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Checking In On The 12 Braves International Prospects Made Free Agents

Juan Carlos Negret is doing just fine. So are most of the dozen former Braves prospects made free agents last fall as punishment for Atlanta’s international signing violations.

Negret, now a Royals prospect, hit a towering, go-ahead three-run home run for Rookie-level Burlington on Wednesday, his fifth homer in 30 games this season. As important, he also drew a walk for the fifth time in six games after Royals coaches specifically addressed his lack of walks with him.

Overall, Negret is batting .246/.323/.456 with Burlington while showing the same physical tools and promise that earned him an initial $1 million signing bonus from the Braves and another $1 million from the Royals. The 19-year-old Cuban right fielder is still rounding into form after an ankle injury and has been particularly hot of late, batting .303 with three homers and a 1.061 OPS in his last nine games to show he may be turning a corner in the Appalachian League.

Here is a look at how the other Braves international prospects declared free agents are doing this season. All stats are through July 25.

Kevin Maitan, SS, Angels
Rookie-level Orem

The No. 1 prospect in the 2016-17 international class, Maitan made his U.S. debut last season weighing 211 pounds—36 pounds heavier than when he signed for $4.25 million. The Braves insisted he was getting in better shape during the offseason, and after he was declared a free agent and signed with the Angels for $2.2 million, the Angels insisted the same. Instead, Maitan arrived at spring training noticeably heavier, and he was listed at 222 pounds on Orem’s Opening Day roster, a gain of 47 pounds in two years. With all the added weight, Maitan’s athleticism, bat speed and explosiveness have slowed considerably. He is batting just .262/.307/.374 playing at elevation in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, and defensively he has 16 errors in 17 games at shortstop (as well as four errors in seven games at third base). Opposing evaluators say they now overwhelmingly consider Orem teammate and fellow former Braves infielder Livan Soto a better prospect, with some going so far as to say they have zero interest in Maitan.

Yefry Del Rosario, RHP, Royals
Low Class A Lexington

Originally signed for $1 million by the Braves and then inked for $650,000 more by the Royals, Del Rosario skipped the Appalachian League and went straight out to low Class A Lexington in June, making him the most advanced of any of the 12 former Braves declared free agents. Still just 18 years old, Del Rosario has struggled against older competition and gone 0-5, 5.45 in eight starts, but he still shows the ability to miss bats with 39 strikeouts in 38 innings thanks to a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a potential plus curveball with sharp, late break.

Yunior Severino, 2B, Twins
Rookie-level Elizabethton

Severino got $2.5 million from the Twins in addition to his $1.9 million bonus from the Braves. He’s hitting well with a .296/348/.457 slash line at Elizabethton and has moved almost exclusively from shortstop to second base. Most evaluators expect him to eventually end up at third base, where he has the bat to profile.

Abrahan Gutierrez, C, Phillies
Rookie-level GCL Phillies West

Gutierrez received the second-highest bonus in the Braves international class at $3.53 million and got $550,000 more from the Phillies. So far, he’s made good on the money offensively, batting. 330 with just a 10 percent strikeout rate, but on the defensive side he’s allowed 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts.

Livan Soto, SS, Angels
Rookie-level Orem

The slick-fielding Venezuelan has bloomed metaphorically compared to physically with Maitan. Signed for $1 million by the Braves and given an additional $850,000 by the Angels, Soto is batting .289 with a .379 on-base percentage at Orem with more walks (12) than strikeouts (nine). He also is 6-for-6 on stolen bases. Defensively, Soto has supplanted Maitan as the Owlz starting shortstop and, while still mistake-prone with nine errors in 22 games, has shown the tools and athleticism to remain at short.

Guillermo Zuniga

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Yenci Pena, SS, Rangers
Low Class A Hickory

Pena, who signed with the Braves for $1.05 million and got an additional $675,000 with the Rangers, was 6-for-34 (.176) in nine games in the AZL before going on the disabled list with a left orbital lobe fracture. He has not played since June 29 but was officially transferred to low Class A Hickory’s roster on July 8. He is likely out for the remainder of the season.

Guillermo Zuniga, RHP, Dodgers
Rookie-level AZL Dodgers

Zuniga, who signed with the Braves for $350,000 and received another $205,000 from the Dodgers, is getting hit in the AZL as he did in the GCL last year. He is 0-1, 6.62 with 20 hits allowed in 17.2 innings, including three home runs. He has 16 strikeouts but also eight walks and a .294 opponent average.

Juan Contreras, RHP, Angels
Not yet assigned

Contreras signed with the Angels during spring training but has not appeared for any of their affiliates this season. The arm-strength righthander originally signed with the Braves for $1.2 million and did not receive a second signing bonus because he signed after the MLB-imposed Jan. 15 deadline.

Brandol Mezquita, OF, Braves
DSL Braves

Mequita was one of three players – along with Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre—who were declared free agents because they were signed to package deals. Mezquita, who originally signed for $300,000, re-signed with the Braves six days after being declared a free agent and is batting .224/.328/.308 through 33 games in the Dominican Summer League.

Angel Rojas, SS, Yankees
DSL Yankees

Rojas, who originally signed with the Braves for $300,000 and got an additional $350,000 from the Yankees, is batting .295/.406/.482 in the DSL with six doubles, four triples and four home runs in 37 games. He’s played more second base (18 games) than shortstop (14).

Antonio Sucre, OF, No team

Originally signed for $300,000, Sucre has not signed with another organization since being declared a free agent.

Special Mention

Ji-Hwan Bae, SS, Pirates
Rookie-level GCL Pirates

Bae agreed to sign with the Braves for $300,000 but was never officially a member of their organization because the Commissioner’s Office did not approve the contract after finding the Braves offered Bae extracontractual compensation, reportedly $600,000. The 18-year-old South Korean signed with the Pirates for $1.2 million in March and is batting .323/.397/.419 with six stolen bases in eight tries through 18 games in the GCL. Bae left the organization in May to return to South Korea as police investigated domestic violence accusations levied against him by his former girlfriend, according to the The Athletic. Bae returned for GCL Opening Day and has been on the field since.

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