Image credit: Robert Puason (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
The Athletics spent nearly all of their 2019-20 international bonus pool on one player in the Dominican Republic. They gave $5.1 million to shortstop Robert Puason, whose bonus was tied with Yankees outfielder Jasson Dominguez for the largest of the signing period. Puason originally had an agreement to sign with the Braves when he was 14, but that never came to fruition because Major League Baseball hammered the Braves with penalties for a variety of international signing violations. MLB said those penalties stemmed, in part, from the Braves agreeing to sign Puason in a package deal, with the Braves signing other players from Puason’s program to artificially inflated bonuses as a condition for being able to land Puason.
Puason, 17, has some of the best raw tools and athleticism in the 2019 class. He’s a lean, long-limbed, sleek athlete at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds with plus speed and an arm that’s at least a plus tool, with a chance that could tick up as he gains strength. He’s a fast-twitch athlete who accelerates quickly and projects to stick at shortstop. Puason has good defensive actions, though he’s still learning to improve his internal clock and routes in games. Puason is a premium athlete at a premium position who some scouts considered the top prospect in the Dominican Republic this year, though there is risk in his bat. The A’s saw him consistently put the ball in play and make hard contact against live pitching. Others saw a hitter with long arms who would have to shorten his stroke and improve his pitch recognition, as he showed tendencies to chase and lose his balance against offspeed stuff. Puason has mostly gap power now, but with his bat speed and wiry strength, that should increase in the next few years. After signing, Puason went straight to the United States and shadowed the A’s Rookie-level Arizona League team. He couldn’t play in those games yet, but he racked up a lot of at-bats every week in simulated games against Frankie Montas, who was there during his 80-game suspension for a banned substance, and enrolled in an intensive English-language program at Arizona State. He’s ticketed to return to Arizona for spring training and is expected to play in the AZL next year, though he might get his first at-bats of the year in the Dominican Summer League. He trained with J.D. Ozuna.
Beyond Puason, the A’s also gave $175,000 to 16-year-old Colombian corner outfielder Jasmed Diaz. Brayan Buelvas, the Colombian outfielder the A’s signed in 2018 and was a top 20 prospect this year in the Rookie-level Arizona League, played winter ball in Colombia the year he signed, and Diaz is ticketed to do the same this year. A 6-foot, 170-pound lefty, Diaz was one of the better hitters available in Colombia this year. He performed well in games in Colombia, and while there’s some swing-and-miss at times, he has shown a knack for making adjustments. There’s strength to his frame to pull balls over the fence already, with a chance for at least average power down the road. Diaz trained with Orlando Cabrera.
Carlos Franco is a 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher the A’s also signed on July 2. He’s 5-foot-10, 155 pounds and projects to stick behind the plate, where he has good catch-and-throw skills with an average arm that should tick up. He doesn’t project as much of a power threat, but he shows a solid bat for a catcher and a good eye for the strike zone.
One sleeper from the class to watch is Yehizon Sanchez, a 19-year-old Dominican righthander who got $50,000 after training with Luis Scheker. Sanchez is old enough to have signed earlier, but he wasn’t registered with MLB, so he had to wait until July 2 to sign his contract. He’s 6-foot-2, 170 pounds and throws strikes with a heavy fastball that’s been up to 93 mph and a slider that’s ahead of his changeup. He had some early success in the DSL after signing, posting an ERA of 0.43 in 21 innings with a 15-7 K-BB mark.