International Reviews: Cincinnati Reds
Top signing: SS Alfredo Rodriguez, Cuba, $7 million.
Total signings: 44.
The Reds exceeded their international bonus pool in 2016-17, even though they didn’t spend more than $200,000 on any player from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. That’s because Cincinnati’s international signing class was heavily focused on signing a pair of Cuban prospects. The 2016-17 signing period continues until June 15, so it’s possible the Reds could add to their class over the next two months before they are unable to sign anyone subject to the pools for more than $300,000 during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 periods.
When the Reds went over their pool last year on July 2, they did it to sign 22-year-old Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez for $7 million. It originally looked like the Reds were going to sign Rodriguez for $6 million during the 2015-16 signing period, which would have put them under the penalty for the current period, but instead they audibled and got Rodriguez to wait until July 2 to sign for an extra $1 million.
In Cuba, Rodriguez won the rookie of the year award in his lone Serie Nacional season in 2014-15, though the fact that outfielder Yusniel Diaz left Cuba before they announced the award winner played a role in that. Rodriguez didn’t perform well at the plate, batting .265/.301/.284 in 304 plate appearances with 11 walks, 38 strikeouts and just four extra-base hits, but he excelled in the field, winning a gold glove.
While the Reds paid a heavy price to sign Rodriguez both in terms of money and the penalty, they felt they had a chance to sign a true shortstop whose defense isn’t easy to find in the draft. Defense is where Rodriguez shines. He’s a plus runner with a quick first step, getting excellent reads off the bat to give him good range for the position. Rodriguez is smooth, agile and light on his feet with the ability to make acrobatic plays. He’s bulked up significantly since he left Cuba to 6 feet, 190 pounds, which has helped his arm tick up as well. If everything clicks for Rodriguez, he could hit toward the bottom of a major league lineup, but there’s a lot of risk for him to get there. His righthanded swing needs work and he swings at too many pitches, showing vulnerability especially against breaking pitches outside the strike zone. A singles hitter in Cuba, Rodriguez’s extra bulk has increased his power, though it’s mostly to the gaps. He’s opening this season with high Class A Daytona.
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After signing Rodriguez, the Reds added 21-year-old Cuban righthander Vladimir Gutierrez for $4.75 million in September. Gutierrez is the better prospect than Rodriguez, though it took him a while to get straightened out after he left Cuba and began showcasing for teams. In Cuba, Gutierrez was one of the country’s top arms, winning Serie Nacional rookie of the year honors in 2013-14 and following it up with a better season in 2014-15, when he posted a 2.45 ERA in 51.3 innings with 49 strikeouts and 19 walks.
Once Gutierrez started throwing in front of scouts in the summer of 2015 after he left Cuba, though, his mechanics looked out of sync and his stuff was flat. He was able to get straightened out, incorporating his lower half into his delivery better, and his stuff jumped in 2016 before he signed with the Reds. Today, Gutierrez sits at 91-95 mph and reaches 97 with a lively fastball. His power curveball has tight spin, sharp break and good depth at 78-81 mph. It’s a plus offering and his go-to pitch when he’s looking for a swing-and-miss. In Cuba, Gutierrez threw almost exclusively fastballs and curveballs. When he did toy around with an occasional changeup, he showed feel for that pitch, and the Reds forcing him to throw it more has helped him give him another potential above-average pitch, though he’s still learning to keep it down in the zone.
Gutierrez has the three-pitch mix to project as a midrotation starter, though his durability to handle a starter’s workload has never been tested since he operated out of the bullpen in Cuba. He’s starting his career with Rodriguez in Daytona.
In October, the Reds signed Victor Ruiz from Tijuana in the Mexican League after he played that month in the COPABE 18U Pan American Championships. While Ruiz showcased as a third baseman, he has experience as a catcher and the Reds have put him behind the plate. Ruiz, 17, is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and showed a plus arm and soft hands at third base, attributes that should translate in his move to catcher. Ruiz has a promising righthanded bat with a sound approach for his age and average raw power.
Axel Aleixo is a 17-year-old, lefthanded outfielder the Reds signed for $180,000 in July. He has an athletic, projectable frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) with good bat speed and a line-drive approach. Aleixo is an average runner with good actions and instincts in the outfield, which should give him a chance to play center field. His arm is fringe-average but with good throwing mechanics that could lead it to improve once he gets stronger. Aleixo trained with Francisco Ortiz.
Dominican shortstop Jeison Rijo, who trained with Alfredo Arias, signed for $130,000 in August. He’s a 17-year-old, defensive-minded shortstop with slick actions, smooth hands and the ability to make off-balance throws with an average arm and average speed. At 6 feet, 165 pounds, Rijo is a righthanded hitter with an aggressive approach and minimal power right now.
Venezuelan shortstop Aiverson Palacios, 16, signed with the Reds for $120,000 in October after training with Roberto Vahlis. He’s another defensive-oriented shortstop with quick hands and footwork, though his fringe-average arm will have to improve to stay at shortstop. A below-average runner, Palacios is a righthanded hitter with occasional doubles power, with his glove ahead of his bat.
Just before the 2015-16 signing period ended, the Reds signed 18-year-old Dominican outfielder Jorge Sencion for $130,000 in June. Sencion stands out for his physicality (6-foot-, 200 pounds) with average speed and arm strength. His power doesn’t match his size yet, showing mostly gap power from the right side.