2019 International Reviews: Chicago Cubs
July 2 was a bittersweet day for the Cubs. Shortly before the signing period opened, Carlos Reyes, a scout for the Cubs in the Dominican Republic for 19 years, died in June after he was hit by a car. A father of four children, Reyes was a key part of the organization's scouting efforts in the Dominican Republic, covering Santo Domingo into just west of the city in Bani, and he played an instrumental role in the club signing Eloy Jimenez in 2013. The Cubs dedicated their 2019 signing class in Carlito's memory.
The Cubs had a relatively smaller, focused class centered around three players this year. One of those signings was Ronnier Quintero, a 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher who trained in the Dominican Republic with Jaime Ramos. Quintero is an offensive-minded catcher with big power from the left side coming from his strong frame. His swing generates lift while his above-average bat speed and strength produce hard, loud contact, producing plus raw power now that could potentially still rise as he gets into his prime.
Quintero has an advanced ability to drive the ball with impact from left-center over to his pull side, both in batting practice and in games. He keeps his hands inside the ball well to use the opposite field gap or turn on balls when he needs to.
If everything clicks for Quintero, he has a chance to be a catcher who hits in the middle of a lineup. Scouts from other clubs were much more skeptical of Quintero's chances to stay behind the plate due to his receiving skills, though many of those looks are now a couple years old. The Cubs were higher on Quintero's defensive ability and felt he would stay at catcher. He has plenty of raw arm strength with a 60 arm.
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The 2018 Venezuelan catching group included Diego Cartaya (Dodgers), Francisco Alvarez (Mets), Antonio Gomez (Yankees) and Jose Rodriguez (Rangers), among others. For 2019, here's 15-year-old Ronnier Quintero, a lefthanded-hitting Venezuelan catcher with easy power from left-center over to his pull side.
Kevin Made, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who trained in the same program as Quintero, signed with the Cubs for $1.5 million. While Quintero is big and strong already, Made has a wiry, high-waist build (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) with long limbs.
Despite that lack of present physical development, Made has quick hands and strong wrists, putting a surprising charge into the ball to take the ball over the fence already. He has hit well in games from the right side of the plate with a high contact rate thanks to his hand-eye coordination and a selective approach for his age.
Made is a near average runner who should be able to stick at shortstop. He has good instincts at the position, charges the ball well and makes accurate throws from different angles. His arm is already flashing plus and, with his long arms and space to fill out, he could end up with a 70 arm once he packs on more weight.
The third player in the Cubs' main trio of 2019 international signings is Brayan Altuve, a 16-year-old catcher from Venezuela. Altuve is athletic, and not just athletic for a catcher. As July 2 approached, Altuve ran the 60-yard dash in a touch under 6.6 seconds, so he's even a plus runner. That speed is likely to slide back as he continues catching long term, but it's a signal of his athleticism that could potentially fit at other positions if necessary. He has the catch-and-throw attributes to stay behind the plate, though, and he has a solid-average arm. Altuve signed later than Quintero and Made, so his time at Dominican instructional league was abbreviated, but he put together quality at-bats in his brief stint there. His game performance as an amateur was up and down, but he has strong hands, plus bat speed and can drive the ball with impact when he squares it up. He has natural lift in his swing, though he can overswing and get too pull-heavy at times, something he's learning to better control in games. He's a high baseball IQ player who has the aptitude and athleticism to make adjustments. Altuve trained with Carlos Azocar.
Prior to July 2, during the end of the 2018-19 signing period, the Cubs also gave six-figure deals to a couple of Cuban players. One of them, Cristian More, is an 18-year-old center fielder who got $400,000 in March. More played in the Dominican Summer League and hit .252/.326/.268 in 31 games with 13 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Speed is More's best too. He's not that big (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) but he's a 70 runner with good defensive instincts and an average arm in center field. He's a lefthanded spray hitter whose defense is ahead of his bat.
That month the Cubs also paid $250,000 for Felix Stevens, a 20-year-old corner outfielder from Cuba. Stevens is a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and fairly athletic for his size, running a tick above-average underway with plus or better raw power. He has a big arm as well. When he was working out for teams in the Dominican Republic, Stevens even pitched and reached 95 mph off the mound, so pitching could still be a backup option if hitting doesn't work out. Stevens batted .280/.386/.491 with six home runs in 51 games in the DSL this past summer, with 26 walks and 62 strikeouts, with a lot of those swings and misses coming against breaking pitches.
While the Cubs put most of their pool money toward Quintero, Made and Altuve, there are a couple sleepers in the class generating some attention. One is 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Luis Maza, whose father by the same name played 45 big league games with the Dodgers in 2008. Maza (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) can play shortstop or second base with a pair of 55 tools in his speed and arm strength. He's a line-drive hitter from the left side with doubles power and good instincts for the game.
Another sleeper is 19-year-old righthander Edgar Mercedes, who signed for $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He's an extremely tall and slender 6-foot-8, 175 pounds with a fastball that has already reached 97 mph. It's a big fastball already and he could eventually throw triple digits once he puts weight on his body. It's an uncomfortable at-bat for hitters with his velocity and long limbs flying at them.