International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays 2018
Total 2017 signings: 38.
Top 2017-18 signing: RHP Eric Pardinho, Brazil, $1.4 million.
The Blue Jays went over their international bonus pool in 2015 to sign one player: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
That was a wise decision.
Since the Blue Jays went over their pool that year by a tick under 15 percent, they were subject to one year of signing restrictions instead of two. After sitting in the $300,000-and-under penalty box in 2016, the Blue Jays were free again in 2017, with a class headlined by the top international pitching prospect available, Brazilian righthander Eric Pardinho. Prior to signing for $1.4 million, Pardinho put on a dazzling display in July 2016 at the COPABE 16U Pan American Championship in Panama, where he struck out 14 batters with only one walk in six innings against a Dominican Republic team that included several of the country’s top 2017 prospects. Two months later, Pardinho pitched out of the bullpen for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in New York as a 15-year-old.
Pardinho, 17, has a smaller stature (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) but a terrific blend of stuff and polish for his age, with his stuff only ticking up since signing. Coming into July 2 last year, Pardinho sat 88-92 and touched 94 mph. While several scouts had concerns about Pardinho’s relatively filled-out build and weren’t sure how much harder he would throw, he has already gained velocity, sitting comfortably in the low 90s and topping out at 97 mph. Pardinho throws a sharp-breaking curveball that flashes plus with tight spin and good depth, giving him an out pitch. His changeup is fairly new to him and will need time to develop. Beyond the pure stuff, Pardinho separates himself with his ability to throw strikes from a calm, easy delivery. His arm action is smooth, he repeats his mechanics with minimal effort and he fills the strike zone with an understanding of how to attack hitters well beyond his years. Pardinho is already in Florida for extended spring training and will make his pro debut this year with one of the Blue Jays' U.S. affiliates.
The Blue Jays in July signed 16-year-old shortstop Leonardo Jimenez for $825,000, the top bonus last year for a player from Panama. He stood out from an early age, representing Panama at the 12U World Cup in 2013 in Taiwan, the COPABE 14U Championship in 2015 in Venezuela and the COPABE 16U Championship in 2016 in Panama. Jimenez’ game experience shows in his baseball acumen and instincts. Jimenez (6 feet, 165 pounds) puts together quality at-bats with a good hitting approach, staying through the ball well to use the middle of the field with a line-drive swing and doubles power from the right side. While other shortstops at the top of the class have more quick twitch and explosiveness, Jimenez has a chance to stick at the position because of his ability to slow the game down and play under control. He’s a tick below-average runner with soft hands, good body control and instincts for the position. Jimenez is in Florida now for extended spring training.
Some clubs considered Dominican shortstop Miguel Hiraldo, who signed for $750,000 on July 2, one of the top hitters in the class. Built like a catcher with a strong, sturdy frame (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), Hiraldo is a physically mature player for being 17 years old. A righthanded hitter, Hiraldo has a compact swing, setting up with his hands at his ears and coming straight down to the ball. Despite the lack of separation in his stroke, Hiraldo is able to generate plenty of bat speed with the explosion in his hands. Some clubs had concerns about Hiraldo’s ability to adjust to secondary stuff and use the opposite field, but he’s a good fastball hitter who makes frequent, hard contact in games, with strong legs and forearms to drive the ball with average raw power. Most clubs viewed Hiraldo as a future third baseman—one who would likely slide over there soon due to his body type and defensive actions. While the main draw on Hiraldo is his offensive ability, the Blue Jays were more optimistic than other clubs about his defense, believing he has a chance to stay at shortstop with good hands and arm strength, so he will begin his career up the middle. Hiraldo trained with “Mon.”
The Blue Jays also signed 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Alejandro Melean for $750,000 on July 2. Melean, who was Baseball America’s top-ranked pitcher last year going into July 2, is 6 feet, 175 pounds with the delivery, repertoire and feel for pitching to project as a starter. Melean has a fluid, athletic delivery and quick arm speed, throwing 88-92 mph and scraping 93 mph. His best pitch is his mid- to upper-70s curveball, which flashes above-average with tight spin and good depth to generate empty swings. Melean’s changeup has made significant progress since signing, and with his arm action and ability to manipulate the ball the pitch has promising upside. Melean has simple mechanics that are easy for him to repeat and help him throw frequent strikes. He trained with Victor Grasso.
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Dominican center fielder Alberto Rodriguez was one of the more prominent players in the 2017 class leading into 2016, though some up-and-down showings affected his stock before signing with the Blue Jays for $500,000 on July 2. A compact 5-foot-11, 180 pounds with a thick lower half, Rodriguez is a lefty with a loose, quick swing and uses the whole field. His bat path can get tilted uphill and he’s prone to expanding the strike zone, but even when he loses his balance he has the ability to keep his hands back to put the ball in play. Rodriguez, 17, is mostly a line-drive hitter with occasional shots to the alleys, and he probably won’t ever be a big power threat. To be an everyday player, Rodriguez has to stick in center field, which scouts were mixed on. He’s a solid-average runner with a good gait, sound defensive instincts for his age and an average arm with a loose throwing stroke. Rodriguez trained with Luis Mejia and Jaime Ramos.
Rainer Nunez is a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop (though he will probably move to third base) who the Blue Jays signed for $350,000 in July from El Niche’s academy. Tall and lean at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Nunez is a righthanded hitter who has shown flashes of offensive promise, hitting well in games when the Blue Jays scouted him. He has a big leg kick, and with his long limbs he has to work to maintain his balance and timing. He has solid strength now and should be able to gain significant power once he adds more weight to a frame that has a lot of space to fill out.
Venezuelan shortstop Jose Rivas, 17, signed with the Blue Jays for $280,000 in July. Rivas has a smaller stature (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) and hits well in games with a simple stroke from the right side. A high-energy, hard-nosed player, Rivas has a tablesetter profile, managing his bats well with a knack for getting on base as a line-drive hitter with gap power. Rivas is a slightly above-average runner who will probably develop as a shortstop but might ultimately fit best at second base.
Ronald Govea, who trained in the same program as Melean, is a 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander the Blue Jays signed for $200,000 on July 2. Govea isn’t a hard thrower but he stood out for his touch and feel on the mound, with good athleticism, arm action and mechanics. At 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, Govea has a projectable frame and signed throwing in the mid-80s. He’s increased that to 85-88 mph and should continue to keep that growing, though even at lower velocity he was able to generate swings and misses with his fastball. Govea is a prolific strike thrower and has shown feel to spin a curveball that’s ahead of his changeup.
Toward the end of the 2016-17 signing period, the Blue Jays signed 18-year-old Dominican righthander Jeison Contreras for $175,000 in May, and he pitched briefly as a reliever in the Dominican Summer League. Contreras has a chance to throw hard once he fills out his tall, projectable build (6-foot-4, 185 pounds), with a fastball that reaches 93 mph now. Contreras could develop into a power arm, but he’s still developing his control and secondary stuff to become more pitcher than thrower.