2023 International Reviews: Houston Astros

International signings played a key role in the Astros winning the 2022 World Series, particularly in the starting rotation. 

Lefthander Framber Valdez signed with the Astros out of the Dominican Republic when he was 21 in 2015. That same year, the Astros signed Mexican righthander Jose Urquidy when he was 19, and Dominican righthander Cristian Javier right before he turned 18. Righthander Luis Garcia was another lower bonus player for the Astros at a relatively older age for a Latin American signing, joining the organization as a 20-year-old out of Venezuela in 2017. Righthanded reliever Bryan Abreu signed at 16 out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $40,000. 

The Astros signed a big group of pitchers this year for lower bonuses, but the core of their class centered around a group of position players.

Top Of The Class

Few players signed in 2023 can match the level of physicality and tools that Dominican shortstop Camilo Diaz possesses. Signed for $2.25 million at 17, Diaz is an athletic 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with excellent bat speed and flashes of 70 raw power from the right side. Diaz can put on a dazzling display in batting practice, though the key will be how much contact he’s able to make. Scouts highest on Diaz saw a patient hitter who was able to draw walks and hammer fastballs for extra-base damage in games. Others saw a longer swing with a tendency to bail and get on his front side early, leading to more swing-and-miss risk. Power is just one standout tool for Diaz, who is a plus runner with an easy gait and an outstanding arm that some scouts call a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Those tools and athleticism give Diaz a chance to develop at shortstop, though given how large he is already, there’s a good chance he ends up sliding over to third base. 

Another impressive athlete in the Astros class, Dominican shortstop German Ramirez, signed for $1.2 million. Ramirez has a different build than Diaz, a lean 6-foot-2, 180 pounds at 16 with excellent physical projection remaining. He has strong hands and wrists, snapping the barrel into the zone with fast bat speed and good power for his age that should develop into plus raw power once he’s physically mature. Some scouts like Ramirez’s hitting ability, pointing to his knack for putting the ball in play and squaring up a fastball in any part of the zone, while others thought he would need to rein in his aggressiveness with a more selective approach. An average runner with a plus arm, Ramirez will develop at shortstop, where some scouts think he has a chance to stick, though others think he’s more likely to head to third base or possibly the outfield. 

Names To Know

Esmil Valencia, OF, Dominican Republic: Valencia has some sneaky explosiveness from his strong, compact build at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. A 17-year-old who signed for $897,500, Valencia has a compact righthanded stroke without much wasted movement to get his swing started. Some scouts thought there was some stiffness to his swing and that he was prone to chasing outside the zone, but still thought he had a knack for putting the ball in play and making hard contact in games with a chance for above-average power. He’s a high-energy player with a plus-plus arm and slightly above-average speed, good enough for now to develop in center field with a chance to stay there, though some scouts see him as a future right fielder.

Eduardo Perez, OF, Dominican Republic: Perez, who signed for $797,500, is 16 until the end of July. He’s one of the younger players in the class, but he’s already physically imposing at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with a classic right field starter kit. He should hit in the middle of the lineup in the Dominican Summer League this year, with his size and strength already producing plus raw power, with a power-over-hit offensive profile from the right side. For someone his size, Perez moves around well in the outfield with average speed underway and a plus arm. 

Sleeper Watch

At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds with fringe-average speed, Dominican outifleder Juan Sierra doesn’t have the classically projectable frame or ability to play a premium position, but his ability to hit in games stands out over time. Signed for $67,500, Sierra is a 17-year-old righthanded hitter with a simple, direct swing and a consistently accurate barrel, enabling him to make frequent contact with hard line drives and sharp doubles. Sierra’s bat is his calling card, but his arm is a big tool as well that earns plus or better grades and will fit in right field.

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