International Reviews: Tampa Bay Rays
Top signing: OF Diego Infante, Venezuela, $300,000. Total signings: 36.
The Rays went over their international bonus pool in 2014-15, the year they signed shortstop Adrian Rondon and outfielder Jesus Sanchez. As a result, they have been operating under the penalty for the last two signing periods, unable to spend more than $300,000 on anyone subject to the bonus pools. Despite their restrictions, they still came away with a pair of highly-regarded Venezuelan outfielders and were aggressive throughout Latin America. They will have more freedom to spend this year once the 2017-18 period opens on July 2 and they’re no longer under the penalty.
The Rays were able to secure one of the top prospects in the class, getting 17-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Diego Infante for $300,000 on July 2. He’s long, lean and athletic (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) with a well-rounded combination of skills and tools. Infante has a simple, quick righthanded swing with good bat path and extension. Some scouts had concerns about Infante’s ability to recognize breaking pitches, but he uses the middle of the field with burgeoning power. It’s mostly doubles right now, but it’s hard contact with the physical projection to grow into average to above-average power. Most scouts felt Infante would end up as a corner outfielder. He’s athletic and a solid runner who moves well in the outfield with long strides, so the Rays plan to give him a shot to start his career center field. More than likely he ends up in a corner, where he has the tools to be an above-average defender. Infante trained at the PDW Academy.
Dominican shortstop Abiezel Ramirez signed with the Rays for $300,000 on July 2. He’s a lean, fast-twitch athlete with plus speed and a plus arm, though he’s still learning to play more under control. Ramirez has added weight since signing (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and has good bat speed from both sides of the plate. He shows some sneaky pop during batting practice, but he’s more of a line-drive hitter who uses the middle of the field and relies on his legs to disrupt the defense. Ramirez trained with Jose Offerman. Venezuelan outfielder Roimer Bolivar originally looked like he was going to sign with the Red Sox. Then just before July 2, Major League Baseball banned the Red Sox from signing any players during the 2016-17 signing period. The Rays jumped in and signed Bolivar for $280,000. Bolivar, 17, was one of the top outfielders in the 2016 class. He’s built like a Division 1 wide receiver, with an athletic, projectable frame (6 feet, 170 pounds) and loud tools. Bolivar is a center fielder whose speed and arm strength are both plus, though he will need to improve his outfield instincts. Bolivar has a high physical upside if everything clicks, though he’s still more tools than polish. He has strong hands, good righthanded bat speed and makes hard contact when he connects. Bolivar has a chance to hit for power, but his approach will have to improve to become a better hitter against live pitching. Bolivar trained with Wilmer Becerra.
The Rays signed 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Angel Lopez for $275,000 on July 2. He’s another quick-twitch athlete (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) with plus speed, possibly splitting time between shortstop and second base. and a quick bat from both sides of the plate. Lopez is a righthanded hitter with good bat speed and a line-drive approach with gap power. He trained with Richard Sanabia in the Bucaneros Academy.
Venezuelan righthander Wikelman Ramirez signed with the Rays for $250,000 when he turned 16 last year on Aug. 9. Ramirez had worked out for teams as an infielder, but he converted to pitching before signing with the Rays. Ramirez is one of the youngest players in the 2016 class and a good athlete who was throwing in the mid-to-upper 80s when the Rays signed him, with his velocity stepping up to touch 91 mph since then. Ramirez shows some early signs of feel for his secondary stuff, but he’s still new to pitching and more of a long-term projection with his stuff. Ramirez trained with Luis Blasini.
Venezuelan shortstop Amador Arias is even younger than Ramirez, signing with the Rays when he turned 16 on Aug. 25. Arias, the son of the White Sox scout of the same name, is a lean, wiry 6-foot-1, 165 pounds. That’s up from where he was previously, and continued strength development will be critical for Arias. He lacks much strength right now, but he’s athletic with a good frame, so his tools could improve once he adds weight. Arias is a righthanded hitter with good bat-to-ball skills and occasional doubles power. He’s an average runner with an athletic running gait who fields his position cleanly and should play somewhere in the middle infield.
Another young 2016 prospect, Venezuelan shortstop Johan Lopez, turned 16 last year on July 28 and signed with the Rays shortly after for $150,000. Lopez is a good hitter for his age who stands out more in games than in workouts, with the physical projection left in his body for his tools to improve. Lopez is 5-foot-11, 165 pounds with room to add weight to his athletic frame. A righthanded hitter, Lopez has a knack for squaring up live pitching and continued to show that with a strong performance in the Tricky League after signing. He has gap power now and should increase that once he adds strength. Lopez is an average runner with an easy stride and an average arm.
In Colombia, the Rays spent $100,000 to sign 17-year-old infielder Dewin Verbel. The best tool on Verbel is his bat. He’s 5-foot-11, 160 pounds and makes a lot of contact in games with a nice lefty swing. Verbel doesn’t have much strength yet, but he’s a smart player with a good clock for the game and gap power. Verbel has good hands at the plate and in the field. He has played shortstop and his speed did improve throughout the tryout process, though he’s still a below-average runner with a 45 arm that probably will fit best at second base. The Rays also gave $100,000 to 17-year-old, switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Luis Arcendo on July 2. He has a lively 6-foot-1, 160-pound frame with a loose, whippy swing that’s more advanced from the left side. He shows good actions at shortstop with an above-average arm. Arcendo trained with Pablo Lantigua.
Jose Lopez is an 18-year-old Dominican lefthander the Rays signed for $100,000 in October. Lopez has a strong, physically mature frame (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and had been trying out as a hitter while training with Tony Arias before moving to the mound around a year or so before signing. He has good arm action and a chance to have power stuff, reaching 93 mph with his fastball right now and flashing an above-average curveball in the mid-70s that’s ahead of his changeup.
Best Tools: International Prospects For July 2
The international prospects with the best tools for July 2.
Before July 2 during the 2015-16 signing period, the Rays signed 17-year-old Dominican lefthander Daury Cordero for $200,000 last year in February. Cordero had trained with Basilio Vizcaino (known as “Cachaza”) leading up to when he became eligible to sign in 2015, but he wasn’t getting any bites there, so he moved to the mound. Things worked better on the mound for Cordero, a good athlete with a projectable frame (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and a loose, quick arm that reached 92 mph before signing. He touched 93 mph in the Dominican Summer League and showed some feel to spin his breaking ball, though his need to learn how to pitch was evident as he posted a 6.56 ERA in 23.1 innings with 21 strikeouts and nine walks.