International Reviews: Los Angeles Angels
Total 2017 signings: 28.
Top 2017-18 signing: RHP/OF Shohei Ohtani, Japan, $2,315,000.
Technically, Shohei Ohtani falls under Major League Baseball’s international amateur signing system.
But, obviously, he belongs in a different category, as he’s the favorite for AL rookie of the year, an immediate frontline starter and a two-way player with high-end power and speed.
Beyond Ohtani, the Angels’ top two international signings last year were a pair of outfielders from the Bahamas. The biggest bonus went to Trent Deveaux, a 17-year-old center fielder who signed for $1.2 million on July 2. Deveaux had been eligible to sign in 2016, and he even went to the MLB international showcase that year in the Dominican Republic. At the time, Deveaux’s baseball skills were still raw and he was playing shortstop, where he didn’t look natural. After that, Deveaux spent time in Florida training and then moved to the Dominican Republic, where his stock climbed.
Between Jo Adell and Deveaux, the Angels have two of the best athletes in the minors. Deveaux has 80 speed, running the 60-yard dash as fast as 6.2 seconds. He’s a lean, projectable 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with a ton of quick-burst athleticism. In center field, Deveaux is still learning to take better jumps off the bats and sharpen his routes, but he’s so fast and gets to his top-end speed so quickly that he’s able to cover a huge amount of ground. He has an easy stroke and an average arm that could tick up, with a chance to be an above-average defender.
When Deveaux moved to the Dominican Republic to train with Nolan Pena, his hitting ability improved as well. Deveaux previously had an upright, open stance and a habit of rolling over too many pitches. He closed off his stance, which helped him stay through the ball better, use the middle of the field and better maintain his balance. He has shown a solid understanding of the strike zone to put together quality at-bats. Deveaux is mostly a line-drive, gap hitter who can occasionally sneak a ball out of the park, with the bat speed and physical projection to gain power later. Deveaux faced better pitching in the Dominican Republic than he did in the Bahamas, but he’s still learning to adapt to facing good velocity on a regular basis. He’s a fluent English speaker who picked up Spanish during his time in th Dominican Republic, and he’s expected to debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Another Bahamian outfielder, 17-year-old D’Shawn Knowles, signed with the Angels for $850,000 on July 2 after training at the Max D Sports Academy. Knowles isn’t in Deveaux’s upper echelon of athleticism, but he was one of the better athletes available in the 2017 class. A high-energy player, Knowles is a plus runner with a fringe-average arm and looks comfortable in center field after working diligently to improve his defense. Knowles didn’t face much quality competition in the Bahamas, which meant some scouts had a difficult time gauging his righthanded bat, but many felt he was a raw hitter. The Angels liked his swing and saw a player with a good idea of the strike zone. He’s a line-drive hitter with doubles power and the speed to leg out his share of triples. Knowles is in Arizona now for extended spring training and it’s likely he will stay for the AZL season.
Raider Uceta is a lefthanded Dominican outfielder the Angels signed for $500,000 in July after training with Amauris Nina. Uceta, 17, is 6 feet, 215 pounds—a big, thick-framed hitter whose calling card is his above-average raw power. Uceta generates power without loading up his swing too much, relying on his strength to muscle balls over the fence in BP. Uceta’s swing has natural loft, although in games he doesn’t always take a power hitter’s approach and instead shoots balls the other way. Uceta has a power-over-hit profile, and once he learns which pitches to target and pull for damage, he should show more game power. Uceta moves better underway than his body type suggests, but he’s still a 40 runner who will have to work hard to maintain his mobility to stay in the outfield and avoid a move to first base. He is in Arizona right now for extended spring training.
The Angels signed Dominican outfielder Jose Reyes, 17, for $425,000 on July 2 after training with Laurentino Genao. Reyes’ best tool is his bat, with a sound stroke from the left side and a disciplined understanding of the strike zone. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Reyes has the frame to grow into power, though right now he’s a gap hitter who works line to line and has an offensive mindset tilted more toward getting on base than hitting for power. Reyes could rotate among all three outfield spots early in his career, though he’s a 40-45 runner who fits best in a corner. Even though he’s not fast, he does get good jumps off the bat and takes clean routes. He is in Arizona for extended spring training and could stay for the AZL.
Orlando Martinez is a 20-year-old Cuban center fielder the Angels signed for $250,000 in August. Martinez participated in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2016, when he hit .408/.483/.567 with 18 walks, 11 strikeouts and two home runs in 143 plate appearances. Martinez led the league in batting average and ranked second in slugging behind only White Sox outfielder Luis Robert. Martinez, who is 6 feet, 185 pounds, is a lefty who caught the Angels’ attention for his bat, showing a solid swing and contact skills with a hit-over-power profile. He’s an above-average runner with a chance to remain in center field.
Lefthanded outfielder Rainer Rivas signed with the Angels out of Venezuela for $200,000 in July. Rivas is still 16 but is a physical 6-foot-3, 200 pounds with natural lift and power in his swing. He has shown a patient approach to put together quality at-bats, with his power sticking out more than his pure hitting ability. A corner outfielder, Rivas is a below-average runner with a strong enough arm to potentially play right field.
Book Excerpt: Inside The Recruiting Battle For Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani’s process for selecting his big league team late in 2017 is examined in the following excerpt from Jeff Fletcher’s upcoming book, Sho-Time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played.
The Angels also signed a handful of Venezuelan pitchers for low six-figure deals in July, including 16-year-old lefthander Wilson Gomez for $180,000. Gomez is 6 feet, 165 pounds with long arms and a fastball that sits in the mid-80s and reaches 89 mph. The fastball sneaks up on hitters faster than they expect because he gets excellent extension out front and the pitch has a high spin rate that helps him miss bats. His curveball is inconsistent but he has flashed some feel for that pitch. Gomez trained with Henderson Martinez.
Another Venezualan pitcher, 17-year-old righthander Emmanuel Duran, signed for $160,000. Duran isn’t overpowering (he sits in the mid-80s and touches 88 mph) but he has two well-developed secondary pitches for his age. His low-70s curveball has tight spin and good shape, while his changeup has good action and gives him a second offspeed offering to miss bats. Duran is still tightening his control, but his delivery and aptitude should help him make that adjustment.
Jenrry Gonzalez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan lefthander from the same program as Gomez, signed for $130,000. At 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, Gonzalez stands out more for his pitchability and curveball than his size. He throws his fastball in the upper-80s, with his breaking ball his best pitch. Gonzalez has a lot of conviction in his breaking ball, often pitching backwards with it by throwing it when he’s behind in the count.
Back in June, right before the end of the 2016-17 signing period, the Angels also gave $205,000 to 20-year-old Cuban center fielder Jose Verrier. He played in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2015, when he batted .245/.399/.282 with more walks (25) than strikeout (16) in 146 plate appearances. He’s 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and didn’t show much power from the right side in Cuba, but he flashed more of it once he left and began training in Colombia. Verrier could see some time in center field but is probably a better defensive fit in a corner.