2018-19 International Reviews: Tampa Bay Rays
This is part of Ben Badler's 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total signings (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018): 41
After the 2018 season ended, the Rays made a push to sign Cuban center fielder Victor Victor Mesa, but he ultimately signed for $5.25 million with the Marlins, who had more money left over in their international bonus pool at the time. The Marlins had all that pool space remaining in part because they never ended up signing Cuban righthander Sandy Gaston, as initially expected. With Gaston still available after Victor Victor signed, the Rays signed him for $2.61 million in November, making him the club's most expensive signing of the 2018-19 period.
While in Cuba, Gaston pitched in the country's 15U national league in 2016. He ranked third in the league with a 1.22 ERA, striking out 77 with 27 walks in 66.1 innings. Despite his success and being a hard thrower for his age, Gaston didn't join the Cuban team that played in the 15U World Cup in Japan that year. During the season, Gaston threw from a lower arm angle, but afterward, coaches in Cuba changed his mechanics to throw from a higher slot. His control suffered, and Gaston struggled the next year when he moved up to Cuba's 18U league. Gaston was a 15-year-old pitching in an 18U league, but he walked more batters (47) than he struck out (46) in 47 innings and finished with a 5.55 ERA.
After leaving Cuba, Gaston's grew to 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and his velocity climbed to the point where he reached 100 mph in May, making him one of the hardest throwing 16-year-olds ever. Now 17, Gaston pumps extreme velocity for his age, but he will have to show he's more than a one-trick pony. His arsenal includes a slider, a curveball, a changeup and a splitter, but he hasn't shown much feel yet for his secondary stuff. He has a long arm stroke and his bouts of wildness continued in the Dominican Republic, though the Rays were encouraged with the progress they saw him make as he got closer to signing, to the point where he might pitch this year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
When the 2018-19 signing period opened last year on July 2, the Rays' biggest signing at the time was Alejandro Pie, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop they gave $1.385 million. Pie, who trained with Astin Jacobo, is 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, an unusually long, rangy body type for a shortstop. While some scouts looked at Pie's build and thought he might be a future third baseman or outfielder, Pie is a good athlete who is nimble at shortstop with good body control for his size. An above-average runner, Pie has a good internal clock in the field and reads the ball well off the bat, ranging well to both sides and charging in on the ball. He has a plus arm that could get even stronger once he fills out, with Pie already starting to add strength to a still-lean frame. Pie has solid bat speed and makes hard contact when he gets a fastball in the strike zone. He's an aggressive swinger who will have to improve his breaking ball recognition and plate discipline to cut down on his swing-and-miss rate. With his size, Pie could develop average to plus power in the future.
Dominican shortstop Daury del Rosario was initially expected to sign with the Rangers, but he ended up going to Tampa Bay on July 2 for a $600,000 bonus after training with Luis Scheker. Del Rosario, 17, has grown an inch since signing to 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, and he impressed scouts highest on him for his ability to hit from both sides of the plate with a simple setup and a consistent, repeatable swing. When del Rosario signed, he had gap power, with more strength since then helping him drive the ball for more damage. With average speed and arm strength, Del Rosario doesn't have any standout tools, and his defensive future is still up in the air. He's at shortstop now, but his range and actions fit better at third base, with some scouts projecting him as a corner outfielder.
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Estanli Castillo drew a lot of attention early in the scouting process for his power bat before signing with the Rays on July 2 for $325,000. A 17-year-old corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic, Castillo is a physical, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and his plus raw power ranked among the elite in the class. He's big and extremely strong, with fast bat speed on a swing that isn't long but has a steep, uphill path. When Castillo is on time, that leads to deep, towering blasts to his pull side, though his barrel doesn't stay on plane long, so he often gets underneath the ball or swings and misses. Improving his pitch recognition to keep his weight back against offspeed stuff will be key for Castillo to better tap into that power in games instead of just dazzling in batting practice. At times, Castillo has shown plus arm strength, which would fit in right field, though there's some risk he could end up at first base if he gets too big. Castillo trained with Nube.
The Rays also gave $325,000 to Dominican righthander Justino Dominguez on July 2. Dominguez is 6 feet, 175 pounds with a good delivery and a fastball that's been up to 91 mph. An athletic pitcher with a loose, quick arm action, there's projection for Dominguez to throw considerably harder. He commands his fastball fairly well for his age and separates himself with a true downer curveball with good shape, depth and rotation. Dominguez trained with Carlos Guzman.
The Rays signed a few notable pitchers out of Venezuela last year on July 2, including 17-year-old lefthander Daniel Gonzalez, who trained with Agustin Gomez and Wilfredo Polidor. Gonzalez is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with a quick, whippy arm and a fastball between 86-90 mph, feel to spin a curveball and the projection indicators suggesting more velocity is coming.
Another 17-year-old Venezuelan lefty they signed, Bryan Dum, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with starter components between his delivery and three-pitch mix. He throws downhill with tailing action on an 87-90 mph fastball, showing feel to spin a low-70s breaking ball and a solid changeup for his age. Dum trained with Armando Galindo.
A third noteworthy Venezuelan pitcher the Rays signed on July 2, 17-year-old righthander Anthony Molina is 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with good arm speed on an 87-90 mph fastball. He showed solid fastball command with the projection to throw more consistently in the low 90s once he gets stronger, complementing his fastball with a low-70s curveball.
Shortstops Rainer Polonius and Ryson Polonius are identical twins from Curacao who each signed with the Rays for $100,000 on July 2. They're highly similar players, in terms of body type, athleticism, tools and overall baseball acumen. At 17, they're extremely skinny (6 feet, 145 pounds) and physically behind their peers from the Dominican Republic, but they're both quick-twitch athletes with plus speed. They handle themselves well at shortstop with a quick first step and good hands, with Ryson showing a little more arm strength. They have similar swings from the left side, geared toward line drives and putting the ball on the ground with limited power. Scouts going back and forth on which one is the better hitter, but they've generally shown good bat control and ability to square up hard velocity.
Later in the year, the Rays gave $91,000 to Samuel Cruz, a 17-year-old Dominican righthander who signed in November. Cruz had been training last year as an outfielder, with his arm strength far ahead of his bat. He moved to the mound before signing with the Rays and looks better there, with a fastball that's already 88-93 mph and more coming once he fills out his highly projectable, 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame. He's new to pitching so he's still a project, but he has a loose, fast arm and a fairly good delivery given his inexperience.