International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals
Total 2017 signings: 26.
Top 2017-18 signing: Several at $300,000.
The Cardinals went over their international bonus pool in 2016-17 to sign outfielders Jonathan Machado and Randy Arozarena and righthander Johan Oviedo from Cuba, as well as $1.5 million outfielder Victor Garcia from Venezuela, among other players. Since the Cardinals went over last year, they couldn’t sign anyone subject to the bonus pools for more than $300,000 last year during the 2017-18 signing period, a restriction that they will be under again when the 2018-19 period opens on July 2. Between the penalty situation and adding a second Dominican Summer League team this season, the Cardinals spread their money around in 2017.
One of the five players the Cardinals gave a $300,000 bonus last year was Diowill Burgos, a 17-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who signed in September. Burgos was a high-profile player early in the process while training with Amauris Nina, though some roller coaster game performance affected his stock. Burgos played a lot of baseball growing up and represented his country in 2016 at the COPABE 16U Pan American Championship in the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals were drawn to Burgos for his hitting ability. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Burgos has a sound, whippy swing from the left side of the plate, with mostly doubles power in games but occasional over-the-fence pop to his pull side during batting practice. Some scouts from other clubs had reservations about his pitch recognition and contact ability in games, but the Cardinals saw good hitting instincts and an ability to make adjustments with two strikes. With below-average speed and arm strength, Burgos fits best as a left fielder.
Adanson Cruz, who also trained with Nina and Richard Encarnacion, signed with the Cardinals for $300,000 on July 2. Cruz, 17, is 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, with long, lanky limbs and an advanced offensive approach. A righthanded hitter, Cruz has an all-fields approach, driving the ball well to right-center field. Early in the scouting process, Cruz showed good hitting ability without much power, but the Cardinals saw more power, with the lift in his swing to get to his power in games. Cruz is a fringe-average runner with a good first step, and while some clubs viewed him as strictly a corner outfielder, he’s in center field for now. He takes good routes and has an average, accurate arm that would fit in right field if he goes to a corner full time.
The Cardinals signed 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Sander Mora for $300,000 on July 2 from Carlos Guillen’s program. Mora is short but with a stocky, strong build at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, with a lot of strength through his lower half. Mora has a lot of baseball experience, having represented Venezuela at international tournaments since he was 12. He’s not a power hitter, but he can put a charge into the ball from the right side of the plate, and his plus speed is another weapon for him. Mora is a shortstop for now and can play there in the lower levels, with a 55 arm and a quick release, but his footwork and actions will need to improve, with some scouts thinking he fits best at second base.
Jesus Orrechia is a defensive-oriented catcher the Cardinals signed for $300,000 on July 2. Orrechia doesn’t jump out for his tools, but he has a good frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) and good feel for the position for a 17-year-old, with defensive smarts, receiving skills and intangibles managers like to have on their team. His arm strength is fringe-average, playing up with a fast exchange and sound throwing mechanics. At the plate, Orrechia uses the middle of the field with an inside-out swing from the right side, but he will need time for his bat to catch up to his defense. He trained with Andres Veliz.
The Cardinals signed 17-year-old Dominican outfielder Leudy Pena for $300,000 on July 2 from Josue Mateo’s program. Pena’s size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and power potential from the left side stood out. He’s a strong, physical player who makes hard contact when he connects, although his game hitting is still raw, so he will have to make adjustments to increase his contact rate in games. Defensively, he projects best in left field.
Cardinals Acquire Coveted Matthew Liberatore
The Cardinals accomplished several offseason goals when they traded major league depth to the Rays for Liberatore.
Dominican center fielder Joerlin de los Santos, who trained with Hector Evertz, signed with the Cardinals for $250,000 on July 2. De los Santos has spent time in the infield and the outfield as an amateur, but center field was the best match for his defensive skill set. He’s a 70 runner who covers a lot of ground in center with a near tick below-average arm. He isn’t tall but he has a strong, relatively compact build for his age (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) and stings the ball for hard contact when he connects. He doesn’t have the most fluid swing from the right side of the plate, but he shows solid barrel-to-ball skills, with the speed to leg out extra bases from his line drives and steal bags once he gets on base.
Gustavo Rodriguez is an 18-year-old previously eligible outfielder who signed with the Cardinals for $250,000 on July 2 after training with Alberto Barjam. Rodriguez has intriguing tools and an athletic frame (6-foot-2, 185 pounds), with a tick above-average speed and a plus arm. Rodriguez sticks out more for his physical upside and tools than his present feel for the game, with an aggressive swing from the right side. He likely will be a corner outfielder.
Another July 2 signing, 17-year-old shortstop Darlyn Del Villar, trained with Nolan Pena and signed for $225,000. Del Villar is skinny and physically underdeveloped right now at 6 feet, 160 pounds, but he has shown promising game skills on both sides of the ball. He has a chance to stick at shortstop, where he has good body control and coordination, along with a knack for slowing the game down. He’s a steady fielder with sound hands, takes good angles and gets rid of the ball quickly with a 55 arm. Del Villar is a 45 runner who isn’t that explosive yet because he lacks strength, and that lack of strength leaves him with little extra-base juice right now, but he has very good hand-eye coordination and doesn’t strike out much. Getting stronger will be critical for him to do more damage on contact.
After Orrechia, the Cardinals signed another 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher, Jose Zapata, for $200,000 on July 2. Zapta, who trained with former big league catcher Ramon Hernandez, is a stocky 5-foot-11, 195 pounds with a plus arm, though he’s still working to bring along his blocking and receiving skills. The strength in his frame helps him make solid contact to the alleys when he does connect from the right side of the plate.
In December, the Cadinals signed 18-year-old Inohan Paniagua for $160,000. He’s skinny and lanky (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) with a chance to add to a fastball that’s reached the low 90s once he puts on weight. Paniagua has shown feel to spin a breaking ball with three-quarters action and showed solid strike-throwing ability as well.
During the 2016-17 signing period in February, the Cardinals also gave $125,000 to Venezuelan righthander Jose Moreno. He pitched effectively in the DSL, posting a 3.18 ERA in 51 innings with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks. Moreno, who turned 17 at the end of the season in August, was throwing 88-91 mph as an amateur, but during the DSL was more regularly in the low 90s and reached 94 mph. He has an advanced changeup for his age and an inconsistent curveball. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Moreno has an athletic delivery, his arm works well and he filled up the strike zone in the DSL.