From Aruba To Italy, Recent International Signings From Less Scouted Countries
Baseball may be a global game, but the reality is that when it comes to international signings for major league clubs, the players are predominantly coming from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Panama are all important sources of amateur talent for teams, with high-ranking international scouts spending more time in Colombia than any country outside of the Dominican Republic over the past year due to the amount of showcases in places like Medellin, Bogota and Cartagena for Venezuelan players.
The country jumping into that group over the last few years is the Bahamas, which has become a more frequent destination for international scouts and even directors. Two players from the Bahamas—Marlins shortstop Jazz Chisholm and Diamondbacks outfielder Kristian Robinson—are Baseball America Top 100 Prospects. Righthander Tahnaj Thomas is a Top 10 prospect in the Pirates system. Rays center fielder Lucius Fox and Rangers infielder Keithron Moss are both Top 30 prospects in their organizations. And two of BA's top 50 international signings in 2019—Marlins shortstop Ian Lewis and Rangers outfielder Zion Bannister—are from the Bahamas.
Not bad for a country of around 400,000 people, or about the same as the city of Cleveland.
What about the rest of the world? For players from other countries, there is often less scouting coverage and fewer signings overall. Here's a deeper dive into some of the more notable prospects who have entered major league farm systems over the past year from places not considered the most common sources of talent.
Ethan de Cuba, OF, Royals: Born in Miami and raised in Aruba, de Cuba, 17, signed with the Royals for $225,000 last year on July 2. A thin switch-hitter (6 feet, 145 pounds), de Cuba played in a lot of games growing up and showed good bat-to-ball skills as an amateur in Aruba. He lacks strength now and probably won't be a big power hitter, with fringe-average speed that probably fits best in a corner.
Keshawn Rombley, OF, Cardinals: One of the youngest signings in the 2019 class, Rombley was born in Aruba and moved to the Dominican Republic to train before signing for $200,000 last year in August on his 16th birthday. At his best, Rombley has shown a mix of solid athleticism and offensive upside. There are times where he has performed well in games with hard contact and hit home runs against live pitching, though at other times he has shown swing-and-miss tendencies. He's a fringe-average runner who could get faster given his youth and athleticism, though if not he will probably be a corner outfielder.
Jake Burns, C, Cardinals: The Cardinals signed Burns for $400,000 in September after watching him play in the 2018 U-15 World Cup in Panama (where he hit two home runs in 23 plate appearances), following him at Perfect Game events and then bringing him in to their academy in the Dominican Republic. Burns logged more miles when he was the second-youngest member of the Australian team that played in the U-18 World Cup in South Korea in September after he signed. Burns, 17, is an offensive-minded catcher with a strong frame (6 feet, 200 pounds) and good feel for hitting from the left side. He has a solid-average arm and good baseball acumen, with more work needed to bring up his blocking and receiving.
Josh Gessner, RHP, Phillies: Gessner, 19, had a commitment to Tulane that he passed on to sign with the Phillies for $850,000 in June right before the 2018-19 signing period closed. He posted a 2.84 ERA in 12.2 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing, striking out 17 with seven walks. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Gessner has reached 94 mph on his fastball and throws a slider that's an average or better pitch when it's on. Gessner earns praise as a student of the game, but his control will need to improve as he moves up through the Phillies system.
Pedro Lemos Da Costa, RHP, Mariners: Da Costa, who signed for $190,000 on July 2, has quickly emerged as one of the more promising arms in the 2019 class. Signed at 16 throwing mostly in the upper 80s with good movement, he has since increased his velocity to touch 93, with a fastball that plays up because of the deception in his delivery. His wavering command as an amateur improved after he modified his mechanics to stay more calm and under control, helping him throw more strikes. He has shown feel for a changeup with signs of progress from his breaking ball as well since signing.
Donovan Antonia, C, Reds: Antonia played for Curacao in the Little League World Series in 2016 and two years later played in the Senior League World Series. He also represented the Netherlands in the U-15 World Cup in Panama in 2018, when he hit .318/.516/.545 with one home run, eight walks and six strikeouts in 31 plate appearances. When he turned 16 in August, Antonia signed with the Reds for $200,000. He's a young, athletic catcher (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) with average speed underway. He could stick at catcher, though he has the athleticism to move around the infield at third or second base (which he did during Dominican instructional league) or possibly the outfield as well. Antonia's hitting ability also trended up after signing as he did a better job of staying through the middle of the field.
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Lesther Medrano, RHP, Dodgers: The Dodgers paid $472,500 to sign Medrano, 17, in September. Medrano signed throwing mostly in the mid-80s, but at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds with a wide back and long arms he showed signs that he could gain velocity once he packs on strength. That's starting to materialize, as he ran his fastball up to 91 mph at the last game of Dominican instructional league. He commands his fastball well for his age and shows feel for two secondary pitches, including a curveball with good depth that can miss bats and a lively changeup.
Elian Rayo, 3B, Giants: Rayo, 17, signed for $350,000 last year on July 2. He has a strong, stocky frame (6 feet, 202 pounds) and stood out for his power, making loud contact when he connects, albeit with a power-over-hit profile with swing-and-miss tendencies. A standout pitcher on the Nicaraguan team that won the U-14 Pan American Championship in 2017, Rayo has a strong arm but also a bigger frame and will need to improve his agility and range to stay at third base. Some scouts thought Rayo would be an intriguing conversion candidate to become a catcher, though the Giants plan to develop him as a third baseman.
Roger Leyton, OF, Royals: Signed for $207,500, Leyton, 17, is a wiry 6-foot-1, 170 pounds with more game skills than loud tools. He's a contact-oriented hitter from the right side of the plate with a line-drive approach and doubles power. He's an average runner with good defensive instincts that might give him a chance to stick in center.
Ettore Giulianelli, RHP, Cardinals: Major League Baseball held an event for amateur players last June in London for the Red Sox-Yankees series, which is where the Cardinals scouted Giulianelli, who signed with St. Louis in September for $200,000. Giulianelli, 17, spent time at first base as well last summer, including at the Senior League World Series in South Carolina, but the Cardinals signed him to pitch. He's 6-foot-3, 190 pounds with broad shoulders, showing the physical projection to add to a fastball that reaches 90 mph once he packs on strength, along with feel to spin a breaking ball.
Samuel Aldegheri, LHP, Phillies: Before the 2018-19 signing period closed, the Phillies paid $210,000 to sign Aldegheri in June. Aldegheri, 18, didn't pitch after signing, though he did come to Florida for instructional league. He's 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and a strike thrower with a fastball that has been up to 91 mph and feel for spinning a breaking ball.
Sem Robberse, RHP, Blue Jays: Robberse is one of the more promising, deep-sleeper international pitching prospects signed over the past year. A $125,000 signing last year in June, Robberse pitched well after reporting to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he posted an ERA of 0.87 in 10.1 innings with a 9-to-0 strikeout-to-walk mark. His velocity has grown from reaching 88 mph before signing to 90 mph by the time he arrived in the United States and then 93 mph in the GCL. Adding 20 pounds to get to 6-foot-1, 180 pounds has helped, and there should be more velocity coming given his physical projection and loose, easy mechanics with minimal effort. Robberse's athleticism helps him repeat his delivery and throw strikes, mixing a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer and a breaking ball that's a slightly above-average pitch at its best.
Jiorgeny Casimiri, RHP, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays signed a second pitcher from the Netherlands in June, giving Casimiri $225,000. He's 6-foot-1, 160 pounds at 18 and throws strikes with a fastball that touches the low 90s and a slider that's a potentially average pitch. Casimiri also pitched in the GCL after signing, posting a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks.