MLB Showcase: Top 2018 International Pitching Prospects

Typically, hitters are the priority for teams in Latin America. That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of pitching there, it’s that predicting the future of 15- and 16-year-old pitchers comes with extreme uncertainty, both in terms of whether projected pitch improvements will eventually come and whether their arms can stay healthy on a long road to the big leagues.

Even though the majority of $1 million-plus bonuses will go to position players, several pitchers stood out last week at Major League Baseball’s international showcase, while many of the hitters didn’t have their best look. Righthander Richard Gallardo looked electric on the first day of the event, with a full report and video on Gallardo available here for Baseball America subscribers.

These were some of the other pitchers who jumped out at the showcase. All of the players below are 16, unless noted otherwise. Baseball America subscribers can also read about the top Dominican shortstops and the top other international shortstops at the event.

Osiel Rodriguez, RHP, Cuba

Size: 6-3, 207, R-R
Trainer: Ysbel Medina
Games: 6 TBF, 4 SO, 0 BB, 1 H

Rodriguez and Gallardo were the most impressive pitchers at the showcase, with Rodriguez inducing a bundle of helpless, off-balance swings. His fastball sat at 91-93 mph with late finish up in the zone and touched 94 once. While he didn’t reach 96 mph like he did in an outing in November, Rodriguez still showed an outstanding fastball for his age.

Rodriguez missed a high percentage of bats with a sharp 78-81 mph slider. Like a lot of pitchers in Cuba, Rodriguez liberally mixed in his slider and varied his arm slot, which caused the pitch to either bend like a slurve or slice across and out of the strike zone. Rodriguez also showed feel for a splitter/changeup at 79-80 mph.

There is some funkiness to Rodriguez’s delivery and arm action, but he threw frequent strikes and has shown strong pitchability for his age. His combination of high-octane stuff for his age and a good track record of pitching in Cuba’s junior leagues make Rodriguez one of the top prospects in the 2018 class.

Sandy Gaston, RHP, Cuba
Size: 6-3, 205, R-R
Trainer: YP Baseball
Games: 7 TBF, 1 SO, 1 BB, 1 H, 1 HBP

Gaston displayed incredible velocity for a 16-year-old, sitting at 94-96 mph and touching 97, with scouts saying they have seen him reach a tick higher in the past.

Gaston threw harder than Rodriguez and Gallardo, but he lacked their same touch and feel. He has long arm action, recoils at the finish of his delivery and struggled with his control, firing multiple pitches to the backstop, hitting one batter and coming in close on other occasions. He throws a slider, curveball, changeup and splitter, but none of his secondary offerings was a reliable pitch for him at the MLB showcase.

When Gaston pitched in Cuba’s 15U national league in 2016, his 1.22 ERA ranked third in the league (behind Rodriguez and Astros righthander Franny Cobos) and he had a 77-27 K-BB mark in 66.1 innings. Moved up to Cuba’s 18U league in 2017, Gaston had a 5.55 ERA with 47 strikeouts and 46 walks in 47 innings, though he was just 15 and one of the youngest players in the league.

It’s not clear yet where Gaston will sign, though the Marlins have scouted him heavily and could be a landing spot.

Starlyn Castillo, RHP, Dominican Republic
Size: 5-11, 210, R-R
Trainer: Luis Mejia
Games: 9 TBF, 4 SO, 1 BB, 2 H, 1 HBP

Gaston and Castillo, who turned 16 shortly after the showcase on Feb. 24, both blew up the radar gun. Castillo sat at 92-96 mph and hit 97 once, with armside run and late riding life when he pitched up in the zone. He generates velocity with a quick arm and strong legs on a relatively filled out, physically mature frame for his age.

Castillo showed a tremendous fastball for his age and did strike out four of the nine hitters he faced, but he threw scattered strikes with bouts of wildness and lacked feel for his slider. The Phillies are the favorites to sign Castillo, whose bonus is expected to end up in the $1.5 million area.

Abraham Calzadilla, RHP, Venezuela
Size: 6-1, 162, R-R
Trainer: Robert Perez
Games: 8 TBF, 4 SO, 1 BB, 1 H

Calzadilla showed some of the best polish among pitching prospects at the showcase, with advanced stuff for his age as well. He threw strikes with an 88-91 mph fastball, locating it to both edges of the plate. Calzadilla kept hitters off balance by showing feel to spin a curveball with good rotation and depth. He showed the repertoire and pitching savvy to project as a starter. Calzadilla is connected to the D-backs.

Jerming Rosario, RHP, Dominican Republic
Size: 6-2, 161, R-R
Trainer: Franklin Ferreras
Games: 6 TBF, 3 SO, 1 BB, 0 H

Rosario is an athletic righthander whose stuff is moving in the right direction. When he pitched in MLB’s Dominican national showcase in November, Rosario threw his fastball 86-89 mph and showed feel for a changeup but struggled with his curveball. At the international showcase in February, all three of Rosario’s pitches showed improvement. Rosario, 15, sat at 88-90 mph and touched 91, with the physical projection to continue gaining velocity.

Rosario threw one of the better changeups at the showcase. It’s an advanced pitch for his age, disrupting hitters’ timing with good separation off his fastball at 79-82 mph. His curveball was inconsistent but showed tighter break and sharper action than he did in November. With a three-pitch mix and solid strike-throwing ability, Rosario has the attributes to develop as a starting pitcher.

Diomedes Sierra, LHP, Dominican Republic
Size: 6-2, 167, L-L
Trainer: Luis Mejia
Games: 6 TBF, 4 SO, 0 BB, 0 H

Sierra ran into little trouble during his inning, striking out four of the six batters he faced. Sierra worked mostly at 89-92 mph, strong velocity for a 16-year-old lefty. His 79-81 mph slider was inconsistent but flashed as an average pitch that was particularly effective against righthanded-hitting Luis Matos, with Sierra getting him to swing through a backfoot slider and then getting a called strike three on the outside edge.

Sierra throws across his body and recoils when he finishes his delivery, but he’s a good athlete and was a solid strike thrower at the showcase. The Padres were previously tied to Sierra, but now the D-backs instead look like the frontrunners to sign him, with a projected bonus a little below $500,000.

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