Image credit: Raimfer Salinas (Photo by Tibaldo Hernandez of Foto Sport Group)
Total 2017 signings: 31.
Top 2017-18 signing: OF Raimfer Salinas, Venezuela, $1.85 million.
The 2017 international signing class as a whole was a strong one. You can make a good case that no team walked away from it with more talent than the Yankees, who signed six of the top 30 international prospects, including two of the top 10 and four of the top 15 on Baseball America’s rankings leading up to July 2.
It was the first year out of the penalty box for the Yankees, who went over their international bonus pool in 2014-15 and subsequently were limited to signings of no more than $300,000 in 2015 and 2016.
The Yankees aggressively scouted the top 2017 players and executed on a plan under international scouting director Donny Rowland, signing three of the top 30 prospects on July 2, then adding a fourth—Dominican shortstop Ronny Rojas—after he turned 16 in August. They traded for more bonus pool space as they prepared to sign Shohei Ohtani, but when Ohtani eliminated East Coast teams from the mix in December, the Yankees audibled to their backup plan, bringing in two more top 2017 prospects from Venezuela later that month.
On December 22, the Yankees signed two of the top prospects in the class, both of whom trained with Francisco Ortiz. One of those players was Raimfer Salinas, a 17-year-old center fielder from Venezuela who got $1.85 million. Salinas stood out from an early age in Venezuela, representing his country at the COPABE 14U Pan American Championship in Nicaragua when he was 13. The next year he played as a 14-year-old in the COPABE 15U Pan American Championship in Mexico, where he ranked seventh in the tournament in batting average (.457) and sixth in slugging (.686).
Salinas is a high-end athlete at a premium position with one of the loudest tool sets in the class. It’s not quite the same explosive power/speed combination as fellow Yankees’ outfield prospect Estevan Florial, but Salinas has a chance for all five of his tools to be average to plus or possibly double-plus. Salinas has a lean, sleek frame (6 feet, 175 pounds) and is a plus runner who glides around center field with an easy running gait. He takes good routes and has excellent closing speed, and with his above-average arm, Salinas has the tools to be a plus defensive center fielder.
Even though Salinas has a track record of performing well during international competition and in games in Venezuela, he did generate a split camp among scouts on his bat. Salinas is a righthanded hitter with above-average bat speed, a sound swing and looks polished in batting practice. He hits hard line drives, with his near-average power starting to trend up with higher exit velocities, and that should continue to grow as he adds strength. Several scouts who saw Salinas leading up to July 2 saw him swing and miss frequently, which some of them thought was a pitch recognition problem that led to him chasing too much off the plate. Others thought he might have just been pressing as July 2 neared and would eventually settle in. The Yankees built extensive history on Salinas during the signing process, both before and after July 2, and saw strong offensive performance.
The second Venezuelan player the Yankees signed from Ortiz in December was Antonio Cabello, who got a $1.35 million bonus. Cabello is a talented but unorthodox player with few comparables. He has a strong, blocky build (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) that’s mature for a 17-year-old and doesn’t offer much physical projection. And while Cabello trained and signed as a catcher, he was also one of the fastest players in the class, with 65-70 speed underway.
With his days playing catcher now behind him, Cabello’s new home is in center field. When he signed, Cabello’s bat was well ahead of his glove, so the Yankees moved Cabello with the belief that he would have a better chance to retain his speed in center field than if he remained at catcher. Cabello’s body type suggests that he could slow down, but he hasn’t lost a step of his speed to this point. While Salinas and other more conventional center fielders glide in the outfield, Cabello is a power runner with explosion in everything he does. His arm is an average tool.
As a hitter, Cabello’s game performance rated among the best in the 2017 class. Cabello has excellent plate patience, which helps him pile up walks, and he has shown good contact skills. He does it with a righthanded stroke that isn’t all that loose or easy. He starts with his hands fairly still, relying on his hand speed and strength, with a tendency to muscle up balls. While Cabello is strong, his swing is geared more for hard line drives than loft power. Adding more rhythm to his swing with more of a load and better separation instead of just relying on strength should help Cabello both in terms of his pure hitting ability and his game power. His athleticism and focused, competitive mindset should help him make adjustments.
Dominican shortstop Ronny Rojas was one of the youngest players in the class, so he had to wait to sign until he turned 16 on Aug. 23. Soon after, Rojas signed with the Yankees in September for $1 million. Had Rojas been born a little more than a week later, he would have been a 2018 prospect, but he was already one of the best hitters in the 2017 class. Rojas, who trained at the MB Academy, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with excellent hitters’ actions and a simple, compact swing from both sides of the plate. Rojas has a chance to hit toward the top of a lineup, with a knack for barreling balls in games for a high contact rate. Rojas hits hard line drives with backspin to all fields in games, and while he’s more of a pure hitter than a power bat, his projectable frame with wide shoulders and strong hands suggests he could develop average or better power. Rojas is a bat-first prospect who will start his career at shortstop. A slightly above-average runner with a solid-average arm, Rojas’ defensive actions are good enough to play shortstop at the lower levels, although he will have to work at his agility to stay there. He could end up at either second or third base, with the offensive components to fit at either spot.
Roberto Chirinos, who signed for $900,000 out of Venezuela on July 2, is a versatile 17-year-old shortstop who can play anywhere on the field. A lean 5-foot-11, 172 pounds, Chirinos has a solid all-around tool set to go with a high baseball IQ. Chirinos has strong wrists and generates quick bat speed, using his hands well at the plate with a compact swing. He has performed well in games and catches up to good velocity, staying through the ball well to hit line drives to all fields. Chirinos has gap power and should hit a lot of doubles, with the physical projection to get to average power.
As an amateur, Chirinos bounced back and forth between shortstop and the outfield but ultimately signed as a shortstop. His best tool is his arm, which earns plus or better grades. He’s an average runner with solid hands at the position. His defense at shortstop might end up being a touch short to play there everyday, but he can handle the position at the lower levels and is versatile enough to move all around the diamond, although he would have more of a tweener profile as an outfielder. Given Chirinos’ all-around baseball smarts, arm strength and high-energy style, he has a lot of attributes that would fit well if he were to ever move behind the plate, though he’s going out this year as a shortstop. Chirinos trained with Carlos Rios.
In case the Yankees were running low on gigantic outfielders, they added another one to their farm system on July 2 when they signed Anthony Garcia for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Garcia, 17, is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, bulking up significantly since his amateur days. A switch-hitter who is more advanced from the left side, Garcia showed quick hand speed and above-average raw power before he signed. Garcia is hitting balls even farther now with his increased strength, to the point where his BP has become a favorite daily show to watch among his teammates. Power is Garcia’s carrying tool, and like a lot of extra-large hitters his age, he has long arms the leave him with some holes and swing-and-miss risk. As an amateur, Garcia ran plus underway, but that has declined since he has gotten heavier. He will have to work to maintain his athleticism and improve his outfield defense, with a corner his best fit. Garcia, like Rojas, also trained at the MB Academy.
Angel Rojas is a Dominican shortstop who originally signed with the Braves last year for $300,000. However, when Major League Baseball penalized the Braves for international signing violations, Rojas was one of the players whose contracts was voided and he became a free agent. Rojas, who was able to keep his original signing bonus from the Braves, later signed with the Yankees for $350,000. Rojas sticks out for his quick-twitch athleticism and raw tools. He’s 5-foot-11, 148 pounds with plus-plus speed, a plus arm, and quick bat speed with a slashing righthanded stroke. Rojas is more tools than game skills right now, so he’s still learning to slow the game down and play more under control.
Outfielder Stanley Rosario was born in New York but signed out of the Dominican Republic for $300,000 on July 2. Rosario, 17, is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and his calling card is lefthanded power. He has a good combination of bat speed and strength to swat balls over the fence in BP. It’s a power-over-hit profile, with Rosario working to improve his balance and timing. Rosario’s value is tied into what he does at the plate, as he’s limited to left field.
The Yankees signed Dominican shortstop Miguel Marte for $200,000 on July 2. Still 16, Marte has similarities to Angel Rojas as a quick-twitch, athletic shortstop with plus speed and arm strength, to go with good hands and a quick transfer in the field. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, Marte is a righthanded hitter with a slashing stroke who will have to make adjustments at the plate. He has already shown some signs of doing that, shortening his stride to help him better handle pitches on the inner half.
Enyerberth Ascanio is a 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher the Yankees signed for $190,000 on July 2. He lacked strength when he signed, but physical development (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) has helped everything tick up since then. Ascanio doesn’t have one loud tool that sticks out, but he receives pitches well and has a solid-average arm. He’s a righthanded hitter with solid bat-to-ball skills and doubles power.
The biggest sleeper in the class to watch is Ezequiel Duran, a Dominican second baseman who signed for $10,000 on July 2. Duran would have been eligible to sign previously based on his age, but he wasn’t registered with MLB, so he had to wait until July 2. At 18, Duran was eligible to play right away in the DSL, where he hit .393/.415/.754 in 15 games and piled up 12 extra-base hits with five doubles, four triples and three home runs. He has already been in Florida for spring training and generated buzz for his bat.
Duran is a natural hitter with strong hands, quick bat speed, and a simple, repeatable swing from the right side. He has a knack for barreling balls with explosion off the bat, recognizing pitches well for his age with a sound approach. That leads to frequent loud contact in games and the ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields. Duran is an offensive-minded player who the Yankees immediately put at second base, but he’s good athlete and an above-average runner, although he will need to improve his lateral agility in the field.