Kevin Richards (Photo by Bill Mitchell)[/caption] Picking the best tools for the international market is tricky for a few different reasons. One is that players see their tools change when they’re 15 and 16 years old. By the time we’re talking about a 21-year-old who’s a college junior or playing in the high Class A California League, you won’t see too many major changes for a position player’s speed or arm strength. But when players are that young and still growing taller sometimes, those tools can improve a full grade or more. And at age 15-16, players don’t always show the same tools consistently day to day, some of which is a strength-related issue. Two is just the sheer number of players who are available to sign. The fastest player who signed in 2015, for example, might be Randy Ventura, a pint-sized outfielder who signed for $17,500, then stole 55 bases in 58 games in the Dominican Summer League. So to go over the best tools in the 2016 international signing class, we’re limiting it to the players who ranked in our Top 50 international prospects list. I’m sure there’s another Ventura out there with 80 speed or a position player with a stronger arm who probably belongs on the mound, but we’re going to pick here from the most prominent players in the class to help give a better overview of the top 2016 talent. Best Power There are scouts who grade out Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan with plus raw power right now, with a chance to grow into 70 power in his prime. In terms of the combination of hitting ability and power, Maitan is the top player in the class, which is part of what makes him the No. 1 player in the class. In terms of pure raw power, the edge goes to Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, a righthanded hitter who is expected to sign with the Cardinals. Garcia is already 6-foot-2, 225 pounds will probably get even bigger over the next few years, so he’s likely limited to left field or first base. While Maitan wasn’t at the MLB international showcase in in February, it was clear that Garcia had the biggest raw power there. It’s at least 60 raw power and it could be 70 future power. In games, several scouts thought he showed better feel for hitting than Dominican outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz, another big-framed righthanded hitter who signed with the Phillies for $4.01 million last year. “It’s a special power bat,” said one scout. “You don’t see that type of power very often from a 16-year-old kid, and I think there is some hitting ability there as well.” Best Hitter The top three players on the Top 50—Maitan and Dominican shortstops Luis Almanzar and Luis Garcia—could all get the nod here, while Venezuelan shortstop Yorbin Ceuta has also demonstrated excellent bat-to-ball skills. The best performer at the MLB international showcase was Garcia, who went 4-for-6, drew two walks and didn’t strike out, impressive scouts with his bat speed, swing and in-game approach. Almanzar went to American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) at showed the ability to hit in games there. Almanzar and Garcia could both develop into plus hitters, but Kevin Maitan has the greatest probability of developing into an impact hitter. Other players might end up with lower strikeout rates, but nobody combines the ability to hit and do damage on contact the way Maitan does, performing in games and doing it with plenty of extra-base thump. Best Strike-Zone Discipline Judging plate discipline and pitch recognition from a 16-year-old amateur hitter in Latin America is difficult. They aren’t seen in as many games as minor league or college hitters, and when you do see them face live pitching, they aren’t seeing many good secondary pitches. In Venezuela, shortstops Yorbin Ceuta and Livan Soto both showed good plate patience and an eye for the strike zone. Neither one projects to hit for big power, so their ability to draw walks to complement their bat control will be key. Maitan has shown patience to work his walks as well. The player who stood out the most for his plate discipline is Dominican shortstop Luis Almanzar. He’s the one who has been tested the most in games and has shown a mature hitting approach with the ability to track pitches and pick up spin. “He always hits in games,” said another scout. “He’s got an exceptional eye and pitch recognition.” Best Speed A player’s 60-yard dash times can vary more than you might think. The surface they run on, whether they line up straight or with a turn and whether a team is even independently verifying that it’s a 60-yard dash instead of 58 yards can all affect times, before accounting from human elements that affect players day to day. Several players in the Top 50 have high-end speed. Ricardo Mendez and Leuri Mejia are two of the fastest outfielders in the class. Dominican outfielder Kevin Richards and Dominican shortstop Yordy Barley have both been clocked at 6.4-6.5 seconds in the 60. Barley and Richards are both raw athletes who are still learning to translate their speed into game situations. As a tiebreaker, the player with the best speed who knows how to use that speed in games is Venezuelan shortstop Nicolas Torres. He shows plus-plus speed, running the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds and separating himself with his ability to use his speed in games. Best Fastball Righthander Angel Macuare could develop into a power arm, with a fastball that already reaches 93-94 mph. Dominican righthander Yefri Del Rosario has hit 94, as has Dominican righthander Juan Contreras. In the next few years, Contreras could be throwing in the upper-90s. Right now, nobody throws harder than Venezuelan righthander Francisco Morales, who has seen his fastball go from touching 94 earlier this year to 96 more recently. There’s good movement on his fastball too, and at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, there could be another velo jump in his future. Best Breaking Ball With most pitchers at this level, scouts are just looking for pitchers who show feel to spin a breaking ball. It doesn’t have to be consistent and it doesn’t have to flash plus. Most of the time, it’s going to be a slurvy, three-quarters breaking ball. One pitcher who separated himself from the pack was Dominican righthander Roancy Contreras, whose curveball flashes true top-to-bottom action and could develop into an out pitch. His breaking ball is slightly behind Dominican righthander Yefri Del Rosario’s. For Del Rosario, his curveball has tight spin and hard, sharp bite to miss plenty of bats. “He will throw you a 1-0 or a 2-0 breaking ball,” said a third scout, “and he’ll land it for a strike better than most guys.” Best Defensive Shortstop Picking a winner here is tricky. The shortstop on Venezuela’s COPABE 15U Pan American Championship team last year was Justin Lopez. He might have the softest hands of anyone in the class, with sweet actions, footwork, a strong arm and good instincts too. Lopez has a strong case here—some scouts think he’s one of the best defensive players they’ve seen come out of Venezuela in the last few years—though there are still scouts who have questions about whether he will stay at the position depending how he fills out his lanky frame. Some scouts thought Yerdel Vargas out of the Dominican Republic was one of the best defensive shortstops in the class with the ability to make flashy plays, though others thought he too might end up at another position. There’s also a case for Venezuelan shortstop Livan Soto, who has good hands, runs better than Lopez and is an instinctive defender with a high baseball IQ. The shortstop who earned the most consistent praise for both his present defensive ability and future projection to remain at the position was Venezuelan shortstop Jose Sanchez. Other players have louder tools, but multiple scouts said Sanchez had some of the best hands and footwork in the class, with good actions, fluid body control and instincts for the position. “He stays at shortstop,” said a fourth scout, “He probably has the best hands of everyone I saw this year and his throws have true carry going to first base.” Best Infield Arm Several shortstops in this year’s class have above-average arms, including Kevin Maitan in Venezuela and Deurys Carrasco in the Dominican Republic. Freudis Nova is another, though he’s still learning to tame the accuracy of his throws when he’s on the move. Venezuelan shortstop Justin Lopez has the ability to make those throws from different angles with his plus arm, which could grade out higher once he gets stronger and already plays up because of his quick transfer and release. The player who earned the most consistent plus grades on his arm was Venezuelan shortstop Gabriel Arias, who separates himself because of the fluidity of his throwing stroke, his accuracy and ability to make off-balance throws that usually result in errors from other shortstops his age. “He’s going to have a 70 arm down the road,” said a fifth scout. “It’s the best infield arm in the class and the best arm action in the class.” Best Defensive Outfielder The best defensive outfielder in Venezuela is Ricardo Mendez, who has the speed and quick reactions off the bat to develop into an above-average defender in center field. The one liability for Mendez in the outfield right now is his arm, which is why we will give the edge here to Dominican center fielder Leuri Mejia. “He’s got a very true center field profile,” the third scout said of Mejia. “He’s a potential 70 defender with speed and instincts.” Best Outfield Arm Venezuelan outfielder Roimer Bolivar can air it out. If he can stick in center field, he would have one of the stronger arms around for that position. Dominican outfielder Jeisson Rosario has an above-average arm and also has a chance to stick in center field. Luis Mieses is a corner outfielder in the Dominican Republic with a plus arm. The outfielder on this list with the biggest arm strength is Carlos Soler from the Dominican Republic. His arm gets plus to plus-plus grades, and at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, he should still get stronger. If he doesn’t hit, given his build and arm strength, pitching could be a fallback option. Best Defensive Catcher There are five catchers among the Top 50 prospects. Juan Aparicio just started catching, while Nerio Rodriguez has questions on whether he’s going to stay behind the plate. The top-ranked catcher, David Rodriguez, is more offensive-minded, but scouts don’t see any major red flags why he would have to move off the position. Abrahan Gutierrez is a polished receiver with ample experience behind the plate and he’s caught in various international tournaments for Venezuela. The nod here goes to Venezuelan catcher Alison Quintero. He’s the most athletic catcher in the class with good agility, blocking and receiving skills. He doesn’t have a laser arm, but he puts his throws on target and is fundamentally sound for his age. “He’s got good flexibility, a chance to be an above-average receiver and he can throw,” said a sixth scout. Best Athlete Freudis Nova and fellow Dominican shortstop Luis Garcia are both premium athletes who combined tools and the ability to perform in games. In terms of raw athleticism, Yordy Barley, another Dominican shortstop, stood out as well and earned nods from some as the best athlete in the class, even if his game skills will need time to catch up. This one goes to Dominican outfielder Kevin Richards for his combination of athleticism, tools and body type. He has top-end speed, bursting with quick-twitch from his lean, wiry frame (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) with graceful strides. Richards has a long ways to go at the plate, but the athleticism is impossible to miss. “The profile is pretty straightforward,” said a seventh scout. “He might figure it out, he might not. If he does, you’ve got a valuable player because he’s super athletic.” Most Exciting Player There’s a lot of subjectivity here. For pure offensive excitement, it doesn’t get better than Kevin Maitan, who has a special combination of hitting ability and power. Freudis Nova has the loudest all-around tool package. If you want a player who has a chance to do something exciting in nearly every aspect of the game, it doesn’t get better than Dominican shortstop Luis Garcia
. He’s one of the best hitters in the class. He can’t match Maitan’s raw power, but he makes consistent hard, loud contact with line drives all over the field. When he gets on base, he’s always a threat to use his plus-plus speed to steal second. He’s a quick-twitch athlete with a strong arm in the field too.