for-6 with two home runs. He’s the younger brother of Diamondbacks righthander Emilio Vargas.
Vargas, 17, doesn’t have the prettiest swing, but he has performed well in games, hitting and hitting with power. He’s still growing into his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame, with broad shoulders and strong wrists that help him generate quick bat speed and flash above-average raw power. Vargas generates his power with a funky setup, a lot of moving parts and herky-jerky actions, leading to a high maintenance swing with some vulnerability to soft stuff. Yet he’s hit well in prominent games, has shown the ability to drive the ball well the opposite way and impressed the Mariners with his overall baseball IQ and ability to implement adjustments their coaches suggested already.
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The 22-year-old righty put in the time last offseason to boost his velocity. The effort is paying off as he repeats the Cal League.
Vargas showcased as a shortstop and might begin his career there, though he likely won’t be there for long. He’s a below-average runner who should slow down even more, with mixed reviews of his infield actions, though he does have an above-average arm with a quick release. He could be a fit at third base, or if he outgrows the position end up in an outfield corner. The Mariners have kept their biggest signings such as Brayan Hernandez and Greifer Andrade at their academies for their pro debuts, so Vargas will likely open the season in the Dominican Summer League.
The Mariners signed 17-year-old Dominican righthander Ivan Fortunato for $150,000 on July 2. Fortunato is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with feel for pitching and projection indicators for his stuff to tick up as he fills out, including big hands, long fingers, a sound delivery and loose arm action. He throws strikes with an 85-89 mph fastball and a slurvy breaking ball he shows feel to spin.
Nolan Perez is a 16-year-old Venezuelan third baseman who signed for $130,000 on July 3. Perez grew up playing a lot of baseball and it shows in both batter’s boxes, as he’s a switch-hitter who’s advanced from both sides of the plate. Perez has a short, compact swing with good rhythm, balance and timing. He has a strong frame (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) and can drive the ball well but focuses primarily on being a good hitter rather than selling out for power, making a lot of contact in games with the ability to hit to all fields. Perez has the arm for third base, but he’s helped answer questions about whether he could stick at the position by leaning up and improving his conditioning, which in turned helped his footwork improve.
Catcher Daniel Santos, a 17-year-old who signed for $100,000 on July 2, was born in Florida and grew up there, but he moved to the Dominican Republic with his family a couple of years before he signed. Santos speaks perfect English already, which will help him handle a pitching staff once he comes to the United States, and those pitchers should enjoy throwing to him because of his defensive ability. Santos is an athletic, well-proportioned 6-foot-2, 175 pounds with a plus arm, good catch-and-throw skills and soft hands to receive well. Santos shows some ability to manage his plate appearances but his defense is ahead of his righthanded bat.
He trained with John Carmona and played in the DPL One sleeper from the class could be 17-year-old Dominican righthander Feliberto Bonilla, who got $40,000 in November. Bonilla could easily add 20-30 pounds or more to his lanky 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame, which should help a fastball that’s already 88-91 mph. With his athleticism, clean arm action, smooth delivery and feel for his curveball and changeup, Bonilla has the makings of a three-pitch starter whose stuff could tick up with natural strength progression in the next few years.