These Hitters Are Opening Scouts’ Eyes In The DSL

Image credit: Misael Urbina (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Fernando Tatis Jr. and Yordan Alvarez are two of the most electric rookies in baseball. They also never played a single minor league game for the organizations that originally signed them.

The White Sox signed Tatis for $700,000 out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2015, then 11 months later traded him to the Padres to get James Shields. The Dodgers gave Alvarez a $2 million bonus out of Cuba as the 2015-16 signing period expired on June 15, 2016, then two weeks later sent him to the Astros for reliever Josh Fields.

It’s hard to pull off deals that lopsided, but clubs across the game are digging through the lowest levels of the minors to bolster their organizations. Once a player with that level of upside reaches a full-season league, he becomes harder to trade for, so teams are now going beyond even the Rookie-level leagues in the United States and are frequently asking for Dominican Summer League players in trades, relying on a combination of amateur history, pro reports and performance analysis.

At the midpoint of the DSL season, we review 20 hitters who are trending up.

Misael Urbina, OF, Twins

Urbina was one of the premium international prospects in the 2018 class when the Twins signed him out of Venezuela. Urbina was one of the best defensive center fielders in the class, with plus speed, quick breaks off the bat and efficient routes. Urbina, 17, has also shown good bat speed and a compact swing from the right side, with more walks (13) than strikeouts (9) and a strong .300/.408/.470 slash line through 28 games.

Luisangel Acuña, SS/2B, Rangers

The younger brother of Braves star Ronald Acuña, 17-year-old Luisangel has a smaller frame at 5-foot-8, but his baseball IQ is well beyond his years. He has great bat control from the right side and doesn’t chase much off the plate, making him a high on-base threat with above-average speed. He had more walks (24) than strikeouts (16) through 32 games, hitting .352/.458/.453 and making the DSL all-star team.

Angel Martinez, SS, Indians

Martinez, who got $500,000 last year, grew up around professional baseball. His father is former big league catcher Sandy Martinez (now the Dominican field coordinator for the Nationals) and his older brother, Sandy Martinez Jr., is a catcher in the D-backs’ farm system. So it’s no surprise that Angel, 17, is a fundamentally sound, high baseball IQ player. He has a simple, efficient swing from both sides of the plate and good strike-zone discipline, resulting in a .302/.384/.481 line through his first 31 games as a DSL all-star.

Rafael Morel, SS, Cubs

Morel, 17, signed with the Cubs for $850,000 last year. Morel stood out as an amateur for his quick-twitch athleticism with plus speed and a plus arm. While some scouts considered Morel a raw athlete, the Cubs liked his hitting ability when they signed him, and he’s rewarded them for that belief, as Morel was hitting .290/.364/.500 with 14 walks and 16 strikeouts through his first 32 games.

Brainer Bonaci, SS, Red Sox

At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, the 17-year-old Bonaci isn’t the most physical player on the field, but his sharp baseball acumen is evident on both sides of the ball. He’s a smooth, instinctive shortstop with a good internal clock and a plus arm. He’s also a switch-hitter who was hitting .333/.405/.465 through his first 33 games.

Gabriel Rodriguez, SS, Indians

Rodriguez ranked as the No. 8 international prospect available last year when he the Indians signed him from Venezuela. His calling card is his bat, with Rodriguez making frequent contact from a fast, direct swing. He’s driven the ball with impact as he’s gotten stronger over the past year, producing at a .261/.350/.470 clip through 30 games.

Alexander Mojica, 3B, Pirates

Mojica signed out of the Dominican Republic for $390,000 last year when he turned 16 on Aug. 2, so he’s one of the youngest players in the DSL. He’s a strong, physical righthanded hitter with good bat speed and power from the right side, with a swing that translates well in games. Mojica has been one of the most productive DSL players in terms of pure hitting ability and power production, batting .354/.475/.646 through his first 30 games. Mojica also has a plus arm, though with a bigger body he will have to keep in check to stay at third base.

Noelvi Marte, SS, Mariners

Marte ranked as the No. 4 international prospect in 2018, when the Mariners signed him for $1.55 million. A DSL all-star in his pro debut, Marte combines impressive athleticism with a swing and approach that translate in games, with plus power potential.

Maikol Escotto, SS, Yankees

When the Yankees gave Escotto $350,000 last year on July 2, they liked his athleticism, above-average speed, strong arm and overall quickness to his game. Escotto, 17, has also been one of the most productive performers in the DSL, making the all-star team with a .352/.452/.629 line through 25 games.

Diowill Burgos, OF, Cardinals

Burgos drew a lot of attention from scouts early as an amateur in the Dominican Republic, though his game performance scuffled and he ended up signing with the Cardinals for $300,000 in 2017. Burgos struggled last season in the DSL, but he made the all-star team this year and is making a case for the league’s MVP award as an 18-year-old. Burgos is tracking the ball and recognizing pitches much better than he had in the past, which has helped him cut down on his strikeouts and allowed his power to play, with a .370/.473/.731 line through his first 33 games.

Luis Matos, OF, Giants

Several scouts considered Matos one of the top offensive performers they followed in Venezuela last year. Matos has lived up to that reputation and shown more power than expected, a welcome sign given that his defensive tools likely fit best in a corner. A DSL all-star in his first season, Matos was hitting .338/.392/.570 through 33 games.

Brayan Gonzalez, OF, Red Sox

Signed for $500,000 last year out of the Dominican Republic, Gonzalez is already 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, with physical maturity for a 17-year-old that gives him an advantage over his peers right now. Gonzalez doesn’t have much physical projection left, but his strength gives him plus raw power now and helped him become a DSL all-star in his first season, with a .266/.358/.445 line through 34 games.

Yohendrick Pinango, OF, Cubs

When the Cubs signed Pinango out of Venezuela last year, they saw a player who consistently performed well in games and showed a disciplined eye for the strike zone from the left side of the plate. That’s been exactly the case in the DSL for Pinango, who had more walks (18) than strikeouts (10) and a .341/.429/.470 line through his first 34 games. The 17-year-old is also a plus runner who has stolen 15 bases in 17 attempts.

Michael James, SS, Rockies

James, 17, got a $350,000 bonus from the Rockies when he signed out of the Dominican Republic last year. James sticks out for his athleticism and plus speed, with a smoothness to his game both in the field and at the plate. He has a fluid lefthanded swing and has shown surprising power in his pro debut, hitting .286/.376/.516 through his first 33 games.

Victor Bericoto, OF/1B, Giants

Bericoto was a low-dollar signing out of Venezuela, but he hit well as an amateur and kept it up after signing when the Giants held their Dominican instructional league. Bericoto, 17, hasn’t stopped hitting, producing a .303/.450/.432 line with 35 walks and 32 strikeouts in his first 36 games. While his defensive value is limited, Bericoto has a patient approach and a fluid, easy swing with upside for more power.

Juan Guerrero, SS, Rockies

Signed out of the Dominican Republic last year for $650,000, Guerrero has unorthodox hitting mannerisms, but he makes frequent, high-quality contact with a knack for barreling baseballs. At 17, Guerrero might end up at second, third or possibly center field, but his hitting ability is his calling card, with a .339/.395/.449 line through his first 30 games.

Wilmin Candelario, SS, Royals

Candelario, 17, draws scouts’ eyes with his defense at shortstop, where he’s extremely light on his feet with soft hands, a fast exchange and a strong arm. Signed for $847,500 last year out of the Dominican Republic, Candelario showed high swing-and-miss tendencies as an amateur, but even with a 28 percent strikeout rate, Candelario has managed to be a productive offensive player this year, hitting .284/.368/.468 through 28 games.

Euribiel Angeles, IF, Padres

A DSL all-star signed for $300,000 last year out of the Dominican Republic, Angeles has excellent bat speed and a high contact rate from the right side of the plate. Angeles, 17, isn’t that big, but with his bat speed and feel for the barrel there should be more power coming. He hit .302/.352/.373 through 31 games, bouncing between shortstop, second and third base.

Yohander Martinez, SS, Astros

Another DSL all-star, Martinez ranked fifth in the league in OBP with a .348/.479/.435 line through 35 games. Signed last year out of Venezuela, Martinez is a 17-year-old who has shown excellent plate discipline, a high contact rate along with the athleticism to play in the middle of the diamond.

Alexeis Azuaje, 2B, Phillies

Azuaje distinguished himself for his 70 speed and quick-burst athleticism when he signed last year out of Venezuela. At the time, Azuaje looked more like a raw athlete with a high swing-and-miss rate, but the Phillies liked his hitting ability. So far, Azuaje has hit .292/.328/.522 through his first 29 games, showing surprising power compared to what he showed coming into the year, although with just three walks and a relatively free-swinging approach.

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