2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers signed the top 2018 prospect out of Venezuela, catcher Diego Cartaya, who immediately made a strong impression on pro scouts in his debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he ranked as the AZL's No. 5 prospect.
This year, the Dodgers again added an elite Venezuelan talent who is arguably the country's best prospect for 2019, signing 17-year-old center fielder Luis Rodriguez on July 2.
Rodriguez was born and raised in Venezuela, but he spent a lot of time before signing in the Dominican Republic while training with Angel Valladares. He's a well-rounded player with potential to be an impact hitter. He combines an impressive balance of tools, game skills and athleticism with a chance to play a premium position. As an amateur in Venezuela, Rodriguez consistently hit well and hit for power in games. He has an athletic frame (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) with space to fill out. He has an outstanding swing that's compact and explodes into the hitting zone, with bat speed that helps him square up high velocity. He's calm, balanced and keeps his hands quiet, taking a direct, short path to the ball with his bat head staying through the hitting zone for a long time with good finish. That leads to a lot of barrels in games, with good bat control and a simple, all-fields approach. Rodriguez is a disciplined hitter with a sharp eye, staying within the strike zone and recognizing pitches well for his age. His ability to recognize pitches well helps him barrel both fastballs and soft pitches. Rodriguez has an exciting combination of contact and impact. He already hits for power in games, with at least average raw power now that should be plus soon, with the ability to hit home runs to the middle of the field in games already.
Rodriguez has a potential impact bat with a chance to stay in center field. He's not an elite runner, but he has above-average speed with an easy gait. Some scouts thought there was risk he might get too big as he gets older and could end up on a corner, but as long as Rodriguez doesn't grow sideways and is able to retain that running ability, he should be able to stay in center field. His excellent defensive instincts help, with Rodriguez getting good reads off the bat and taking efficient routes. He glides around gracefully in center field, running balls down well from all angles and throwing with a solid-average arm.
The Dodgers signed Yeiner Fernandez, an offensive-minded catcher from Venezuela, out of the same program (Alexi Quiroz) where they got their top 2018 signing, catcher Diego Cartaya. Fernandez played for Venezuela in the 2015 Little League World Series and developed into one of the top catchers in the class. Fernandez, 17, has a compact body type (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) and stood out as one of the better hitters in games among 2019 players in Venezuela. Fernandez consistently hit well and showed power against live pitching. He has an aggressive approach, with an approach where he looks to drive the ball for extra-base damage, but he also makes plenty of contact with good timing at the plate, so he doesn't strike out much. He has good bat speed, and while he doesn't have much physical upside, he drives the ball well to all fields with a chance to develop 20-plus home run power. He recognizes pitches well and squares up offspeed stuff but will still expand the strike zone, though he can make contact with those pitches as well. Fernandez has a promising bat, but he needs more work behind the plate to develop into an adequate catcher. His gets into a good position to receive pitches and his hands work well, but his blocking needs to improve. He should have just enough arm strength, grading out as a fringe-average tool now with a chance to tick up. While Fernandez needs more work on his defense, his offensive polish should translate to early success when he debuts in 2020.
The top bonus for a Nicaraguan player in 2019 went to righthander Lesther Medrano, who signed with the Dodgers for $472,500. Medrano doesn't have big velocity, but the rest of his profile has starter traits. Medrano is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound 16-year-old with broad shoulders and long arms that suggest the potential to throw harder once he packs on weight. Right now, he's mostly throwing in the mid-80s, so that velocity spike will need to come at some point in the next few years, but he already commands his fastball well for his age to both sides of the plate. Medrano has feel for two secondary pitches as well, led by a curveball that he sells well to miss bats with good shape and depth. His changeup is advanced for his age with good movement and the ability to keep it down in the zone.
The Dodgers also signed Luis Valdez, a 16-year-old lefthander from Mexico. Valdez has a slim, long-limbed build (6-foot-2, 160 pounds) that lacks strength now but with the physical projection to grow. He throws a fastball that reaches 89 mph now and could tick up once he puts on more size. He probably won't be a flamethrower, but he has a solid three-pitch mix with advanced feel for pitching for his age. He has a sound, relatively low-maintenance delivery that he repeats fairly well to throw strikes from a lower arm slot. He has tight spin on his curveball, and despite his lower arm angle, he stays on top of the ball to get good shape and sharp bite on that pitch. Valdez shows feel for a changeup as well that has good separation off his fastball.
Another Mexican pitcher, lefthander Octavio Becerra, signed with the Dodgers for $375,000 in August. Becerra is 18, so he was previously eligible to sign before this year, with a fastball that has been up to 92 mph. He's 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, standing out for his pitchability and ability to manipulate his offspeed stuff. Becerra commands his fastball well and mixes in three secondary pitches, the best of which is a mid-70s curveball with deep drop. He also throws a slider with three-quarters action and a solid changeup with good tailing life that he maintains his arm speed on.
Dominican righthander Waylin Santana, 16, signed with the Dodgers for $297,500. At 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, Santana has an athletic frame with a wide back and long arms, with a lot of space to fill out and add to a fastball that touches 90 mph. He throws strikes with his fastball that zips through the zone with late life and it sneaks up on hitters because he hides the ball well in his delivery, which helps him miss bats with that pitch. He has starter's components between that and two secondary offerings, including a curveball that flashes average with good depth and rotation and a changeup that can be firm that he shows feel for it as well.
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The Dodgers signed 17-year-old Dominican infielder Darol Garcia for $197,500. Garcia (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) has good rhythm and balance in the batter's box, with a flat path and good hand-eye coordination to make frequent contact. Garcia can drive the ball with backspin, but it's mostly doubles pop and he probably won't ever be a power hitter. He manages his at-bats well with a solid idea of the strike zone. Garcia trained in the Mejia Top 10 program as a shortstop, and while he might see time there, a lot of scouts viewed him as a second baseman or someone who would move around the infield. He's a below-average runner with a quick transfer to a solid arm and he makes accurate throws.
Venezuelan righthander Juan Idrogo, who trained in the same program as Rodriguez, also signed with the Dodgers on July 2. At 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, Idrogo doesn't have big velocity, but his secondary pitches and pitchability stand out for a 17-year-old. He throws strikes with a lively 86-88 mph fastball that he complements with a changeup that comes in firm but has good movement with sink and fade, along with a curveball he shows feel to spin with good shape and rotation.