2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Los Angeles Angels
The Angels signed two of the best shortstops in the 2019 class, while also coming away with a mix of promising pitching prospects in the low six-figure and under range.
They added one of the premium players available this year, signing 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Arol Vera on July 2. Vera, represented by Felix Olivo, is a large-framed shortstop who has grown to 6-foot-3, 187 pounds with advanced game skills for his age. He's a switch hitter who performed well in games in Venezuela, with good rhythm and balance from both sides of the plate. He has an extra hand wiggle to get his swing started, but he's consistently on time with good bat path through the hitting zone. He does a good job of controlling the strike zone and putting together quality at-bats.
Vera has grown taller and gotten stronger over the past year, making him a more physical player who's starting to hit the ball over the fence with the projection to grow into plus power. Vera offers considerable upside, though whether he stays at shortstop is more of a question. A fringe-average runner, Vera is already big and looks like he might end up at third base, but his defense has improved over the past year to give him a chance at shortstop. Vera reads swings, tracks the ball well off the bat well and has a knack for reading hops, but he will need to improve his first-step quickness to have the range for shortstop, especially as he fills out. His arm strength has improved to become a solid-average tool, with a quick release and comfort dropping down to make throws from different angles.
The second switch-hitting shortstop the Angels picked up in their 2019 class, 16-year-old Adrian Placencia, signed for $1.1 million out of the Dominican Republic after training with Chapita. Placencia drew attention early on as a small-framed, baseball rat with a hyper competitive edge, but he's grown to 5-foot-11, 155 pounds and puts an impressive charge into the ball for his size. He has sound swing mechanics, takes quality at-bats and makes hard, loud contact when he squares it up, with lift in his stroke and a chance to develop above-average raw power. Placencia is athletic enough to play in the middle infield, though he might fit better at second base. He's a below-average runner underway but he accelerates quickly, has soft hands and an average arm with a quick exchange.
The third key bat from the Angels' class was 17-year-old shortstop Jose Bonilla, who got $600,000. Bonilla was eligible to sign in 2018 and was expected to sign with the Angels then, but he waited to sign until July 2 this year. Because of his age, Bonilla was able to play right away in the Dominican Summer League and performed well there, batting .284/.402/.405 with 14 walks and 19 strikeouts in 92 plate appearances. Bonilla has a strong, physical build (6 feet, 190 pounds) with a good balance of patience and power. He showed good strike-zone judgment in his pro debut, and while he didn't go deep in a game, he flashes average raw power that should grow to plus in the next few years.
Bonilla spent most of his time in the DSL at shortstop, but he also saw time at third base, with the hot corner more than likely his future home. A below-average runner, Bonilla positions himself well and has good reactions off the bat, but his footwork and range are better suited at third base, especially with a body type that projects to get even bigger. His best tool in the field is his outstanding arm, grading out at least plus and flashing signs of becoming a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Bonilla trained with Nolan Peña.
Beyond their big bats, the Angels also added an intriguing mix of arms for lower six-figure deals. They signed Adrian Peña, a 17-year-old righthander from Venezuela with a projectable 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame. It's a tall build with downhill play from a high slot, with positive projection arrows between his body type and mechanics. He has a smooth delivery and good arm action, and once he gains weight, he should be able to grow a fastball that sits in the upper-80s and reaches 91 mph. He shows feel at times for a curveball that's ahead of his changeup. Peña trained with Carlos Gavidia.
Another Venezuelan pitcher, Leonard Garcia, signed with the Angels when he turned 16 on Aug. 11. He's young for his class, only a few weeks away from being a 2020 prospect, so he will play nearly all of his first season as a 16-year-old. He's 6-foot-1, 165 pounds with a good delivery and arm action and a fastball that has crept up to touch 90 mph. He's a strike-thrower who has flashed feel for spinning a breaking ball.
Sandi Charle, a 17-year-old Dominican righthander the Angels signed for $190,000, is 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, with long arms and legs flying everywhere in his crossfire delivery, creating uncomfortable at-bats for hitters. Charle has a long arm stroke and a lot to clean up mechanically, which is pretty typical for a teenage pitcher his height, but he has a chance to be a power arm with surprising touch and feel for his offspeed stuff. Charle's tailing fastball reaches 91 mph and he has the physical projection to throw in the mid-90s or better once he fills out and becomes more efficient with his mechanics. Throwing strikes will be key for Charle, who has shown positive strides in that area over the past year, but it will probably take time for him to learn to sync up his delivery consistently. Charle isn't polished, but he can miss bats with his offspeed stuff, particularly his slider, which has tight spin and late diving, horizontal break, making it a potential plus pitch. He's just learning a changeup but he has huge hands and has shown early signs of feel for that pitch as well. Charle trained with Nersy Brito.
At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Reggie Valdez isn't quite as tall as Charle, but he's another Dominican righthander with a long wingspan who has a chance to be a hard thrower. A 17-year-old who signed for $150,000, Valdez has long, whippy arm action, with a fastball that parks in the upper-80s and reaches 91 mph. With the way he's built and how his arm work, he has a chance to develop into a power arm, with a riding four-seam fastball that hops over bats and feel for spinning a curveball. Coordinating those long limbs in his delivery will be key for Valdez to be able to throw more strikes. He trained with Roberto Ramirez, known as Cadre.
Julio Torres, who trained with William Valdez, is a 16-year-old Dominican lefty the Angels signed for $175,000. He's 6 feet, 165 pounds, throws a lot of strikes and generates ground balls with a sinker/slider approach. He throws a little across his body with solid delivery that he repeats well, mixing a fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s and a high-spin breaking ball with three-quarters action.
Venezuelan catcher Yeremi Villahermosa was another July 2 signing for the Angels, but after signing he had Tommy John surgery, so he's going to miss the 2020 season. Villahermosa, 17, has a smaller frame (5-foot-8, 150 pounds) but stood out for his high-level performance in amateur games in Venezuela. He's a switch-hitter with an unconventional stroke that has worked against live pitching, controlling the strike zone and putting the ball in play with doubles power. His bat is ahead of his glove, but he has sound hands and is athletic, so second base or possibly the outfield could be other options for him. He trained with Poaldi Group.
Among the more under-the-radar pitchers to watch from the team's 2019 class, one is Alex Martinez, who signed for $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Martinez is a smaller-framed righthander (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) who showed a good breaking ball and a mid-80s fastball as an amateur, with his stuff quickly trending up over the past few months. Martinez, 17, struck out all six batters he faced in a Tricky League game I watched against the Orioles in August, on a day where his fastball reached 90-91 mph. He has since been up to 93 and continues to miss bats with his curveball, which has tight spin, good depth and could develop into an above-average pitch. Martinez, who pitched for the Dominican Republic in the 2015 Little League World Series, trained with Edgar Blanco.
Righthander Enderjer Sifontes, a July 2 signing from Venezuela, is 6 feet, 145 pounds with a long-armed, gangly build and a fastball that has been up to 91 mph. The 17-year-old throws from a high, over-the-top arm slot and his fastball plays up because his long arms help him generate a lot of extension out front and the pitch has a lot of movement, although his control can come and go.
Another Venezuelan sleeper to keep an eye on is 16-year-old righthander Alejandro Hidalgo. An injury to his right arm that resulted in surgery to place a screw in his right elbow dampened his stock as an amateur, but he shows a quick arm and has been up to 93 mph. He's 6-foot-1, 155 pounds with an aggressive delivery and a chance to throw in the mid-90s given his physical projection and arm speed.