International Reviews: Tampa Bay Rays
Top signing: Four players for $300,000 each.
Total signings: 43.
The Rays went over their international bonus pool in 2014-15, so they went through the first of a two-year ban on signings of more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 signing period that began on July 2. That didn’t stop the organization from being aggressive, as the Rays signed 10 players in the $100,000 to $300,000 range and signed 43 players total. With the Venezuelan Summer League shutting down this year, the Rays will field two Dominican Summer League teams instead this season.
When the 2015-16 signing period opened on July 2, the Rays gave four players their maximum $300,000 bonus, including Dominican outfielder Pedro Diaz, who trained with Christian Irizarri of Athletes Premier. Diaz, 17, has a strong, powerful frame (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and impressed the Rays with his blend of hitting ability and power from the right side. While many young hitters with big raw power often struggle to tap into it against live pitching, Diaz has a sound swing and has done well already in unofficial games, closing out Dominican instructional league with a home run against the Astros in his last at-bat. He’s fairly athletic and runs well for his size, with average speed and arm strength that will give him a chance to play right field.
Juan Garcia, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop, signed with the Rays for $300,000 on July 2. A wiry 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, Garcia is a high-energy gamer with good bat speed and contact skills from the right side with the strength projection to add more power once he adds weight. With average speed, solid hands and a strong arm, he projects to stick at shortstop. Garcia trained with Felix Cueto and played in the Dominican Prospect League.
Luis Arias is another 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed for $300,000 on July 2 after playing in the DPL and training with Chino and Ataluapa. Arias had trouble staying on the field during the tryout process because of an injury to his throwing elbow, but he’s been on a throwing program and is expected to be ready to go for the DSL season. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Arias has quick bat speed and the ball already jumps off his bat well from the right side with the potential to grow into more power and average speed.
Wander Franco Lives Up To Lofty Comps
The 18-year-old wunderkind doesn't shy from comparisons with Indians star Jose Ramirez but knows that the Rays control his big league ETA.
Venezuelan center fielder Raider Brito signed with the Rays for $300,000 on July 2 after standing out for his plus speed and quick-twitch athleticism. Brito, 16, is a skinny 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, with gap power now but a chance to grow into more sock once he gets stronger. There’s still some rawness to his game skills, as he hit .127/.225/.193 with six walks and 31 strikeouts in 71 at-bats in Venezuela’s Liga Paralela and committed five errors in the outfield. Brito trained with Richard Delgado.
Another July 2 signing, 17-year-old Dominican catcher Gioser Tejeda, got $250,000 after training with Santiago Valdez and playing in the DPL. Tejeda had played some third base and outfield, but he moved behind the plate before signing and impressed the Rays with his combination of plus arm strength and raw power.
The Rays also gave six-figure deals to two players in Venezuela, including $125,000 to shortstop Luis Leon out of Carlos Guillen’s academy on July 2. Leon, 17, is 6 feet, 175 pounds and has a similarly sound swing from both sides of the plate, with a line-drive approach and gap power. He’s an average runner who has made progress in the field and has a chance to stick at shortstop, though he could end up at second base.
Another Venezuelan shortstop, Jhosner Vargas, signed for $100,000 on July 2 after he trained with Henderson Alvarez. Vargas was 5-foot-9 at the end of 2014 but grew two inches to 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. He’s a switch-hitter with plus speed with good hands and an average arm who should play either shortstop or second base going forward. He has a contact-oriented swing to put the ball in play but lacks much power right now. He hit .210/.269/.210 with five walks, 11 strikeouts and no extra-base hits in 62 at-bats in the Liga Paralela.
The Rays also made a few six-figure signings before July 2 during the 2014-15 signing period, including $150,000 in March for 19-year-old righthander Reimin Ramos, who had been showcasing as an outfielder but moved to the mound before signing. At that time, Ramos was touching 94 mph, but his velocity ticked up after signing and he reached 96 mph during the DSL, when he pitched as a reliever with a 1.24 ERA and a 21-13 K-BB mark in 36 1/3 innings. He trained with Gilberto Fernandez.
On June 15, the final day of the 2014-15 signing period, the Rays signed Dominican righthander Angel Felipe for $115,000 from Josue Mateo’s program. Felipe, 19, was wild in his brief time as a reliever during the DSL, with an 8.68 ERA, 13 walks and six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. Yet Felipe is one of the most intriguing arms the Rays signed last year. Felipe is a former shortstop who just kept growing, to the point where he had to move off shortstop because he was 6-foot-6, 190 pounds. He had long arms and quick arm speed, so he started pitching. When Felipe signed with the Rays, he was throwing 90-93 mph. A month later, his fastball reached 98 mph. Then during Tampa Bay’s winter program in the Dominican Republic, he reached 100 mph. Like a lot of tall pitchers, Felipe is still learning to control his body to be able to repeat his delivery and find the strike zone, and while he’s quite raw given his lack of pitching experience, there’s also a lot to dream on with his size and velocity. Felipe throws a hard curveball and a changeup as well, with the Rays planning to develop him as a starter this season.
In April, the Rays signed 21-year-old Dominican outfielder Emilio Gustave for $110,000. Gustave (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) was previously known as Alexander Gustave Paredes and played in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field as well as the DPL. After MLB declared him ineligible to sign, he changed his age and identity before signing with Tampa Bay. The Rays were still excited about Gustave’s tools, with pluses in his arm, speed and raw power, though even as an older player in the DSL last year he hit just .223/.336/.309 in 26 games while playing all three outfield positions.
One sleeper from Tampa Bay’s 2015 signings could be 17-year-old center fielder Moises Gomez, a $40,000 signing in April out of Venezuela. After struggling early in the VSL season, Gomez finished the year hitting .317/.393/.494 in 206 plate appearances with 23 walks, 28 strikeouts and six home runs, ranking fourth in the league in OBP and second in slugging. Gomez, who trained with former major league outfielder Juan Rivera, has plus speed and good righthanded power from his strong frame (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) with a sound understanding of the strike zone for his age.
Tampa Bay also signed Dominican center fielder Yunior Martinez for $60,000 in October. Martinez trained with Ariel Inoa and is an athletic switch-hitter (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) with 80 speed.