2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Arizona D-backs
The D-backs have two teams in the Dominican Summer League and came away with a deep 2019 signing class, adding more than 35 players already since July 2. The core of that class is heavy on infielders, with seven of their top eight signing bonuses going to players in the dirt.
Their top bonus went to 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Franyel Baez, who signed for $1 million out of the Mejia Top 10 program. At 6-foot-3, 170 pounds Baez has a tall, lanky frame with high physical upside, with a chance for all of his tools to jump once he packs on much-needed strength. Much of Baez's future is predicated on that physical projection coming together, as he's a switch-hitter who still has some rawness in games with swing-and-miss tendencies. He makes hard contact when he finds the sweet spot, with the projection to grow into plus raw power once he fills out. The D-backs have Baez in center field, though with a tick below-average speed, he's probably destined for a corner as he gets bigger.
The D-backs gave six-figure deals to a plethora of infielders. One of the best of the bunch is Ronny Polanco, who got $600,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 23. Had Polanco been born more than a week later, he would have been a 2020 player, so he's one of the youngest players in the 2019 class and will play nearly all of his first pro season as a 16-year-old. He played for the Dominican Republic last year in the U-15 World Cup in Panama, where he hit .385/.484/.538 with four walks, six strikeouts and a home run in 31 plate appearances. Polanco's power is his standout tool. He's 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, a stocky strong build with fast bat speed that produces glimpses of future plus raw power. He already hits balls out of the park to dead center in batting practice and has tapped into that power in games, including a pair of home runs against the wind blowing in during Tricky League. Polanco signed as a shortstop, though he figures to go to third or second base soon. He moves surprisingly well underway, running above-average times in the 60-yard dash, though he figures to settle in as an average runner. He might have enough athleticism and quickness for second base, with a 55 arm that would fit on the left side of the diamond as well. Polanco trained with Nolan Peña.
The D-backs paid $525,000 to sign Lewin de la Cruz, a Dominican shortstop who trained with Rudy Santin. Like Polanco, de la Cruz is one of the youngest players in the 2019 class, signing when he turned 16 on Aug. 7. He's grown to 6 feet, 160 pounds and shows good instincts for the game on both sides of the ball. He has a short, compact swing from both sides of the plate with good bat path through the hitting zone. He will probably end up having a hit-over-power profile, with gap shots now that could develop into more over-the-fence pop in the next few years. De la Cruz is a slightly above-average runner who looks like he should be able to handle shortstop, where he has good body control, charges the ball well and can throw on the run. If he has to move, he could develop into an above-average defender at second or third base.
Dominican shortstop Juan Corniel signed with the D-backs for $325,000. He's a true shortstop, a skinny 17-year-old (5-foot-11, 150 punds) who is loose, fluid and instinctive in the field. Corniel has slick defensive actions, with sweet hands, quick footwork and good body control. His arm is slightly above-average and should be plus once he adds muscle to his wiry build. Corniel doesn't have much strength yet, but he has a knack for making contact from both sides of the plate. He doesn't jump out in batting practice because he has little raw power and tends to cut off his swing, but he's better in games with his ability to put the ball in play, including against higher velocity arms. Corniel trained with Christian Irizarri.
The D-backs also gave $325,000 to 16-year-old Dominican infielder Jiter Heredia, who trained in the same program as Baez. Heredia is 5-foot-11, 165 pounds and stood out for his bat speed and power potential. He has a fast bat from the right side and hits the ball hard when he stays in sync and barrels the ball, with the potential for average or better power. Heredia gets himself into trouble when he pulls off the ball and flies open trying to yank the ball over the fence, leading to swing-and-miss tendencies, but he has shown signs of development there trying to stay square and work through the middle of the field. Heredia trained as a shortstop but has primarily spent time at third base since signing. He has a chance to stay there, though he will need more development there to avoid a move to the outfield.
Venezuelan shortstop Juan Aparicio signed with the D-backs on July 2. He's 6 feet, 165 pounds and has performed well in games, with a compact swing from the right side of the plate. He has occasional power, mostly a doubles threat right now, though he has enough strength projection to potentially grow into a 15-20 home run threat. Aparicio has a chance to stay at shortstop because he's a steady, fundamentally sound defender who makes the routine plays on balls he gets to, though he's a fringe-average runner and his range might lead him to second base.
Riquelmin Cabral is a 16-year-old Dominican infielder the D-backs signed on July 2. He's an offensive-minded player, a switch-hitter who has performed well in games with a loose, sound stroke from both sides of the plate. He's 5-foot-10, 165 pounds with a line-drive approach and occasional gap shots. Cabral has mostly seen action at second base, his likely defensive home.
Beyond Latin America, the D-backs signed Sheng-Ping Chen, a 19-year-old shortstop from Taiwan, for $300,000 on July 2. Chen is 5-foot-9, 165 pounds and stood out as an amateur in Taiwan for his hitting ability, loading up his lefthanded swing with a big leg kick and keeping his hands inside the ball well, with a gap-to-gap approach and a hit-over-power profile. Chen might see time at shortstop, though he may fit better at second base.
Nearly all of Arizona's top 2019 signings were position players. The top pitcher the club signed was Joe Elbis, a 17-year-old righthander from Venezuela. He has a good fastball for an extremely skinny build (6-foot-1, 150 pounds), reaching 91 mph. Elbis needs to get stronger, but when he does he should be able to develop a plus fastball with his quick arm speed. He can overthrow at times, but when he dials it back he's a solid strike-thrower. Elbis trained with Jerico Blanco.
Luis Suero signed with the D-backs for $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Suero, a 16, trained as a shortstop, but he kept growing to 6-foot-3 as July 2 and moved to center field about a month before his July 2 signing. He has the tools for center field, with impressive athleticism, plus speed and a slightly above-average arm that could still tick up. He has a short righthanded stroke, though his game performance has been up and down, with physical projection to add to his present gap power.
Third baseman Deyvison de los Santos, who signed with the D-backs for $200,000, was an offensive standout for the Dominican Republic last year at the U-15 World Cup in Panama. De los Santos ranked second in the tournament in slugging, hitting .417/.500/.792 with three walks, five strikeouts, a home run and six doubles in 28 plate appearances. De los Santos looks even bigger than his listed 6 feet, 190 pounds, with broad shoulders, a wide back and a strong lower half. He has an aggressive swing with some unorthodox elements to it, but his game performance has been loud. His advanced strength and physical maturity helps him produce a lot of hard contact in games, with good results hitting and hitting for power. De los Santos has a chance to stay at third base, though at his size there's some first base risk, so he will need to improve his footwork and monitor his mobility to remain at third. De los Santos was represented by Rob Plummer.
Angel Ortiz is a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder the D-backs landed for $200,000. Ortiz is the younger brother of Phillies outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz, who signed with the Phillies in 2015 for $4.01 million and played in low Class A Lakewood this year. While Jhailyn Ortiz has huge raw power but plenty of other question marks on his game, Angel has a more well-rounded skill set. He's a stocky strong 6 feet, 175 pounds and has shown a promising bat from the left side. He has a simple approach, a good eye for the strike zone and hits to all fields with occasional power. Ortiz is more athletic than he looks, with solid-average speed that could allow him to see some time in center, though more likely he will be a corner outfielder. Ortiz trained with Baltazar Mesa.
Ronal Antigua, another Dominican outfielder, signed for $190,000 and has similarities to Ortiz, albeit as a switch-hitter. At 16, Antigua is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and impressed the D-backs with his hitting ability and compact swing with gap power. He's a below-average runner who will be a corner outfielder.
Dominican shortstop Johan Benitez signed with the D-backs for $150,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 7. One of the younger players in the 2019 class, Benitez has a high physical upside with plenty of room to add strength to his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame. He has a loose, sound stroke from the right side and makes a lot of contact in games with an aggressive approach and gap power that should increase once he fills out. He shows a good baseball IQ for his age and has a chance to stick at shortstop, though at his size he might bounce around the infield to see time at third or second base.
Junior Franco is a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder the D-backs signed for $125,000 and he quickly stood out for his high-level performance in Tricky League. Franco isn't that big (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but he's a lefty with a well-rounded skill set, with plus speed to handle center field and a knack for getting on base. He has an advanced hitting approach for his age, making consistent contact in games and driving the ball with surprising impact for his size. He can drive the ball out of the park on occasion already, though his offensive profile will probably lean more on his on-base skills. He's a high baseball IQ player who already has feel for stealing bases and how to bunt.
Juan Garcia, a $100,000 signing from the Dominican Republic, projects to stick at shortstop and is another player with a fairly well-rounded skill set for his age. Garcia, 16, is 5-foot-10, 165 pounds and projects to stay at shortstop, where he has good hands and a strong arm, along with solid bat-to-ball skills and a line-drive approach from both sides of the plate.
Diosfran Cabeza, another July 2 infielder the D-backs added, is an intriguing sleeper from Venezuela who trained with Vampirin. He's a switch-hitting second baseman (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) with excellent instincts for a 16-year-old, showing feel for hitting in games from both sides of the plate and good hands in the field.