2018-19 International Reviews: New York Yankees
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 2018 (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 69
Cuban shortstop Alexander Vargas received the Yankees' top bonus of the international signing period, landing a $2.5 million deal at the end of July. That ended up being a surprise. The Reds, who are under the $300,000 penalty for the current 2018-19 signing, were expecting to sign Vargas this year on July 2 when the 2019-20 period opens and their signing restrictions end, but Vargas instead ended up going to the Yankees. Vargas, 17, played for Matanzas in Cuba's 15U national league in 2016, batting .296/.395/.449 with 14 walks and eight strikeouts in 116 plate appearances. In 2017, he jumped to the 18U league and batted .232/.315/.316 in 110 plate appearances. Vargas is a speedy shortstop who stood out for his athleticism and defense. His hands and feet work well in the field, with good body control, arm strength and a nose for the ball. A switch-hitter, Vargas has solid bat-to-ball skills, though at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, he doesn't have much strength to impact the ball.
The Yankees' biggest bonus for a 16-year-old international player went to Dominican center fielder Kevin Alcantara, who signed for $1 million when he turned 16 on July 12. Outfielders Everson Pereira and Antonio Cabello were seven-figure international signings in 2017 who jumped into the Yankees' Top 10 Prospects after the 2018 season, and while Alcantara is a different type of player, he could follow that path. Alcantara is the best defender of the three, a tall, sleek athlete (6-foot-5, 175 pounds) who glides around center field with long strides and 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale to go with a strong arm. Alcantara works at tracking and running down balls in the outfield during batting practice and it shows, with advanced instincts and sharp routes. There are few 6-foot-5 center fielders in the majors, but as long as Alcantara maintains at least plus speed, he could be a center fielder along the lines of Dexter Fowler. Alcantara is a long-armed hitter who some scouts thought would have holes in his swing, but Yankees scouts saw him hit well in games consistently as an amateur. Before signing, Alcantara showed occasional pull power, but that has jumped to plus.
The top Venezuelan prospect the Yankees added last year was Antonio Gomez, a catcher represented by Felix Luzon who signed on July 2. Gomez has the tools to be an elite defensive catcher. His throwing is remarkably advanced for a 17-year-old, with his arm earning 70 grades from some scouts. More than just pure arm strength, Gomez gets rid of the ball in a flash with quick footwork and fast hands on his exchange. That leads to pop times that regularly get below 1.9 seconds, including a 1.83 at the MLB international showcase last year in February. Gomez does need more work on his receiving, but his hands and more experience should help bring that along in time. Gomez is also a fluent English speaker already who works well with pitchers. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Gomez doesn't have the same level of hitting track record as Dodgers catcher Diego Cartaya or Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez, but he showed improvements with the bat as an amateur. With an upright stance, Gomez has solid contact skills from the right side, turning around plus fastballs and using the whole field. His ability to drive the ball into the gaps trended up too, with a chance to grow into average power.
For $600,000, the Yankees signed 17-year-old Cuban righthander Osiel Rodriguez. He was the top ranked pitcher going into July 2, so while there's major risk with any pitcher signed at 16 years old, that could end up a relative bargain. Before Rodriguez left Cuba, he was the country's best pitcher his age. He pitched in Cuba's 15U national league as a 14-year-old in 2016 and led the league in ERA (0.39) in 69 innings, with 123 strikeouts and 27 walks. After the season, he pitched for the Cuban team that won a gold medal at the 15U World Cup in Japan, with Rodriguez holding down a 1.50 ERA with 14 strikeouts and three walks in two starts. In Japan, Rodriguez was 6 feet, 165 pounds throwing in the mid-80s as a 14-year-old. When he worked out for clubs in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez was taller, stronger and showing electric stuff for his age. Up to 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Rodriguez reached 96 mph as a 15-year-old, making him one of the hardest throwers in the class. His velocity wavered depending on when scouts saw him, but he was usually around 90-94 mph with late life. Rodriguez pairs his heater with a slider he leans on heavily. He varies his arm slot, giving the pitch different break depending on his angle, but it flashes plus and gets a high swing-and-miss rate. Rodriguez also shows feel for a splitter/changeup. More than just pure stuff, Rodriguez separates himself with his pitchability, making for an impressive combination of power and feel. Several scouts expressed concern about Rodriguez's delivery and arm action, but it hasn't hampered his ability to throw strikes. He's advanced enough that he could start his career in the United States.
Another Cuban pitcher the Yankees signed, Denny Larrondo, got $550,00 on July 2. Larrondo is a pitcher, but he was also one of the better athletes in the 2018 class. He was a two-way player for Villa Clara in Cuba's 15U national league in 2016, splitting his time between the mound, shortstop and occasionally in center field. He posted a 3.82 ERA with a 39-17 K-BB mark in 35.1 innings that year. Now a full-time pitcher, Larrondo's athleticism shows on the mound and his quick arm helps him fire off fastballs at 89-91 mph and up to 93 mph at 16 years old. With his youth, lean build (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) and fast arm speed, more velocity should be coming. It's an impressive fastball for his age, but his curveball might end up the better pitch. Larrondo tends to get around the side of his curveball, but when he snaps it off right it's a tight-spinning, 71-76 mph pitch that can dive underneath barrels. He's mostly around the strike zone, with the athleticism and body control that bodes well for his future command.
Agustin Ramirez signed with the Yankees on July 2 for $400,000, the highest bonus of the signing period for a Dominican catcher. Whether Ramirez stays behind the plate is in question, but he stood out for his offensive ability. At 17, Ramirez has a strong, stocky build (6 feet, 200 pounds) with a powerful, compact stroke from the right side. He has good hitting actions, and while he's had trouble at times with breaking pitches, he pounds fastballs to all fields, with a chance for average to above-average power in the future. With a fringe-average arm, Ramirez has a chance to stay behind the plate and avoid a move to first base, but he will need to improve his receiving and throwing to do so. He trained with Pablo Sosa.
Dayro Perez is a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop the Yankees signed for $350,000 on July 2. With broad shoulders on a lean, 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame, Perez is a quick-burst athlete whose speed and arm strength both grade out as plus tools. Perez sticks out more for his defense and athleticism than his righthanded bat, though the Yankees have been encouraged as he's started to incorporate his lower half into his swing better since signing.
The Yankees also gave $350,000 on July 2 to 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Maikol Escotto out of Cristian Pimentel's program. He's 5-foot-11, 175 pounds with above-average speed, solid hands and a good arm with a compact throwing stroke. He's a righthanded hitter with quick hands at the plate and gap power.
Righthander Juan Carela has already trended up since signing with the Yankees for $335,000 on July 2. Early in the scouting process, Carela generated attention as one of the better 2018 pitching prospects in the Dominican Republic, with a projectable 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, but he didn't end up distinguishing himself from the slew of other arms throwing 86-89 mph. Yankees scouts in the Dominican Republic stayed on him, and as July 2 approached, Carela was touching 92 mph. After signing, Carela's velocity spiked again when he reached 96 mph at Dominican instructional league. At 17 with more physical projection remaining, Carela's fastball could continue to climb, and he pairs it with a sharp-breaking curveball. His delivery doesn't have much effort and he's a sound strike-thrower for his age. Carela trained with Chiqui Mejia.
While there was talk that Dominican outfielder Mauro Bonifacio would sign with the Yankees when he became eligible in 2017, he ended up waiting until July 2, 2018 to sign with them for $300,000. The cutoff date to be eligible to sign in a given year is Sept. 1, and since Bonifacio turned 17 last year on Aug. 31, he's a day away from being a true 2018 eligible player anyway. Bonifacio is young, but he's also enormous at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. He stands out for his big raw power from the right side, but he will have to make adjustments to cut down on his strikeouts. He moves well for his extra-large body type, with solid-average speed and an average arm in a corner. Bonifacio trained with Welington Gonzalez.
D'Vaughn Knowles, an 18-year-old center fielder from the Bahamas, signed with the Yankees for $300,000 on July 2. His twin brother, D'Shawn Knowles, is a center fielder who signed with the Angels in 2017 and played in Rookie ball last year. D'Vaughn sticks out for his athleticism and ability to play a premium position, with plus speed and a strong arm in center field. At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Knowles is a righthanded hitter whose hands work well at the plate, making hard contact when he squares it up, but he will need time for his in-game hitting ability to develop as he works to sync up his upper and lower halves.
Cuban shortstop Carlos Verdecia signed with the Yankees for $275,000 in October. A 17-year-old switch-hitter, Veredcia raked when he played in Cuba's junior national leagues. He played for Matanzas in Cuba's 15U league in 2017, batting .434/.591/.723 in 115 plate appearances with 32 walks (including a league-high 11 intentional walks) and one strikeout. Yes, one strikeout ... not a typo. He ranked fifth in the league in batting average, first in slugging and his 15 stolen bases tied for third. Verdecia's hitting ability is his calling card. He's 5-foot-11, 170 pounds with good hand-eye coordination, making frequent contact. It's a hit-over-power profile, though he can take the ball over the fence and could develop average power. Verdecia has an average arm with the hands to play in the middle infield, though he sticks out more for his bat and could end up at second base.
The Yankees paid $225,000 to sign 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Marcos Cabrera on July 2 from the MC Baseball Academy. He's a lean, well-proportioned, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, with a sound righthanded swing and a chance to grow into a power hitter given his strength projection. His hands and footwork probably fit better at third base, especially once he fills out, with an above-average arm that would fit well at third.
The Yankees signed Dominican outfielder Felix Negueis for $200,000 in August. He's 6-foot-2, 185 pounds with a good combination of tools as an above-average runner with a fast bat from the right side. If he retains his speed, he has a chance to develop into a power/speed threat in center field. Negueis trained with Nercy Brito.
How Some International Signings Find Upside In Low Signing Bonuses
Teams fill Dominican Summer League roster holes with signings of $10,000 or less.
See also: 2017-18 Yankees International Review (Notable prospects Everson Pereira, Antonio Cabello)
See also: 2016-17 Yankees International Review (Notable prospect Roansy Contreras)
See also: 2015-16 Yankees International Review (Notable prospects Estevan Florial, Deivi Garcia, Luis Medina)
See also: 2014-15 Yankees International Review
See also: 2013-14 Yankees International Review
See also: 2012-13 Yankees International Review
See also: 2011-12 AL East International Review (Notable prospects Luis Severino, Miguel Andujar)
See also: 2010-11 AL East International Review