2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox remain one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to scouting in Venezuela, a country where scouts from the United States seldom travel any more. Four of their top five signing bonuses for 16-year-old players this year went to players from Venezuela, and they added one of the top sleepers in the class from that country as well.
That sleeper is 16-year-old righthander Luis Perales, a lower dollar sign on July 2, but he stacks up favorably with the best pitchers in the class. Perales, who trained with Luis Saborio, had a low profile as an amateur in Venezuela, though he touched 90 mph at the time. After signing, while playing in a Tricky League game against the Marlins in August, he ran his fastball up to 95 mph, and he has consistently pitched at 90-95 mph since then. It's a power four-seam fastball with late life and he produces that velocity from a relatively easy, repeatable delivery. Perales, who is 6-foot-1, 160 pounds, pairs his fastball with a tight-spinning curveball in the mid-70s that has a chance to develop into a true out pitch. He has shown good pitchability and control for his age as well, so while a lot of teams never heard about Perales, he's one of the top 2019 pitchers.
After the initial wave of July 2 signings, the Red Sox had more room in their bonus pool than a lot of other clubs, and they used $750,000 of that pool space to sign righthander Chih-Jung Liu from Taiwan. Liu is different than traditional July 2 signings, since he's already 20, but he comes with more advanced present stuff. In October, he played for Taiwan in the Asian Baseball Championship, where he earned MVP honors and led his team to a gold medal. Liu had pitched in high school, but after having some arm problems, he was playing the infield and coming out of the bullpen for his college team. He's 6 feet with a strong lower half and extremely quick arm speed on a fastball that reaches 99 mph. Liu is a good athlete who throws strikes and does it without a ton of effort in his mechanics. He's still developing his secondary stuff, led by a hard slider that's further along than a splitter that he throws but hasn't used much. Liu will develop as a starter and, given his age, might be ready for low Class A Greenville, though he could stay back in extended spring training first.
Among the more conventional July 2 deals, the biggest Red Sox signing last year was Juan Chacon, a 16-year-old Venezuelan outfielder who trained with Wilmer Becerra. Chacon, who performed well in games as an amateur, has an athletic frame (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) with a lot of physical upside. He has good hand-eye coordination and puts the ball in play consistently with a flat, line-drive path. He has gap power now, though his youth and build suggest more power should come once he adds strength. Chacon moves around well in the outfield with good instincts and he's a plus runner underway. That gives him a chance to play center field, though a lot of scouts expect he will eventually slide over to right field. Chacon and the rest of the Red Sox signings from Latin America are expected to debut in the Dominican Summer League.
Outfielder Jhostynxon Garcia, 16, was another Red Sox signing from Venezuela. At 6 feet, 165 pounds, Garcia doesn't have one plus carrying tool, but he's a well-rounded player and one of the better pure hitters this year in Venezuela. He performed well in games as an amateur with a simple, clean swing from the right side. He has an advanced approach for his age and does a good job of staying through the middle of the field. Garcia has a hit-over-power profile, though he hits the ball in air and could see his doubles power grow into more home runs once he gets stronger. Garcia isn't a burner, but he has a chance to stay in center field with average speed and arm strength. He trained with Jonathan Valdez.
Dominican infielder Lyonell James signed with the Red Sox for $440,000. James, 17, has a projectable build (6-foot-3, 160 pounds) and stood out for his offensive upside. He uses his hands well at the plate, whipping his barrel through the zone with quick, snappy wrists to generate fast bat speed. Those wrists and hand-eye coordination help him put the ball in play with doubles power that should tick up given his hand speed and physical projection. James is an offensive-minded player with a chance to play third base, where he has solid hands and an average arm. He trained with Alfredo Arias and is the younger brother of Axel James, a 17-year-old shortstop who hit .295/.356/.405 in 48 games for the DSL Red Sox in 2019.
Rivaldo Avila is an offensive-oriented catcher signed out of Venezuela. Avila, 17, is 6 feet, 175 pounds with strong wrists and forearms. He has a chance to be a power-hitting catcher, hitting the ball hard and getting on plane with the pitch well, with a knack for getting it airborne from right-center over to his pull side. Avila's offensive tools are more advanced than his defense. He has a fringe-average arm and will need to focus on his blocking and receiving to stay behind the plate. Avila trained with Vampirin.
Another Venezuelan prospect, shortstop Johnfrank Salazar, signed with the Red Sox after training with Carlos Guillen. Salazar is young for his class, so he had to wait until he turned 16 on Aug. 5 to sign. Because of his youth and lack of physical development on his long, skinny frame (6-foot-2, 160 pounds), Salazar is a deeper projection who is still waiting on strength, but he has quick hands and a knack for putting the ball in play from the right side of the plate. He will need to develop more range to stay at shortstop but he has an incredible arm. It's already close to a 70 tool and should be consistently there or higher once he fills out, to the point where pitching could be a backup option down the road.
The most athletic player in Boston's class was Kelvin Diaz, a center fielder from the Dominican Republic who got $300,000 after training with Cacha. Diaz spent time as a shortstop before signing, but the Red Sox are playing him in center field. He has a lean, lively frame (6-foot-1, 165 pounds) and is a plus runner. At 16 with his frame and easy running gait, there's a chance Diaz could get even faster, though that's always tricky to project. Diaz has a short, handsy swing from the right side with gap power.
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Dominican righthander Nathanael Cruz, who trained with John Carmona, signed for $200,000. Cruz has a big, athletic frame (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) at 16 and a big fastball for his age, reaching 93 mph with heavy sink from his low three-quarters arm slot. Once he fills out, he should be able to reach the mid-90s or better, though his strike-throwing can be erratic at times. He's a sinker/slider pitcher, with a slider that's more advanced than his changeup.
Another righthander, Cesar Ruiz, signed with the Red Sox out of Venezuela. He doesn't have as much present velocity as Cruz, but he has a lot of promising projection indicators for his future stuff. He's on the younger side of the 2019 class, having turned 16 in June, with a lot of space to fill out a projectable frame (6-foot-3, 170 pounds), a smooth delivery and easy arm action. Some of that projection has already started to materialize, with Mendez reaching 90 mph after touching 88 as an amateur, and he pairs his fastball with good spin and tight rotation on a low-70s curveball. Ruiz trained with Vampirin and Jean Gonzalez.
Another Venezuelan signing, Jose Mendez, is a defensive-oriented shortstop. At 17, Mendez is a wiry 6-foot-1, 155 pounds with quick-twitch actions in the field. An average runner, Mendez has good hands and a solid-average arm, though he will need more time time for his righthanded bat to catch up.