Top 20 Dominican Summer League Prospects
Prospects in the Dominican Summer League are coming up in trade discussions with greater frequency than ever before.
Yes, they’re far away from being able to make an impact on the major league roster, but there’s high-reward potential if a general manager can get one of his counterparts to include a DSL prospect in a trade as a throw-in who could provide a payoff down the road, especially before that player’s value potentially soars once he gets to a full-season league.
The DSL is a level where teams can find sleeper prospects with breakout potential. The Venezuelan Summer League folded last year, so this year’s Top 20 list only includes players from the DSL last year. Previous Top 20 lists from those leagues going back to 2010 have included Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Martinez, Ketel Marte, Orlando Arcia, Victor Robles, Manuel Margot, Francis Martes, Jorge Mateo, Antonio Senzatela, Jorge Alfaro, Franklin Perez and Ronald Torreyes, among other big leaguers and current prominent prospects in the minor leagues.
To qualify for the DSL Top 20 list, the playing time cutoff is at least 70 plate appearances or 20 innings, so Twins shortstop Wander Javier wasn’t eligible. Neither were any players who ranked on one of Baseball America’s League Top 20 lists in another league. Rangers outfielder Leody Taveras and Cardinals righthander Alvaro Seijas were two of the best prospects to participate in the DSL last year, but there isn’t much new to add on them, and I would rather put the focus here on prospects who aren’t as well-known yet.
The DSL also saw a handful of Cuban players who participated in the league. Since those players were there to save money on taxes and not for player development reasons, I didn’t include them on this list, focusing instead on the younger prospects in the league.
In trying to identify the best future major leaguers in the league, my focus on this list was on:
• Position players who performed well and have the tools to continue to do so as they advance. There are instances of major leaguers who struggled in the DSL, but not hitting at the lowest level of the ladder is a red flag, and history shows a combination of tools and performance is usually the best bet for future success. Marlins outfielder Albert Guaimaro and Pirates outfielder Kevin “Lolo” Sanchez would be two others to watch who didn’t perform well but are still intriguing prospects.
• Pitchers who project as starters. This list is hitter-heavy, and while there are prospects around the league who throw hard and are legitimate prospects, pitchers who project to stick in the starting rotation generally have more value than relievers.
For BA subscribers, here are BA’s Top 20 DSL prospects. Players are listed with their ages as of today and are in alphabetical order.
Miguel Aparicio, of, Rangers Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
The headliner of the Rangers’ 2015 international signing class was Leody Taveras, who has quickly emerged as the best prospect in their organization. Aparicio ranked as the No. 14 player in the 2015 class and signed with the Rangers for $500,000 that year on July 2. While Aparicio doesn’t match Taveras’ explosiveness or physicality, he’s a smart, instinctive player who does a lot of things well. Aparicio has been a good hitter since he signed and his bat continues to trend in the right direction. He uses his hands well with a short, simple swing, good hand-eye coordination and he has a sound grasp of the strike zone, resulting in a high contact rate. Aparicio has the power to occasionally go deep, but he’s at his best staying within his line-drive approach with a chance to develop 10-15 home run power. Aparicio’s overall game awareness is mature beyond his years, which is evident on the basepaths and especially in the field. Aparicio’s pure speed and arm strength are both fringe-average, which normally would create questions about whether he would move off center field. Yet Aparicio consistently earns high praise for his defense because he gets such great reads and a quick first step off the bat, reading swings well and taking precise routes. The next step for Aparicio figures to be the Rookie-level Arizona League, though a push to short-season Spokane wouldn’t be a surprise given how the Rangers have pushed their best international prospects in the past.
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Mariel Bautista, of, Reds Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2014.
Aristides Aquino spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and never had an OBP or slugging mark above .300 in either season, but he’s since made enough adjustments to improve his performance and become Cincinnati’s No. 7 prospect. Bautista has some similarities to Aquino as an athletic outfielder with promising tools, except that Bautista has shown more hitting potential at the same age. Bautista, who signed for $60,000 after the 2014 season, struggled in 2015, but getting stronger and more experience helped him take off in his return to the league last year. Bautista is a tall, thin-framed outfielder with above-average speed and an average arm in center field, where he has the tools to play even if he does make youthful mistakes there. He’s an aggressive hitter with a pull-heavy approach who will swing and miss his share, but it’s not excessive. He drives the ball well for someone with his thin frame and should be able to grow into average power once he gets stronger.
Oswaldo Cabrera, ss/2b, Yankees Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 155. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
Players who sign for $100,000 typically aren’t fast movers, but Cabrera raced through the system in his pro debut. A July 2 signing in 2015, Cabrera demolished DSL pitching for a month before the Yankees sent him over to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He played just seven games in the GCL before the Yankees promoted him again to the Rookie-level Appalachian League to finish the year. When the Yankees signed Cabrera, he was a sound middle infielder with a promising bat, but he’s been even better than expected. Cabrera adjusted his stance by backing off from where he stood in the box, which freed up his hands and enabled him to start driving the ball with more authority. He’s a true all-fields hitter with a sound swing and natural hitter’s actions in the box. When he swings, he doesn’t miss much, with innate feel for the barrel and good plate coverage with a chance to develop into a plus hitter. Cabrera isn’t that big and will probably always have a hit-over-power profile, but he drives the ball well for his slender build and could develop average power once he’s physically mature. He’s an average runner who has soft hands, a slightly above-average arm and turns the double play well. He should be able to stick at shortstop, though the Yankees have played him all around the infield due to their depth of shortstops at the lower levels. Cabrera’s rapid ascent will continue this year with an assignment to low Class A Charleston.
Gilberto Celestino, of, Astros Age: 18. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Celestino filled his mantle with trophies from his amateur days, traveling to Maryland for the Cal Ripken World Series in 2011 when he was 12, then going to Colombia in 2013 to play in the 15U Pan American Championship. His organized baseball background sticks out relative to his peers in the Dominican Republic, with a high level of game awareness all-around. Signed for $2.25 million in 2015, Celestino stands out for his defense in center field. Like Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Celestino isn’t a burner but is a plus defender because of his outstanding instincts. He has average speed that plays up because he reads swings to get a quick first step off the bat and takes efficient routes to the ball. He makes accurate throws with a slightly above-average arm. Celestino performed well in his debut, showing a mature hitting approach with a strong grasp of the strike zone. The rare lefty thrower who bats righthanded, Celestino doesn’t have the purest swing but he’s usually on time and didn’t strike out much, hitting hard line drives with occasional over-the-fence pop that should increase as he gets stronger.
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Mc Gregory Contreras, of, Blue Jays Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
The Blue Jays are elated with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who signed for $3.9 million in 2015 and has already become their No. 1 prospect and the No. 20 prospect in baseball. By signing Guerrero, the Blue Jays exceeded their 2015-16 bonus pool by 14.86 percent, enough to go into a one-year penalty but just under the 15 percent overage mark that would have set them into two years of penalties. That left the Blue Jays to fill out the rest of their signing class with players for $10,000 or less, since those are all exempt from the bonus pools. One of those $10,000 signings was Contreras, who has quickly developed into a promising sleeper with good tools and an encouraging performance in his DSL debut last year. Contreras does a bit of everything. He has an athletic, projectable body with 55 speed and an average arm in center field. There is some swing-and-miss in his game, but it isn’t excessive and he has a very patient approach, working deep counts and drawing plenty of walks. Contreras isn’t a big power threat, but he’s more than just a line-drive, singles hitter, driving the ball well with a chance to develop average power given his physical projection.
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Oneil Cruz, ss/3b, Dodgers Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Cruz was 6-foot-1 when he worked out for teams a 15-year-old shortstop. By the time he signed with the Dodgers for $950,000 on July 2, 2015, he was 6-foot-4. Then he grew another two inches to 6-foot-6 before the DSL season began and had a solid debut while getting used to his long, lanky build. Cruz uses his hands well at the plate and controls the bat head well for a young hitter with long arms. He has plus raw power and with the room he has to fill out could grow into more. The power didn’t show up much in games last year since Cruz mostly hit the ball on the ground, as he’s still learning to time up his swing for the same loft and leverage he shows in batting practice. Getting stronger and more accustomed to his build following his growth spurt should be able to help Cruz’s coordination. Once he does that, Cruz should be able to hit 20-plus home runs. Cruz is athletic for his size and around an average runner. He should slow down as adds weight, with his position up in the air after his growth spurt. He spent some time at shortstop last year but mostly played third base. Cruz has a plus arm and has good body control for a big man, but he might simply outgrow the infield. If he does, his skill set would still project well in right field. The Dodgers have been pushing their top young prospects aggressively and are pushing Cruz to the low Class A Midwest League to start 2017.
Pedro Diaz, of, Rays Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Under the penalty during the 2015-16 signing period, the Rays gave their $300,000 maximum bonus to Diaz on July 2, 2015. His pro debut was cut short after he got hit by a pitch on the hand, knocking him out of action for two months of the DSL season. In a small sample, Diaz flashed his offensive upside, with an intriguing blend of hitting ability and power potential, though with more uncertainty than other players on this list because of how little he was on the field last year. There is some swing-and-miss risk with Diaz, but he has a chance to hit with a solid approach and hit for power with strength in his swing and a physical frame. He probably won’t be a stolen base threat but he runs well for his size with average speed. He’s a right fielder with an average arm.
Andres Gimenez, ss, Mets Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
Several international directors tipped their caps to the Mets when they were able to sign Andres Gimenez for $1.2 million on July 2, 2015. Gimenez ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 2015 class and immediately showed why he was so highly regarded within the Latin American scouting community. Gimenez led the DSL in on-base percentage, ranked second in batting average and third in slugging. He has a sweet lefthanded swing that’s short and fluid. He has explosive hand speed and keeps the barrel through the hitting zone a long time, with the bat control to make contact at a high clip and an all-fields approach, hanging in well against lefthanded pitching. Gimenez diligently studies video of his swing to make sure he stays consistent and makes adjustments when necessary. His strike-zone discipline is superb, as he drew more than twice as many walks as strikeouts. He has a chance to be a .300 hitter with high OBPs. Gimenez is a line-drive hitter who makes hard contact, with a chance to grow into 10-15 home run power and a possibility for more. Gimenez blends advanced hitting ability and game savvy with strong tools and athleticism. He’s a plus runner with a quick first step and good body control at shortstop. His hands have always worked well, but the biggest improvement for Gimenez since signing has been his footwork. In the past, Gimenez had a habit of taking his right foot and stepping behind his body, costing him momentum on his throws, but Mets coaches helped him clean up his footwork, allowing him to get rid of the ball quickly and make full use of his plus arm. As an 18-year-old shortstop who fields his position well and has a chance to be a plus-plus hitter at the top of a lineup, Gimenez would be a high first-round pick if he were in the draft and has the talent to ascend into one of the game’s top prospects.
Jonathan Guzman, ss, Phillies Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Jhailyn Ortiz was the big-ticket signing of the Phillies’ 2015-16 international signing class at $4.01 million. Another high-profile signing from that class, catcher Rafael Marchan, hit well in his DSL debut. Guzman, who signed for $60,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 17, 2015, might be the best of the group. Guzman hit .300 in the DSL despite spending nearly the whole season as a 16-year-old. Guzman doesn’t have a prototype swing but he has the hand-eye coordination to consistently square up pitches with a high contact rate. He’s a pull-oriented hitter with a line-drive approach and occasional gap power, with a chance to grow into 10 home runs once he gets stronger. Guzman is an average runner who fields his position well. He has solid-average range, coming in on the ball well and making plays in the hole with a 55 arm that should tick up to plus once he fills out.
Brayan Hernandez, of, Mariners Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2014.
Hernandez has shown bursts of his exciting upside, though he’s still scratching the surface of his potential. Signed for $1.85 million in 2014, Hernandez struggled in the DSL during his pro debut in 2015. Hernandez had been switch-hitting but looked more natural from the right side, so starting in spring training last year he stopped hitting lefthanded and become a righthanded hitter exclusively. His confidence grew and his performance improved, with Hernandez making more frequent contact and driving the ball with more authority upon his return to the DSL, then jumping to the Rookie-level Arizona League late in the year. Hernandez has strong hands, quick wrists and good bat speed. He has solid bat-to-ball skills and an aggressive, pull-oriented approach that can get him into trouble sometimes, so taking a more patient plan at the plate would help him, but he puts the ball in play and generates hard contact with a chance for 15-20 home runs. Lean and athletic, Hernandez is plus runner in center field. His 55 arm plays up because he gets rid of the ball quickly and makes accurate throws, racking up eight assists in just 61 games in the outfield last year between the DSL and AZL.
Ronaldo Hernandez, c, Rays Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Colombia, 2014.
At 15, Hernandez was the youngest player on Colombia’s 18U World Cup team in Taiwan in 2013. Hernandez was an infielder at the time, with the Rays drawn to his bat but intrigued about the idea of putting him behind the plate, so they signed him as a catcher for $225,000 in August 2014. Just before the 2015 DSL season began, Hernandez took a foul tip to the groin, had surgery and missed most of the season. He returned for the 2016 campaign and was one of the best hitters in the league. Hernandez had the third-lowest strikeout rate in the league among qualified hitters, showing superb bat control and plate coverage. Hernandez has a good offensive approach (he walked more than he struck out) and is more than just a contact-oriented hitter. There’s strength to his swing, with a good combination of pure hitting skills and power for a catcher. Hernandez is still playing catch-up with his defense, but he has improved behind the plate since signing and has the traits to stay back there, with soft hands, a tick above-average arm and a high-energy style.
Jose King, ss, Diamondbacks Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Signed for $75,000 in October 2015, Reyes is a premium athlete who also tied for second in the DSL in batting average last year in his debut. He’s an exciting player to watch because of his plus-plus speed, which gives him a chance to steal 50 bases. Reyes has a short, compact swing and good bat speed. He makes a lot of contact and can occasionally shoot a ball into the gap, but he might never crack double-digit home runs. His hitting approach is geared toward hitting line drives and keeping the ball on the ground, using his wheels to beat out infield hits and trying to disrupt the defense. King split time between shortstop and second base last year and improved his defense, showing quick hands and turning the double play well. He has a 45 arm and will probably be a better fit at second base.
Bryan Mata, rhp, Red Sox Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
The Red Sox started the year with a promising DSL team before MLB removed five of their Venezuelan prospects and made them free agents, including outfielder Albert Guaimaro, who signed with the Marlins for $800,000. Righthander Joan Martinez showed a huge fastball that reached 99 mph with good extension out of the DSL bullpen, but Boston’s best prospect from their DSL club is Mata, who projects as a starter. Mata, who signed for $25,000 in January 2016, has a tall, projectable frame and threw 87-90 mph when he signed, but since then he’s gotten stronger and now camps in the low-90s, touching 94 mph with more room to fill out. Mata has a sound delivery and is a good strike-thrower for his age. He has three-pitch starter’s mix with a curveball and changeup that could both be average offerings.
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Jeffri Ocando, rhp, Rockies Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 2016.
The Rockies don’t have an Arizona League team, so they send all of their international signings to the Dominican Summer League for their pro debuts. Outfielder Daniel Montano and righthander Anderson Amarista both showed promising skill and performance in the league, but the best prospect from that team right now is Ocando. The Rockies signed Ocando last year for $10,000 in May just before the season began. Usually there can be a transition period for a player signed that late to get accustomed to life in pro ball and the professional routine, but Ocando was outstanding from the start. Ocando has excellent feel for pitching, walking only one of the 84 batters he faced, pitching inside aggressively. When he signed, Ocando threw 88-91 mph, but by the end of the season he was sitting at 89-93 mph and reached 94. He hits his spots and manipulates his secondary pitches well for his age, with feel for a downer curveball and a changeup. Ocando will follow a pattern the Rockies have used with their other young Latin American prospects, going back to the DSL to open 2017 before jumping to Rookie-level Grand Junction when the Pioneer League season begins in mid-June.
Juan Ramirez, of Tigers Age: 18. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Ramirez, who signed for $185,000 on July 2, 2015, isn’t as tooled up or physical as fellow Tigers outfielder Darwin Alvarado, but he’s a more polished baseball player whose pure hitting ability stood out last year in his pro debut. Ramirez has a short lefty swing and a simple approach. He goes up to the plate with a plan, tracks pitches well and has excellent plate discipline, drawing nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts last year. Ramirez has a knack for barreling the baseball, producing a high contact rate with line drives to all fields. Ramirez isn’t that big, though he does strong legs and more physical projection than his size might suggest. His swing isn’t geared for loft, with an offensive skill set tilted more toward his on-base skills than power. Ramirez is a tick below-average runner, which creates some risk that he would have to move to right field and put more demands on his power output, but he’s shown the instincts to continue as a center fielder. He gets good reads off the bat and has an above-average arm.
Eguy Rosario, 2b/3b, Padres Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
Rosario signed with the Padres for $300,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 25, 2015, then played nearly the entire 2016 season as a 16-year-old. His youth didn’t deter him from being one of the top hitters in the DSL—he ranked fifth in the league in hitting and tied for third in doubles—before earning a promotion to the Rookie-level Arizona League for the last week of the season. Nicknamed “Eggy,” Rosario isn’t tall but he’s strong for his age, with a fiery, hard-nosed style. He has strong forearms, fast bat speed and a short stroke, with the ability to square up good velocity, keep the barrel through the hitting zone and hit hard, frequent line drives with gap power. An average runner, Rosario was a shortstop as an amateur, but he has a compact frame and split time between third and second base last year. Second base is probably where he’s best suited. He’s built like a catcher and some scouts have wondered what he would look like behind the plate, but with the Padres pushing him so quickly, that change isn’t in the Padres’ plans. Rosario is advanced enough that the Padres are jumping him to the low Class A Midwest League to start 2017.
Esteury Ruiz, ss/2b, Royals Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 150. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015.
When the Royals went over their international bonus pool in 2015-16, their primary acquisitions were Dominican outfielder Seuly Matias ($2.25 million) and Dominican shortstop Jeison Guzman ($1.5 million). They also added Ruiz for $100,000 in July 2015 and he has quickly looked like a bargain. Ruiz’s strong wrists and explosive hands generate excellent bat speed, allowing Ruiz to generate surprising exit velocity for someone with his wiry build. He squares up the ball for high contact frequency and smashes the ball with authority, generating loft and in-game power. It’s an exciting combination of hitting ability and power, especially once he adds strength that should give him a chance to hit 25 home runs. Ruiz played a little bit of shortstop last year but spent most of his time at second base. He looks more comfortable at second base and he doesn’t have the typical quickness for shortstop, so he probably fits best at second base going forward. He’s around an average runner with an average arm, with a chance to grow into an offensive-minded second baseman in the mold of Alfonso Soriano.
Carlos Soto, c, Cardinals Age: 17. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Signed: Mexico, 2016.
Soto, who is from Los Mochis, hit well at the 15U World Cup in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2014 and was eligible to sign in 2015, but a high asking price kept him from joining a major league club. The Cardinals signed him last year on July 2 when they went over their 2016-17 bonus pool and he immediately performed well in the DSL. Soto has exciting offensive potential as a pure hitter who controls the strike zone and has the strength in his swing to hit for power. He has good bat speed, buggy-whipping the barrel through the hitting zone. Soto has good plate discipline and is aggressive within the strike zone, hammering fastballs and recognizing spin to keep his hands back on breaking pitches. He loads his swing with a leg kick and times it well, putting himself into a good hitting position consistently. Soto focuses on being a good hitter first rather than selling out for power, but more home run power should come naturally given his strength and knack for making hard contact. The major risk with Soto is where he will play. He has an average arm and makes accurate throws, but he’s a heavy-bodied catcher who will have to improve his blocking, mobility and agility to stay behind the plate. Even if he does move to first base, though, there’s a chance he still hits enough to project there.
Victor Tademo, ss/3b, Twins Age: 17. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2015.
In 2013, the Twins signed Luis Arraez for $40,000 out of Venezuela. Arraez was small and light on tools, but he’s proven himself to be one of the best hitters in the lower levels of the system, winning the low Class A Midwest League batting title last year as a 19-year-old. Tademo doesn’t have quite the same bat control as Arraez, but he’s another bargain find by the Twins who stands out more for his hitting ability and savvy than his raw tools and athleticism. Tademo, signed for $10,000 in September 2015, has a knack for hitting, making frequent contact with good bat-to-ball skills. He’s not a big power threat, with a chance to hit 8-12 home runs, but he makes quality contact with a lot of line drives and occasional pop to his pull side. Tademo is an average runner with good baserunning instincts, which is why he was able to swipe 21 bases in 25 attempts. Tademo split time between shortstop and third base last year, with most of his time coming at third base. He has the arm for the left side of the infield, but his footwork and range make him a better fit at third base, though a move across the diamond to second base could be another option for him. His overall game IQ is high, with a chance to develop into an offensive-minded second or third baseman.
Carlos Vargas, ss, Rays Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015 (Mariners).
More and more, general managers are asking for DSL prospects in trades. Most of those requests never result in a deal, but the Rays were able to pry away Vargas from the Mariners in January along with outfielder Mallex Smith and lefthander Ryan Yarbrough in exchange for Drew Smyly. Vargas had been Seattle’s top international signing in 2015, when the Mariners landed him for $1.625 million. Vargas has a power stroke with over-the-fence pop that shows up in games. He tied for third in the DSL with seven home runs with plus raw power that could grow into a 70 tool as he physically matures. What separates Vargas from his peers who can hit the ball a long way is that he can discern the difference between balls and strikes with a patient plan at the plate. He’s a pull-oriented hitter whose offensive profile will be tilted more toward power than pure hitting ability, but the combination of power and walks is promising. Vargas played better than expected at shortstop in his debut, giving him a chance to stay at the position, though there’s still a strong probability he ends up at third base. He’s a below-average runner with an above-average arm.