Scouting Reports For 2015's Top 30 International Prospects For July 2
Putting together a ranking with scouting reports on the top July 2 players is one of the most fun and challenging projects we do. I know general managers, team presidents and owners read these rankings and reports, so we owe it to the people who dedicate themselves to international scouting to be as thorough and comprehensive as possible. This year, while I'm confident we have more information than ever before, the puzzle is especially challenging to piece together.
In the draft, 95 percent of the information that teams have available to them is all the same. Whether it's a high school or a college player, they all play in games open to the public, whether it's in the Southeastern Conference, a local high school game, a summer college league or a high school showcase event. Evaluations might differ among scouts because they all look at players differently, but nearly all of the possible scouting looks and all of the performance data are open for all to see.
In Latin America, that isn't the case. There are trainer-organized leagues and showcases run by Major League Baseball, but a lot of the scouting is done at private or semi-private looks, whether it's at a team's own academy or with scouts going out to see a player at the trainer's field, the latter becoming a necessity with MLB tightening its rules on bringing players into a team facility. That in itself has always made Latin American scouting different than the draft. Throw in that the kids who are eligible to sign are 16 years old, where scouts are making longer-term projections, and it's easy to see why teams can be so split on players depending on when they saw them, how they saw them and how much they saw them, all before getting to philosophical differences on how to forecast a player's future talent level.
Now, the international market moves at a more aggressive pace than ever before. Teams are making decisions to lock in 2015 players with oral agreements in 2014, in some cases at this time a year ago. When that happens, those players disappear, other than perhaps to pop up at an MLB showcase, where they might not be going with 100 percent effort or have been facing regular live pitching leading up to the event. So while we have more and more information and scouting contacts in the international world today than ever before, the information itself becomes more challenging to interpret.
That caveat aside, the premium players in the class separated themselves. The first three players on the list repeatedly came up as at or near the top of the class and were a clear first tier. The rest of the players in the top 10 also earned consistent praise, and while they all come with their own risks, these are all very good players. The 11-20 players are all good players. There are a lot of teams that would put players ranked in that spot somewhere in the top 10 on their own individual lists. By the time we get to the last few spots on the list, the talent pool becomes more muddled. There are good players after this point, but the spread in talent between a player who we could rank as the No. 27 player in the class or the No. 50 player is fairly flat and mostly comes down to what different teams prioritize in their evaluations. For that reason, we cut the list off at 30 players, but we will have reports on lots of other notable players as well.
While I've seen most of these players myself in person, these reports are at attempt to reflect industry consensus, to the degree that it's possible. Every player has some combination of risk and reward, of raw athleticism and tools compared to present game-playing skills. In general, players move toward the top of the list if they hit in games and have the hitting attributes that project well as they move up--if a 16-year-old kid can't hit players his own age, it's hard to project him to hit better pitching--and if they project to play a premium position. There aren't many players who have both, so for a lot of players, teams have to pick their risk and pick their upside preference. Players tend to move down the list if they project to play a less valuable defensive position and have question marks on the bat, even if they have big raw power. The list is heavy on position players, which is usually the case. The best pitchers will probably be small-level projection signings whose stuff jumps up in the next few years.
If a team preferred Gilberto Celestino to Starling Heredia because Celestino is a better bet to play a premium position, I think that's very reasonable, and I know some teams have them graded out that way. It just depends what you prioritize. In the reports, I will try to point out where players were divisive, explain why some teams would have a player much higher or lower, and why a player is ranked ahead of or behind other top players at the same position.
While some Cuban players are subject to the bonus pools, they were not included in this list. The most advanced Cuban players like Norge Ruiz, Vladimir Gutierrez and Randy Arozarena would clearly be ahead of these players, who are almost all still 16 years old.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., of, Dominican Republic
Born: March 16, 1999. Height: 6-1. Weight: 210. B-T: R-R.
Vladimir Guerrero was one of the most exciting and talented players baseball has ever seen. He was a true five-tool player, with a lifetime .318/.379/.553 line, 449 career home runs, a 40-stolen base season as a 27-year-old in 2002 and an 80 arm. His bat control was among the best who ever played the game, with a preternatural ability to square up pitches in and out of the strike zone. While Guerrero played his final major league game in 2011, now baseball is about to welcome Vladimir Guerrero Jr. His cousin, Gabby Guerrero, is an outfielder with the Diamondbacks in Double-A, while another cousin, shortstop Gregory Guerrero, is another top July 2 prospect this year.
Vladdy Jr. doesn't have his father's all-around tools, but few players in baseball history did. Guerrero is an offensive-oriented prospect who several scouts said has the top combination of hitting ability and power in this year's class. Guerrero has terrific bat speed, unleashing a quick, compact swing with hitting mannerisms reminiscent of his father. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat control, which allows him to make frequent contact. Guerrero has good plate coverage, with the ability to square up premium velocity and breaking balls. Some scouts thought Guerrero could get out of control at times, but most thought his hitting approach was advanced for a 16-year-old. Guerrero's strength, bat speed and weight transfer produce flashes of plus raw power, striking the ball with as much consistent hard contact as any player in the class.
The drawback with Guerrero is that he doesn't bring much else to the table beyond what he does in the batter's box. He's a below-average runner at best with the thick, heavy body type that suggests he's going to slow down further. He has a 40-45 arm, so unless that improves for him to play right field, his best-case scenario defensively is to play left field. Guerrero has grown an inch in the past year and has worked hard to drop some weight, but keeping his conditioning in check will always have to be a focal point for him, since some scouts worry he might be a future first baseman or DH. Most of his focus to this point has been on his offense, so he needs to devote more time to his fielding, but that's the case with many young Dominican outfielders.
Scouts are divided on whether they would put Guerrero over Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers when they were at the same stage, with Devers generally getting the edge for his pure hitting ability and Guerrero grading out higher for his power. Like Devers, there is concern about Guerrero's defensive value, but if he turns into a plus hitter with plus or better power and hits in the middle of a lineup, it won't matter where he plays. Guerrero has played in both the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League, though he spends most of his time training with his uncle Wilton Guerrero, a former big leaguer. Guerrero's bonus should rank among the top in the class, though it might not be the highest. The Blue Jays are enamored with Guerrero and are expected to land him.
2. Andres Gimenez, ss, Venezuela
Born: Sept. 4, 1998. Height: 5-11. Weight: 165. B-T: L-R.
When Gleyber Torres was eligible to sign in 2013, he was in the program of Ciro Barrios, one of the most prominent Venezuelan trainers. That exposure and Torres' talent helped net him a $1.7 million bonus. Torres has come as advertised, reaching the low Class A Midwest League as an 18-year-old, showing advanced hitting ability and on-base skills while playing in the middle of the diamond. This year's top player in Venezuela is Gimenez, who some scouts believe can produce similar value to Torres, though he hasn't had as high of a profile training with Eduardo Navarro.
Gimenez is one of the best pure hitters available, with some projecting him as potential .300 hitter. He has a sweet lefty stroke that's short, quick and fluid. For someone who isn't that physically developed yet, Gimenez has impressive bat speed thanks to his explosive hands. He shows the ability to hit in games, controlling the barrel and hitting line drives to all fields with a flat, repeatable swing and a high contact rate. Gimenez doesn't project to be a big power threat, but the ball jumps off the bat well for his size and he has the strength projection with his broad shoulders and strong hands to grow into double-digit home run power. The speed continues to trend in the right direction, with above-average running times. Reviews of his defense range from steady to potentially above-average at shortstop, where he has a plus arm and good hands. The Mets are the favorites to sign Gimenez.
3. Leodys Taveras, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Sept. 8, 1998. Height: 6-1. Weight: 165. B-T: B-R.
Taveras is a younger cousin of Willy Taveras, who played seven major league seasons as an outfielder, mostly with the Astros and Rockies. Though he never hit much, Taveras was an excellent fielder early in his career and led MLB with 68 stolen bases in 2008. Leodys is another quick-twitch athlete and one of the most well-rounded players on the July 2 market.
Taveras has a lean, athletic frame with a chance for five average to plus tools. He's a switch-hitter with one (or two) of the cleanest swings in the class, though he's more advanced from the right side. It's a simple, fluid stroke from both sides that's quick and direct to the ball with good bat path. He didn't show it at the MLB international showcase in February, but he has performed well in games. Some scouts did have reservations about his offspeed recognition, but he can tune up anyone's fastball. He doesn't have much muscle yet but he's strong for his size, has big hands and good strength projection as he continues to fill out. He already hits the ball hard, driving the ball to the fence in batting practice.
Taveras has above-average speed and arm strength, so while his opinions on his reads and routes in center field were mixed, he has the tools to play the position. He's a smooth player who plays the game calmly and under control. Taveras, who played in the Dominican Prospect League and trained with “Berryu," has been strongly connected to the Rangers. With his upside, you could make a case for him being the top player in the class, but he hasn't been seen much recently.
4. Lucius Fox, ss, Bahamas
Born: July 2, 1997. Height: 6-1. Weight: 165. B-T: B-R.
Fox went to American Heritage (Fla.) High and would have been subject to the draft this year had he stayed in school. Instead, Fox was able to avoid the draft by moving to the Bahamas, where he was born, and petitioning the commissioner's office to make him a free agent. The commissioner's office ruled in April that Fox would be subject to the international bonus pools and eligible to sign on July 2. The international market moves quickly, so being a late entry to the pools normally hurts a player, but the Dodgers look prepared to go well beyond their bonus pool and are the favorites to sign Fox, with expectations that his bonus will be among the highest in the class.
Fox turns 18 on July 2, so he's a year and a half to two years older than most of the traditional July 2 eligible prospects. His experience relative to the rest of the class shows. At his best, he shows feel to hit from both sides of the plate with a line-drive bat, although some scouts were expecting to see more from his bat given his age. It's not a conventional swing--it can get uphill and there's some inconsistency with his hand set-up--but his athleticism and coordination give him a chance to hit. He doesn't have much power but he's a plus-plus runner who could potentially hit near the top of the lineup if everything clicks. Fox is an excellent athlete, though scouts are split on where he fits best in the field. Some thought he could play shortstop and liked his actions there, while others didn't like his rhythm, footwork or instincts at the position and saw him as a future center fielder.
5. Derian Cruz, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: Oct. 3, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 165. B-T: B-R.
Among the high-profile prospects on the market, Cruz is the best athlete in this year's class. He's an explosive player who was a plus runner at 14 and now has 70 speed on the 20-80 scale. With his gliding stride and strength projection, some scouts project Cruz as a future 80 runner and he should be a prolific basestealing force. Cruz has a solid bat but it's not as refined as Andres Gimenez or Lucius Fox, the two shortstops ahead of him on this list. He has good bat speed, strong forearms and gap power now, with the potential to hit 8-12 home runs in his prime. He's a switch-hitter and some scouts liked his hitting potential, though there's some crudeness to his swing from both sides. He's more advanced and has better barrel control from the right side, where he gets long at times but has a workable swing path and a line-drive approach. He pushes forward early in his swing, especially with his upper body, causing the bat to drag, but he does make contact and has been making progress at the plate, with scouts pointing to his premium athleticism as another factor that should help him make the right adjustments.
Cruz has showcased at shortstop and figures to play the position in pro ball until he's forced to move. His speed and quick first step give him good range, with good footwork and a quick exchange. However, his arm and funky throwing stroke aren't ideal for shortstop. If he doesn't stay at shortstop, he could move over to second base, though he could also go to center field, where his speed could give him outstanding range. Cruz already graduated from high school and earns praise for his intelligence, although his baseball IQ and clock for the game may need time to catch up to his pure athleticism. He could end up a similar player to Yankees shortstop Jorge Mateo, with more physicality. Cruz, who played in the International Prospect League, trained with Javier Rodriguez and Rudy Santin. The Braves are the favorites to sign him.
6. Gregory Guerrero, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: Jan. 20, 1999. Height: 5-11. Weight: 175. B-T: R-R.
Guerrero doesn't have the same thump in his bat as his cousin, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but he's another smart, advanced hitter who brings more to the other parts of the game than Vladdy Jr. Gregory has quick wrists, good bat speed and a mature hitting approach, with some scouts projecting him to be a plus hitter. Guerrero can get pull happy at times but he earned praise for his plate discipline and loose, whippy swing. He starts his swing with a hitch but keeps his hands inside the ball and the bat head in the hitting zone, showing a knack to put the barrel to the ball with good finish. Guerrero doesn't have as much physical upside as Wander Javier, but he is a better hitter whose power has steadily increased, so the ball jumps off his bat well for his age. His strength at the plate though will be more about hitting hard line drives than big loft power.
Guerrero is a smart, instinctive player who stands out more for his game awareness than raw tools or physicality, with some of the most polished baseball skills in the class. He does have a plus arm and he's a solid athlete, but he is a below-average runner. Guerrero is not as advanced defensively as Javier, but even with his lack of speed, several scouts liked his defense and thought he could play shortstop, noting the significant defensive progress he's made over the last year with his actions. Others felt his range would be better suited at second or third base.
Guerrero's solid tools, hitting ability and overall clock for the game should aid him into a smooth transition to pro ball. After training with Wilton Guerrero and playing in both the Dominican Prospect League and the International Prospect League, Guerrero has been heavily tied to the Mets.
7. Seuly Matias, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Sept. 4, 1998. Height: 6-2. Weight: 190. B-T: R-R.
Matias has an exciting combination of tools, athleticism and physical upside. He has good size on his lean, sinewy body with a high level of strength projection to fill out his loose, lanky build. He's a quick-twitch player who has solid-average speed, so he should start out in center field with his athleticism giving him a chance to stay there, though some felt he might end up in right field depending on how his body and outfield instincts develop. His best tool is his arm, the best among the high-profile 2015 players. It's a cannon that's earned some 70 grades from scouts, which means pitching could even be a fallback option.
Matias is a high-risk, high-reward player, with opinions on him swinging significantly based on how people saw him perform against live pitching. Some scouts saw him hit in games, liked his swing and balance at the plate and saw him use the whole field, so they loved him, especially with his athleticism and power projection. When he's locked in, he showed a simple swing that's direct to the ball without much movement and good extension. Other evaluators saw more rough edges at the plate. He has good bat speed and drives the ball well for his age when he connects, but there were concerns about his lack of rhythm, swing-and-miss rate, pitch recognition and pull-conscious approach. If he shows he can hit and stay in center field, he has star potential with a ceiling among the highest in the class. The Royals are the favorites to sign Matias, who has played in the DPL and trains with Victor Marmolejos.
8. Starling Heredia, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Feb. 6, 1999. Height: 6-0. Weight: 215. B-T: R-R.
Heredia played in the Under-Armour All-America game last year in August at Wrigley Field. Even though he was a 15-year-old competing against rising seniors, Heredia had little trouble fitting in physically and showed off his power as the runner-up in the home run derby, blasting several balls out of the stadium.
With his thick, muscular build, Heredia looks like a man among boys. He's one of the strongest players in the 2015 class and one of the most aggressive in all phases of the game. While there isn't much physical projection remaining, his strength produces a mature tool package. Heredia is remarkably athletic and quick for someone his size, showing above-average speed. He might start out in center field, but with the way he's built, he will probably slow down and fits better in a corner. He has a strong arm that would play in right field.
Heredia has excellent bat speed and his raw power flashes plus already. Scouts don't consider Heredia a pure hitter, but when he's played in games, he's usually performed well and made hard contact. He loads his swing with a big leg kick, though he cuts down with two strikes and is able to keep his hands inside the ball. He has been vulnerable against breaking pitches and will need to improve his pitch recognition and hyper-aggressive approach, so there are questions about whether he's simply overpowering pitchers at this level with his strength and physical maturity and how he will adjust up the ladder. To his credit, some scouts thought he was making strides with his ability to recognize spin as July 2 approached and used the middle of the field. It's an overall package that's comparable to Padres Triple-A outfielder Rymer Liriano.
Unlike many players this year, Heredia was seen frequently this year, including games in the Dominican Prospect League. The Dodgers are the favorites for Heredia, who trains with Franklin Ferreras.
9. Wander Javier, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: Dec. 29, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 170. B-T: R-R.
Javier has a wide range of tools that are plus or project to be plus in the future. With long limbs, thin legs and big feet on a wiry frame, Javier's speed and arm strength are both 60s on the 20-80 scale. Most scouts felt comfortable projecting Javier to stick at shortstop. His defensive actions are good and he has a quick exchange to go with his plus arm that could get even stronger, although like many young shortstops there are times when he tries to do too much and gets out of control.
Javier's strong, quick wrists produce good bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat well during batting practice. With his bat quickness and strength projection, some scouts see him growing into above-average power. The widespread question on Javier is whether he will be able to make the adjustments to have better results at the plate. He starts his swing with a big leg kick and lunges at the ball, which gets him out on his front side early and creates balance and timing issues, especially against breaking pitches. His bat plane through the zone is fairly level, but the swing gets long and his raw hitting approach gets him caught in between a lot of pitches and out of sync. While he's not a natural hitter, Javier has the hand-eye coordination and athleticism that could help him make adjustments.
It's hard to find shortstops in the draft with tools like Javier's, which is why some teams are drawn to his high ceiling, even with the bat risk. Teams that place a premium on tools over present hitting ability would put Javier over Gregory Guerrero, and he has a higher probability to play shortstop than Derian Cruz, but with less speed and feel for contact. After playing in the Dominican Prospect League and training with Josue Mateo, Javier looks set to become one of the top-paid players on the market, with a bonus that could push $4 million. The Twins are the favorites to sign him.
10. Alvaro Seijas, rhp, Venezuela
Born: Oct. 10, 1998. Height: 6-1. Weight: 175. B-T: R-R.
There weren't many standout pitchers in this year's class, although that's usually the case with 16-year-old pitchers. At that age, even the best arms are topping out in the low-90s, don't have a consistent plus pitch yet and are usually still learning to spot their stuff. While there was nobody at the level of last year's top arm, Red Sox righthander Anderson Espinoza, Seijas emerged as the consensus top pitcher for July 2 while training at Carlos Guillen's academy. He was one of the most effective pitchers at the MLB international showcase in the Dominican Republic in February, when he threw two scoreless innings with one hit, no walks and four strikeouts.
Seijas isn't very physical, but he has a lean frame and a quick arm from a near over-the-top slot that produces a fastball that sits 88-92 mph and reaches 94. He complements the fastball with a tight-spinning curveball that's already a swing-and-miss pitch that projects to be plus, though right now he's still learning to harness it in the strike zone. His changeup is his No. 3 offering, but he's shown feel for that pitch as well. Seijas is a good athlete who throws a lot of strikes and has good pitchability. He doesn't have much physical projection and his arm stroke isn't the cleanest with a wrap in the back and some effort in his delivery, but he projects as a starting pitcher with his repertoire and strike-throwing ability.
Seijas is comparable in value to Brewers righthander Marcos Diplan, who signed with the Rangers two years ago for $1.3 million, with Diplan having smoother arm action and Seijas having a little more size and better command. Even though the prices at the top of the market have gone up, Seijas isn't expected to crack $1 million, which would make him one of the better values of the international signing period. The Cardinals are the favorites to get him.
11. Jeison Guzman, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: Oct. 8, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 160. B-T: L-R.
Many of the top players in the Dominican Republic are big, strong players who are already physically well-developed. Then there's Guzman, who looks like he's 14 but has instincts and feel for the game well beyond his years. He's an athletic, agile player who lacks present strength, so while his tools don't jump out immediately, he's a player scouts appreciate the more they see him. Even though Guzman is a below-average runner, scouts widely predicted that he will remain at shortstop and considered him one of the better defensive shortstops available. His actions are fluid, his hands are excellent and his footwork is sound, so he has a chance to be a plus fielder. Once he gets stronger, he should develop more of a quick first step with a chance to get faster, though that's always tricky to project. He has a solid-average arm and a quick release.
Guzman has a knack for slowing the game down in the field and at the plate. He works the count and controls the strike zone well for his age. He has a sound lefthanded swing with a line-drive approach. He puts the ball in play frequently and will drive one into the gap from time to time with improving extra-base pop, but his game is more about contact and getting on base than power. His game draws comparison to Rangers shortstop Michael De Leon, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $550,000. Guzman is expected to get considerably more, with a price likely north of $1 million and the Royals the favorites. Guzman trains with John Carmona and grew up playing in La Javilla youth league in Santo Domingo, the same league that produced Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara and Mets shortstop Amed Rosario.
12. Aramis Ademan, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: Sept. 13, 1998. Height: 5-10. Weight: 150. B-T: L-R.
Early in the 2015 scouting process, Ademan was a high-profile player commanding plenty of attention. He played shortstop for the Dominican team at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Colombia in 2013, then played in the International Prospect League while training with Amauris Nina, whose recent signings include Royals outfielder Elier Hernandez ($3 million), Cubs outfielder Eloy Jimenez ($2.8 million) and last year Rockies shortstop Pedro Gonzalez ($1.3 million). Ademan remains one of the better players for 2015, though he projects more as a steady player than a high upside talent.
Guzman has a medium, slender frame and a gamer mentality. While a lot of Dominican amateur hitters take a big leg kick to load up for power in BP, Ademan takes a minimal stride with a simple, contact-oriented hitting approach. He doesn't swing through many pitches, peppering the ball around the field with a high contact rate and a line-drive approach. Ademan has little power and probably lacks the physical projection to grow into double-digit home runs. He shows some ability to work the count, so his offensive value will be about his contact and on-base skills. Ademan isn't a big runner and with his thick ankles he might not get faster either. While he's not the most quick-twitch or bouncy shortstop, scouts did like him at the position, where his feet are quick, his hands are soft and his actions are smooth. His solid arm strength plays up due to his quick release, though sometimes he tries to do too much in the field, but that should settle down with experience. Some liked him more than fellow Dominican shortstop Jeison Guzman because they felt Ademan has a better chance to hit, but others felt Guzman had higher physical upside. The Cubs are the favorites to sign Ademan.
13. Juan Soto, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Oct. 25, 1998. Height: 6-3. Weight: 180. B-T: L-L.
Playing in the Dominican Prospect League has benefitted Soto, a player who looks better in games than he does in a showcase. He consistently hit well during those games, including a highly-attended event last year in the Dominican Republic, and established himself as one of the top hitters available.
While other hitters in the class have better bat speed, Soto has good timing and feel for the barrel, keeping his hands inside the ball to square up pitchers at a high rate in games. He handles good velocity, recognizes spin and is a smart hitter who uses the whole field and already has a two-strike approach. It's mostly doubles power right now with occasional over-the-fence sock. With the strength and loft in his swing and the projection remaining on his frame, he should at least have average power, with some scouts projecting his future hitting and power grades to both be above-average. Soto has good outfield instincts for his experience level, but he's a below-average runner with an average arm, so he's limited to left or right field. Soto isn't quite as well-rounded as Venezuelan outfielder Daniel Montano, but several scouts ranked Soto ahead of him, though Montano is likely to get more money. The Nationals are the favorites for Soto, who trains with Christian Batista, also known as "Niche."
14. Miguel Aparicio, of, Venezuela
Born: March 17, 1999. Height: 5-11. Weight: 170. B-T: L-L.
If everything clicks for Aparicio, he has a chance to have five average or better tools. He doesn't have one tool that stands out as plus right now, but his baseball skills are advanced for his age. He has a short, simple swing and good bat control, going with where the pitch is to hit line drives to all fields with a high contact rate. Aparicio has a better chance to hit for average than he does for power, with a chance to grow into 10-15 home runs in his prime. Aparicio was a high-profile player early in the scouting process, though some scouts felt he didn't take the offensive step forward the way they expected him to from last year. Others think that may be because he started to get stronger and tried too hard to show off his newfound sock during tryouts at the detriment of his usual line-drive approach.
Aparicio is athletic and a slightly above-average runner with an average arm. He will start in center field and scouts largely felt he had a good chance to stay at the position. Aparicio's hitting potential and ability to play in the middle of the diamond are what make him one of the best prospects in Venezuela this year, drawing comparisons to David DeJesus and Gerardo Parra. While it originally looked like Aparicio would be able to sign for more than $1 million, now he might have to settle for half that in a hectic market for Venezuelan players. The Rangers are the favorites for Aparicio, who is represented by Felix Olivo.
15. Albert Guaimaro, of, Venezuela
Born: Jan. 17, 1999. Height: 5-10. Weight: 210. B-T: R-R.
Guaimaro was a key player on Venezuela's team at the 15U World Championships last year in August in Mexico. He hit well at the tournament, batting .375/.364/.531 in 32 at-bats with three doubles, a triple, no walks and six strikeouts. He was one of the few players who had success against Adrian Morejon, the tournament MVP and one of the best pitching prospects in Cuba, getting two hits against him.
With a strong, compact frame, Guaimaro is a physically mature player for his age with advanced baseball skills. Guaimaro has good bat speed and hits the ball hard, with scouts appreciating that he focuses on being a good hitter first rather than trying to yank the ball for power. He will expand the strike zone and some wondered about his pitch recognition, but he shows good feel for hitting, with a short, line drive swing and the ability to use the opposite field. Guaimaro mostly works gap to gap but should grow into at least average power, although he's already fairly filled out so there isn't too much physical projection. While Guaimaro's running times have varied, most have him with fringe-average speed. He has showcased as a corner outfielder and is expected to sign as one, but he also has a catching background, so several scouts are intrigued by the idea of putting him behind the plate, while others think third base might be possible. Part of this ranking factors in his potential to catch. Even though the Red Sox are limited to signing players for no more than $300,000, they are the favorites to sign Guaimaro.
16. Daniel Montano, of, Venezuela
Born: March 31, 1999. Height: 6-1. Weight: 180. B-T: L-R.
Montano represented Venezuela at the 15U World Championships in Mexico in August, when he batted .375/.483/.542 in 24 at-bats with a home run, three walks and six strikeouts. He emerged early on as one of the country's best prospects, though he draws a range of opinions, with even scouts who liked him going back and forth on his evaluation.
Montano doesn't have one carrying tool, but he does several things well. He has a lean frame with more physical projection than fellow Venezuelan outfielders Albert Guaimaro and Miguel Aparicio. Montano is a sleek, smooth player with quick hands, a balanced swing with good rhythm and extension along with a good eye. However, he's been an up-and-down performer with surprising swing-and-miss at times, some of which may just be a lack of strength right now. He uses the whole field with gap power. Montano is an average runner and plays center field now. He draws questions for his defensive instincts and whether he will stay in center field, though he should start his career there. Moving to a corner would put more weight on his power developing. More scouts seemed to prefer Aparicio because he had a better chance to stay in center field. Montano trains at Carlos Guillen's academy and is expected to be the top-paid player in Venezuela this year, with the Rockies the favorites.
17. Gilberto Celestino, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Feb. 13, 1999. Height: 6-2. Weight: 175. B-T: R-L.
When Celestino was 12 in 2011, he went to Maryland to play in the Cal Ripken World Series and made the all-defense team in the international division. Celestino still shines in center field, with some scouts calling him the best defensive outfielder in the class. Celestino is only an average runner at best, and while some scouts will always want to see more pure speed when projecting a player his age to stay in center field, he looks natural and comfortable there. He has a quick first step, reads swings and gets excellent jumps off the bat, taking precise routes to range from gap to gap and make impressive catches, along with an average, accurate arm. Scouts highest on Celestino project him as a future plus defender with a chance to have a plus-plus glove.
Celestino has plenty of game experience and represented the Dominican Republic at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in 2013 in Colombia. Celestino is the rare player who throws lefthanded but is a righthanded hitter. Celestino has a track record of hitting well in organized games and manages his at-bats well with feel for the strike zone, but there were mixed reviews of his offensive upside. He does have a quick bat and will take the ball over the fence in BP. He takes a big leg kick and has some length and loop to the zone that concerned some scouts, but even those who had mechanical reservations generally felt Celestino had solid hitting instincts. Scouts highest on Celestino felt he had the athleticism and overall baseball IQ to be able to apply instruction and make any necessary adjustments, with the type of athleticism where his tools could improve with strength gains. There are a lot of similarities to Cubs outfielder Albert Almora. The Astros are the favorites to sign Celestino, who trains with Amauris Nina and plays in the International Prospect League.
18. Jhailyn Ortiz, of/1b, Dominican Republic
Born: Nov. 18, 1998. Height: 6-2. Weight: 260. B-T: R-R.
Ortiz is hard to miss, whether you're watching him show off his vicious power in BP or just see his pure size. It's an extra-large frame with extra-loud power. Between his strength and bat speed, Ortiz generates easy 65-70 power on the 20-80 scale already. His raw power is the best in the class, which allows him to put on a show in BP. When Ortiz has his timing right and gets a pitch in his kill zone, he can take a fastball out from right-center field over to his pull side, which he showed last summer when he homered off former major leaguer Fautino de los Santos throwing in the mid-90s.
That was the peak of Ortiz's stock, and it's expected to make him one of the highest-paid players on July 2, to the surprise of many scouts. Ortiz has always had a heavy body type, but since last summer he's concerned scouts by getting heavier and losing his mobility, like a taller version of Dan Vogelbach or Prince Fielder. It's something he will always have to watch and will almost certainly limit him to first base, although he does have an above-average arm. The larger concern is his game hitting, as Ortiz struggled with contact at MLB events in February and March in alarming fashion. In BP, Ortiz has a sound swing and keeps his hands inside the ball, but it's another story when he faces live pitching. He has trouble especially recognizing breaking pitches, so in games his timing gets thrown off and he loses his balance, waving through too many pitches. As one scout who liked Ortiz put it, “I've never seen him worse than at the MLB showcase. I was shocked. That wasn't the guy we knew." Many others felt the empty swings were consistent with what they had always seen from him. The optimistic outlook is that he is still young and just hasn't been seeing much live pitching, so if he learns to recognize a breaking ball, the power will take over.
When Nomar Mazara signed with the Rangers for a record $4.95 million bonus in 2011, he had huge power but frightened scouts with his swing-and-miss rate. Now he's one of the best prospects in baseball. If Ortiz can make the adjustments to make more frequent contact, the raw power is there for 25-plus home runs to carry him at first base, but there is a lot of risk here. Ortiz is the hardest player on this list to rank. He would have ranked much higher had this list come out last summer, and while a few teams would have him higher, a lot of scouts will think this ranking is generous. The Phillies are known to be extremely high on Ortiz, who trains with Baltazar Mesa and played in the Dominican Prospect League, and are the favorites to sign him.
19. Carlos Vargas, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: March 18, 1999. Height: 6-3. Weight: 180. B-T: R-R.
Vargas, who played for the Dominican team at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in 2013, is one of the top offensive prospects in the class, even if he doesn't look quite as smooth or fluid in the batter's box. He has broad shoulders, a projectable frame and strong wrists to generate very good bat speed through the hitting zone. To get there, Vargas starts his swing with a funky setup, with some moving parts and herky-jerky actions to get going. Yet in high-profile games, he has performed well, including a big showing at MLB's international showcase in February when he was able to keep his hands back and went 3-for-6 with two home runs and only one strikeout. It's not a low-maintenance swing and there's a bit of upward movement coming out of his legs, so he tends to get caught out front against breaking pitches, showing more swing-and-miss when he went to North Carolina for MLB's International Prospect Series. Better pitching will test him, but he's shown the ability to drive the ball the other way. He projects to be a big, strong man, so he could grow into above-average power.
A shortstop for now, Vargas lacks natural infield actions to stay at the position long-term. He doesn't run well now and will probably slow down once he fills into his considerable size projection. His best chance is to develop his defensive skills at third base, where some scouts believe he can be a solid fielder with a strong arm and a quick release. If that doesn't take, he would probably end up in an outfield corner. After playing in the Dominican Prospect League and training with Jaime Ramos, Vargas has been connected to the Mariners.
20. Yonathan Perlaza, ss, Venezuela
Born: Nov. 10, 1998. Height: 5-8. Weight: 175. B-T: B-R.
The first thing scouts mention when Perlaza's name is brought up is the explosiveness in his hands. Perlaza packs a lot of strength into a short, compact frame that's physically mature for his age. He wraps the bat and starts his swing with a simple toe tap, then unleashes a ferocious but compact swing with excellent bat speed through the zone. When he connects, he smokes hard, loud line drives with good exit speed, with the ability to backspin the ball as well. While he showed some swing-and-miss tendencies with over-aggressiveness at the MLB international showcase in the Dominican Republic in February (he went 2-for-7 with a double and three strikeouts), several scouts were extremely high on Perlaza's bat and liked his ability to use the middle of the field.
Any team that signs Perlaza is buying an offensive-minded prospect who's still learning to slow the game down in the field. He's a slightly above-average runner whose body type suggests he will slow down. Defense doesn't come naturally to Perlaza, so while he might start out his career at shortstop, he doesn't have the actions to stay there long-term. If he can smooth out his actions and his defensive instincts come along, he could be able to play second base. Otherwise he would have to move to the outfield, likely in a corner spot. He could develop into a player along the lines of Astros infielder Luis Valbuena or Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera. There won't be many Venezuelan players signing for more than $1 million this year, but Perlaza, who trains with Douglas Aguiar, is expected to be one of them. The Cubs are the favorites to sign him.
21. Christian Pache, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Nov. 19, 1998. Height: 6-1. Weight: 180. B-T: R-R.
Pache improved his stock when he performed well at MLB's international showcase in February, going 3-for-6 with a triple, a walk, a stolen base and no strikeouts. He's one of the better athletes among the outfielders in this year's class, but he draws a split camp based on what scouts thought about his game hitting. Like Carlos Vargas, Pache doesn't have the prettiest swing, but his biggest believers say he finds a way to make it work in games. It's a funky, disjointed stroke, but it does get to the hitting zone quickly and he uses the whole field with gap power. Scouts highest on Pache liked the way he tracked pitches and his feel for hitting with the hand-eye coordination to manipulate the barrel. Others saw more swing-and-miss and felt his MLB showing was more of an aberration than the norm for him.
With Pache's athleticism and slightly above-average speed, he should start in center field with a good chance to stay there. Last year he showed a strong arm, but then in the fall he had a screw put into his right elbow, so he had to take time off to recover. After training with Valentin Monero, Pache is expected to sign for close to $1.5 million. The Braves are the favorites to get him.
22. Miguel Amaya, c, Panama
Born: March 3, 1999. Height: 6-0. Weight: 180. B-T: R-R.
Amaya caught for Panama at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Colombia in 2013 and did so again at the 15U World Championships last year in Mexico. He made the all-star team at catcher in Mexico, though he hit just .233/.361/.233 in 30 at-bats with five walks and three strikeouts. Scouts rave about Amaya's defensive polish. He's a tremendous receiver for his age, quiet behind the plate with soft hands, advanced blocking skills and good lateral movement, already showing a knack to frame pitches. Amaya doesn't have the laser arm than fellow Panamanian catcher Christian Bethancourt had when he signed with the Braves, getting 40-50 grades on his arm now but trending in the right direction, portending improvement when he gets stronger. Amaya is a smart, instinctive player who earns praise for his vocal leadership and game awareness behind the plate, which should endear him to managers.
Amaya's defense should carry him, with the offensive ability determining his future role. While players in Panama do play in a lot of games, hitters there can be harder to gauge sometimes because of the lower level of competition and velocity they face. Amaya has a good setup, stays balanced and his loose, compact swing is direct to the ball. The bat speed is just fair, and he's mostly a singles and gap-to-gap hitter right now, but he projects to be strong, with a chance for 45-50 future power. If he can be a serviceable hitter, he could stick around the majors a long time as a backup catcher, with a chance to be an everyday guy depending how his offensive game develops. Some scouts thought his value was comparable to Mets catcher Ali Sanchez, with Sanchez having more hitting ability and Amaya the more advanced receiver. Players from Panama generally get less attention than Dominican and Venezuelan players, but Amaya is expected to command more than $1 million, with the Cubs the favorites.
23. Rafael Marchan, c, Venezuela
Born: Feb. 25, 1999. Height: 5-8. Weight: 175. B-T: B-R.
Other Venezuelan players at the 15U World Championshs last August in Mexico may have looked better in a uniform and had louder tools, but Marchan was definitely the top offensive performer on the team. Marchan ranked third in the tournament in batting average, seventh in OBP and third in slugging, leading the Venezuelan team in all three categories. He hit .531/.605/.719 in 32 at-bats with three triples, six walks and two strikeouts and led the team in stolen bases by going 7-for-7. At the time, Marchan was playing shortstop, but with his short, stocky frame and lack of speed, that wasn't a long-term fit, so he moved behind the plate while training in Carlos Guillen's academy.
Marchan is a player scouts appreciate the more they see him because he's a smart, high baseball IQ player who is fundamentally sound and consistently hits well in games. He starts his swing with a leg lift but stays balanced and under control, taking a short, flat swing that stays on plane with the ball and in the hitting zone a long time, which allows him to make frequent contact and hit to all fields. He has a good approach and works the count, so his ability to hit and draw walks give him good on-base skills. He will have to rely on those more than power, since he's mostly a gap hitter with limited physical projection. Marchan is fairly new to catching so his defense is understandably raw. That means there are questions about whether he will stick at the position, but he does have a good arm and some scouts think he can be a solid defensive catcher. He's a better hitter right now than Panamanian catcher Miguel Amaya but Amaya has more physical upside and is more of a lock to stick behind the dish. There are some similarities, both physically and in terms of skill set, with Rangers catcher Tomas Telis. The Phillies are the favorites to sign Marchan.
24. Simon Muzziotti, of, Venezuela
Born: Dec. 27, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 165. B-T: L-L.
A little more than a year ago, Muzziotti had an injury in his throwing arm and had trouble staying on the field consistently, which set him back at a time when the market's pace was accelerating. He has played in several high-profile events, including MLB's annual international showcase in February, where he went 3-for-7 with a double, two strikeouts and a stolen base, and then in MLB's International Prospect Series in March in North Carolina. He jumps out for his athleticism, plus speed and ability to play a premium position. Muzziotti has a thin, athletic frame with plus speed and an easy gait. His arm is below-average but he has good defensive actions and range in center field.
Muzziotti has performed well in games by spraying line drives to all fields. He sets up close to the plate and cuts himself off by striding toward the dish, so he's adept at slicing the ball to the opposite field but also is prone to rolling over weak groundballs to his pull side. Muzziotti is mostly a singles hitter and isn't very physical, so he doesn't project to drive the ball for much power, although some scouts thought he would grow into solid extra-base pop for a center fielder. Some preferred Muzziotti to fellow Venezuelan center fielder Miguel Aparicio because he's a better runner, but Aparicio's bat and strength projection put him ahead for more clubs. Even though the Red Sox are limited to signings of no more than $300,000, they are the favorites to sign Muzziotti, who trains with Pascuale Fiorello.
25. Ronny Brito, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: March 22, 1999. Height: 6-1. Weight: 170. B-T: R-R.
Brito's defensive tools are among the best in the 2015 class. He projects as a pure shortstop with good body control, smooth actions, soft hands, good range and a plus arm. He's an athletic player with plus speed as well. Scouts are comfortable with Brito at shortstop, but his glove is certainly ahead of his bat. Brito grew up a righthanded hitter, but for six months last year he tried switch-hitting. He never got in rhythm from the left side and had more pop as a righthanded hitter, so he stopped switch-hitting at the end of 2014. Focusing on hitting exclusively righthanded could help Brito, but even from that side he has things to smooth out. Brito has quick hands and strength projection to his frame, so there should be more power coming, but it's a crude hitting approach and an uphill stroke that can get him caught out front, so the bat development may require some patience. His biggest believers felt his hitting mechanics were workable and thought he has some rhythm and looseness to the stroke with good bat speed.
Compared to fellow Dominican shortstop Aramis Ademan, Brito has more physicality and pure tools between his speed and arm strength, but Ademan also projects to stick at shortstop and has much better bat control. Brito trained with Laurentino Genao and played in the International Prospect League. The Dodgers are the favorites to sign him, with an expected price tag around $2 million.
26. Kevin Melean, ss, Venezuela
Born: Sept. 5, 1998. Height: 5-10. Weight: 160. B-T: R-R.
There are a lot of Venezuelan shortstops whose bonuses will top out in the mid six-figure range and are difficult to separate. Juan Morales, Miguel Hernandez, Kevin Alarcon, Eduardo Torrealba, Antonio Pineiro and Reinaldo Ilarraza are all intriguing players who bring different skill sets to the table, but Melean has the best combination of hitting, athleticism and probability that he stays at shortstop.
Melean caught the attention of scouts for his advanced game skills and steady tools. There's no one loud tool on Melean that catches your attention immediately, but he has a nice combination of athleticism and smart, savvy play. He has a good swing and hits to all fields, with a knack for going the other way that isn't easy to find in this arena. The physical projection is still a ways away and he's mostly a gap hitter now, with a chance to grow into 40-45 power down the road. Scouts felt that Melean had a good chance to stick at shortstop, where he's solid defensively with above-average speed and a solid-average arm that works well for the position. The Padres are the favorites for Melean, who trains with Ricardo Petit.
27. Franklin Reyes, of, Dominican Republic
Born: Sept. 11, 1998. Height: 6-4. Weight: 235. B-T: R-R.
Reyes was 12 when his older brother Franmil signed with the Padres for $700,000 in 2011. Franmil was a tall, physical corner outfielder with big power and inconsistent game performance at the time, a description that still is true as he's grown into 6-foot-5, 240 pounds as a 19-year-old in the low Class A Midwest League. Franklin is very similar to his older brother, though he's a little further ahead at the same age with a much better arm.
Even as a 15-year-old last August, Reyes blended in physically with the rising seniors while playing in the Under Armour All-America game at Wrigley Field. He was already one of the most physical players in the class and has put on another 30 or so pounds since then, which has helped improve his two main tools--power and arm strength. Reyes' plus raw power ranks among the best in the class. Whether he will ever hit enough for the power to carry over enough into the game was a common concern among scouts. He has an aggressive, raw hitting approach, getting caught off balance against live pitching with a lot of swing-and-miss, especially against breaking pitches with a long, loopy swing. Those highest on Reyes thought he was a good fastball hitter who was too caught up in trying to show off his power. Some thought he was already starting to turn the corner and would start to hit better once he got away from that showcase mentality. Reyes has limited speed and agility in the outfield, but his arm earns 60 to 70 grades, ranking behind only Seuly Matias among the other high-profile 2015 outfielders, and he earns praise for his accuracy as well.
Reyes has a feast-or-famine skill set, with the power to carry him if he can prove people wrong and develop into an average hitter. Scouts generally preferred Reyes to other physical but raw hitters in the class like Dominican outfielder Jonathan Sierra. Reyes trained with Juan Valera and Basilio Vizcaino, who is known as "Cachaza," and played in the Dominican Prospect League. The White Sox are the favorites to sign Reyes, who could double his brother's bonus.
28. Jose Fermin, ss, Dominican Republic
Born: March 29, 1999. Height: 5-11. Weight: 160. B-T: R-R.
Hitting is one of the hardest things to project at any level of baseball. In the Dominican Republic, you're dealing with kids who are 15 and 16 years old and don't have a great deal of organized game structure. So when a player like Fermin comes along with steady tools but nothing flashy, it takes more time to appreciate his skill set. Those who have built a longer history on Fermin, both in private workouts and from watching him play regularly in the International Prospect League, said he was one of the better game hitters available and liked his chances to stay at shortstop.
For scouts highest on Fermin, what impressed them most was his ability to hit. He has an advanced approach at the plate, squared up live pitching routinely and always seemed to be getting on base. He makes a lot of contact and goes with where the pitch is thrown, taking pitches on the outer third to the opposite field. It's a line-drive bat without much power or physicality, so it's mostly singles with gap power now but a chance to grow into more sock down the road when his physical development comes around. Fermin's speed and arm strength are both average, with his arm ticking up and flashing slightly above-average at times. He's not as advanced defensively as some of the other Dominican shortstops at the top of the class, but he projects to stay at the position. There are some similarities to Diego Castillo, who signed with the Yankees last year out of Venezuela, although Castillo jumped out more for his high-energy approach. Fermin's offensive game is polished enough that an aggressive team could have him debut next year in the United States, a transition that would be smoother for him because he already speaks English. The Indians are the favorites to sign Fermin, who trains with Pablo Lantigua.
29. Jose Sibrian, c, Venezuela
Born: Oct. 24, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 175. B-T: R-R.
Teams love the track record of Venezuelan catchers. There are all-star players like Victor Martinez, Miguel Montero and Salvador Perez, solid regulars like Wilson Ramos and Francisco Cervelli, plus others who have managed to carve out long major league careers for themselves between a backup and starting role, with Dioner Navarro, Yorvit Torrealba, Humberto Quintero, Henry Blanco and Jose Lobaton among them. Catching is always in demand, so even if a catcher projects to have a light bat, not only is the offensive bar lower for them, they will also get more opportunities to stick around and figure it out, especially if the defensive skills are strong.
While Miguel Amaya separated himself with his defense and Rafael Marchan drew attention for his bat, several scouts felt Sibrian was a solid catcher in the next tier who stood out for his defense with a chance for the bat to play. Sibrian earned praise for his defense, which is unusual because he didn't catch when he played in Venezuelan youth leagues, only moving from third base to catcher last year. He has a plus arm with a chance to a solid-average defender with good catch-and-throw skills once he gains more experience as a receiver. Some scouts liked Sibrian's swing, though he's not an advanced hitter. He shows solid power for a catcher, with the power showing up more than his hitting against live pitching. Some scouts felt Sibrian didn't make the offensive strides they were hoping to see from him last season, but there's enough offensive upside for him to figure it out with the opportunities he will get as a catcher. The Brewers are the favorites to get Sibrian, who trains with Jose Montero.
30. Anderson Amarista, rhp, Venezuela
Born: Sept. 15, 1998. Height: 6-0. Weight: 180. B-T: R-R.
Pitching in Latin America is always tough to peg, and this year was especially light in terms of pitchers with present stuff and feel for pitching, aside from Venezuelan righthander Alvaro Seijas. Most of what's available for pitching is projection types with some feel for pitching where you're waiting for the stuff to come around, or pitchers with arm strength who you're hoping figure out how to throw strikes. That's why most teams prefer a wait-and-see approach on pitchers and stay out of the high-end arms market. Beyond Seijas, several teams had support for Amarista as the No. 2 pitcher available.
When Amarista pitched at the MLB international showcase in the Dominican Republic in February, he threw three scoreless innings without allowing a hit or a walk and struck out four batters. For the most part, Amarista has pitched at 86-89 mph, which is around where he sat at MLB's International Prospect Series in North Carolina in March, although some have seen him tickle the low-90s. Within the next two years, he should grow into an average fastball. There are pitchers available with a better present fastball and future velocity projection, but Amarista has an advanced curveball, with feel to spin a sharp, tight breaking ball. It gets away from him at times and turns into a hard slurve, but when he stays on top of it and harnesses it in the strike zone, it's a swing-and-miss pitch. He will flash an upper-70s changeup with good separation off his fastball. For his age, he's generally around the strike zone. There are pitchers with higher ceilings and less feel for pitching, but Amarista has a chance for three solid pitches, which makes him intriguing. Some think the Cubs could sign Amarista, but it's less certain where he will end up. Amarista trains with Ciro Barrios.
Read more at http://legacy.baseballamerica.com/international/scouting-reports-top-30-prospects-july-2/#1CbsVsqLiyshgAtc.99