See also: 2015 Athletics International Review
See also: 2014 Athletics International Review
See also: 2013 Athletics International Review
Total signings: 13.
With several of the typical big spenders in the international market in the penalty box for the 2016-17 signing period for having previously exceeded their bonus pools, the A’s saw an opportunity to be active in an arena where they had previously backed off their investments. The A’s have been aggressive at times internationally—their $4.25 million bonus for Michael Ynoa in 2008 was a record at the time for a 16-year-old and they gave a four-year, $36 million contract for Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes before that market escalated—but they were among the bottom three international spenders during the 2014 and 2015 calendar years.
When the 2016-17 signing period opened on July 2, the A’s immediately blew past their international bonus pool. While the A’s waited a little longer than other teams to make their decisions on the players they signed, their financial commitment between signing bonuses and tax money will push into the $15 million neighborhood. As a result, the A’s will be unable to sign any players subject to the bonus pools for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods after the current one ends on June 15.
Oakland’s two biggest bonuses during the 2016-17 signing period have gone to a pair of Cuban players, starting with $3 million for 17-year-old Lazaro Armenteros on July 2. In December, they added 22-year-old righthander Norge Ruiz for $2 million. They’re both ranked in the A’s Top 30 prospects, with reports on both players available in the Prospect Handbook.
Aside from Cuban players, the A’s made their biggest international investment in 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Yerdel Vargas, who signed for $1.5 million on July 2. Vargas drew a wide mix of assessments from scouts. Some scouts considered Vargas to be among the best defensive shortstops available last year, praising his athleticism (though he’s not a faster runner), soft hands, feet and strong, accurate arm. Others thought he would have to learn to slow the game down in the field and become more reliable on the routine plays to stay at shortstop instead of going to second or third base.
Strongly build at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Vargas impressed the A’s with his ability and hit and control the strike zone, particularly after he showed good plate discipline during instructional league. Vargas has quick bat speed, though he sets up by wrapping his bat and a back elbow crank, leading to some length and loop in the zone and a tendency to lose his balance. Mostly a gap hitter right now, Vargas should be able to grow into 10-15 home runs down the road. Vargas trained with “Jayson” and played in the Dominican Prospect League.
Vargas and the other A’s top international signings are all expected to make their pro debuts in the Dominican Summer League, with a chance to jump to the Rookie-level Arizona League by the end of the year.
One of the more polished players in the 2016 international class was 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Marcos Brito, who signed with the A’s for $1.1 million on July 2. Brito’s older brother, Antony, is a 22-year-old second baseman with the Rockies who played in the short-season Northwest League a year ago. Marcos is the better prospect, projecting to stick in the middle of the diamond with a knack for squaring up the ball in games from both sides of the plate. Brito has a small frame (5-foot-10, 150 pounds), but he was one of the top offensive performers in the Dominican Prospect League, drawing comparisons to DPL alumnus and Rangers shortstop Michael De Leon.
Brito has a good understanding of the strike zone for his age, showing a short, simple stroke with a high contact rate and the ability to hit to all fields. Adding strength to his light frame will be critical for Brito, though he will probably always have minimal power. Brito is a fringe-average runner but he is athletic and has a plus arm at shortstop. While some scouts thought Brito could end up at second base, he has the instincts and nose for the ball to play shortstop, where he’s fundamentally sound with smooth actions and a quick transfer. Brito trained with Decarte Corporan.
One of the premier athletes in the 2016 signing class was Kevin Richards, a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder the A’s signed for $600,000 on July 2. Richards has lean, extremely projectable frame (6-foot-1, 160 pounds) that’s bursting with quick-twitch athleticism. He’s a 70 runner with a gliding stride and a strong arm in center field. Richards’ tool set and athleticism are obvious, but his hitting ability remains crude. He’s a righthanded hitter with good bat speed and can drive the ball well for his age when he does connect, but his long swing and nascent pitch recognition skills lead him to bail out and hit from his heels, resulting in a high swing-and-miss rate. Richards, who played in the DPL, trained with Nelsy Brito and Kelvin Nova.
The A’s also gave $600,000 on July 2 to George Bell, the son of former major league outfielder and 1987 American League MVP George Bell. The 17-year-old son has a highly projectable, athletic build (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) that should be able to add considerable weight to become a strong, physical player. A righthanded hitter, Bell has at least average raw power that should continue to grow once he gets bigger. Bell was a modest performer at the plate in games before he signed and will have to cut down on his swing-and-miss, though the A’s were pleased with the strides he showed making contact after he signed. Bell is a fringe-average runner who showcased as a shortstop but after he signed moved immediately to third base, where his above-average arm is his best defensive tool. While some scouts picture Bell following in his father’s footsteps and moving to an outfield corner especially if he gets too big, he has the hands and arm strength to potentially stick at third. Bell trained with Alfredo Arias.
For $275,000, the A’s signed Colombian third baseman Jordan Diaz when he turned 16 on Aug. 13. Diaz, who is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, is an offensive-minded player whose best tool is his righthanded bat. He has performed well in games with a line-drive approach and gap power. Diaz stands out more in the batter’s box than in the field, but he has a chance to stick at third base and could see time at second base as well.