International Reviews: Washington Nationals
See Also: 2014 Nationals International Review
See Also: 2013 Nationals International Review
See Also: 2012 Nationals International Review
Top signing: OF Juan Soto, Dominican Republic, $1.5 million.
Total signings: 11.
Washington had the second-smallest bonus pool last year before the team acquired a $327,700 slot value from the Red Sox in exchange for righthander Ramses Rosario, bringing their pool to $2,313,100. The Nationals spent $2.4 million on three players, putting them 3.76 percent over their pool, which means they will have to pay an $86,900 overage tax but won’t face any future signing restrictions (which is important, since the team is planning to obliterate its 2016-17 international bonus pool on July 2). The rest of their signings for the 2015-16 period were for $10,000 or less, which are exempt from counting again the pools.
Other players had louder tools, but lefthanded Dominican outfielder Juan Soto was one of the most polished hitters in the 2015 signing class, impressing scouts with his ability to hit in games while training with Christian Batista (known as “Niche) and playing in the Dominican Prospect League. Soto’s lefthanded bat prompted the Nationals to sign him for $1.5 million on July 2. Soto, 17, is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and has an advanced hitting approach for his age. He’s able to recognize soft stuff, stays within the strike zone and uses the middle of the field. Soto keeps his hands inside the ball and makes up for fair bat speed with good timing and innate feel for the barrel, centering the ball routinely even against good velocity. He’s a smart hitter who already has a two-strike approach.
Soto stands out more for his hitting ability than his raw power right now, focusing on staying within his line-drive approach, but with his size and strength projection, those doubles should turn into more home runs in the future, with a chance for average to above-average power eventually. Soto is a below-average runner, but he has good defensive instincts for his age and the Nationals plan to let him get time at all three outfield positions. Long term, he fits best in an outfield corner, with his arm strength ticking up to a 55 on the 20-80 scale to give him a chance for right field. Usually the Nationals start their first-year Latin American signings in the Dominican Summer League, but Soto was at U.S. instructional league last year and is back there for extended spring training, so there’s a chance he could stay there for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Nationals spent $700,000 to sign 17-year-old Dominican outfielder Elvis Alvarado in July. Alvarado is more of a physical projection (6-foot-4, 170 pounds) corner outfielder than Soto, with a less polished bat but plenty of room to fill out his underdeveloped frame. Despite his lack of muscle, he already has a plus-plus arm for right field. He’s not a big runner right now, which could change as he gets stronger, though projecting players to get faster is always tricky. While his pitch recognition will need time to develop, the Nationals liked his swing and ability to keep his hands inside the ball with a line-drive approach and power potential once he gains weight. Alvarado will start in the DSL.
The team’s third six-figure signing last year was 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Luis Aquino, who signed for $200,000 on July 2 and is a nephew of former Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman. Aquino, who played in the DPL, is a slender (6 feet, 150 pounds) switch-hitter whose baseball background is evident in the way he plays the game. He’s a tick above-average runner with good hands. If his arm gets stronger he could stay at the position, otherwise second base or center field could be future options. His main need right now is to add much-needed strength to his thin frame, but the Nationals liked his swing and ability to keep the barrel in the hitting zone a long time.
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In May, prior to July 2 during the 2014-15 signing period, the Nationals took a $10,000 flier on 20-year-old Dominican righthander Jeffrey Rosa, who had an extremely quick arm and was touching 92-93 mph at the time even though he was getting underneath the ball a lot. After he signed, the Nationals put him on their shoulder program, straightened out his mechanics to get him better separation with his body and better angle, and his velocity shot up. Now he throws in the mid-90s with good angle and life and has touched 100 mph. DSL hitters didn’t have much luck catching up to him, as he posted a 3.05 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 29 walks in 56 innings. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Rosa is mostly a two-pitch guy with a fastball/slider combination and he will need to tighten his command, so he might ultimately land in the bullpen, but he’ll continue to develop as a starter this year in the GCL.