Top 10 Latin American Sleeper Prospects Who Are Trending
For international prospects, July 2 gets most of the attention, and rightfully so. It’s the annual opening of the international signing period, marking a wave of players signing their first professional contracts, led by the top players in a given class.
But between July 2 and the time that most of those players make their professional debuts nearly one year later, a lot can change. That comes with the territory of signing players as young as 16 years old. They can grow taller, get stronger, improve their skills or simply get more time on the field in unofficial games, instructional league and other winter programs to give the team that signed them a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
While the million-dollar signings get plenty of attention, here are some of the sleepers to watch from the 2017 class who were not ranked among the top 50 international prospects last year on July 2, but are trending in the right direction. Most will begin their pro careers in June in the Dominican Summer League.
Yunior Garcia, OF, Dodgers
Garcia signed with the Dodgers for $300,000 when he turned 16 on July 29. He comes from the same program in the Dominican Republic that produced Dodgers outfielder Starling Heredia, and he packs a well-rounded tool set into a strong, compact frame at 6 feet, 198 pounds.
Garcia generates quick bat speed in a short righthanded swing. The ball jumps off his bat at high exit velocities for his age. He drives the ball with authority to all fields, with a chance to hit for both average and power. He is an above-average runner underway, and if he can maintain his speed as he fills out, he has a chance to stick in center field, with an above-average arm that would fit in right field as well. Garcia has trended up since signing, with the only setback a hamate fracture in January camp, but he’s back on the field now.
Liover Peguero, SS, D-backs
The arrows are pointing up on Peguero, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed for $475,000 on July 2. Peguero, who has grown two inches over the past year to 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, sticks out for his athleticism and ability to hit in games from the right side.
Built with a wiry, high-waist frame, Peguero makes frequent contact with innate feel for the barrel. He has strong wrists, quick bat speed and uses his hands well at the plate, with a good approach and advanced instincts for hitting. Peguero has gap power now and can occasionally sneak one over the fence in batting practice, with a knack for generating a lot of backspin. Between his bat speed, strong forearms and physical projection, Peguero’s power should jump once he gains weight. He has the athleticism and tools to play shortstop, though he’s more advanced as a hitter and still cleaning up his defense. He’s a plus runner with long legs and strides to go with an above-average arm, which could make center field another option.
Andres Melendez, C, Brewers
Melendez, a 17-year-old from Venezuela, signed with the Brewers for $325,000 on July 2. He was advanced enough that the Brewers brought him to Arizona for instructional league last fall, where he made a strong impression for his catch-and-throw skills, arm strength and especially his athleticism behind the plate. While Melendez’s defense is what stood out as an amateur, he has shown promising early signs from the right side of the plate as well, putting the ball in play at a high clip with line drives to all fields.
Bladimir Restituyo, SS, Rockies
July 2 was extra special for Restituyo, who celebrated his 16th birthday that day by signing with the Rockies for $200,000. He is a wiry 6 feet, 160 pounds with quick-twitch actions in everything he does, from his plus-plus speed to his fast hands that help him generate terrific bat speed.
Restituyo has the physical projection to add a lot of strength but already generates impressive power and shows it in games. He has a compact, handsy swing from the right side and performs well against live pitching, staying under control and squaring up premium velocity. While some scouts think Restituyo might ultimately end up at second base, he has a chance to stick at shortstop, where he has an average arm.
Denny Daza, SS, Red Sox
The Red Sox signed Daza, a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, for $250,000 on July 2. Daza is physically underdeveloped (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) but consistently hits well in games. A righthanded hitter, Daza has a short stride, quick hands and a compact, direct swing with a clean path to the ball. He has good plate coverage and great feel for hitting the ball where it’s pitched, staying through the ball well to lace line drives all around the field. Daza has good bat speed but doesn’t have the strength right now for more than doubles power. An offensive-minded player with the potential to hit toward the top of the lineup, he will develop as a shortstop, where his feet work well, but his arm and speed are fringy and he could end up a better fit at second base.
Ezequiel Duran, 2B, Yankees
The biggest sleeper in the class to watch is Duran, a Dominican second baseman who signed for $10,000 on July 2. At 18, he was eligible to play right away in the DSL, where he hit .393/.415/.754 in 15 games and piled up extra-base hits with five doubles, four triples and three home runs.
Duran is a natural hitter with strong hands, quick bat speed and a simple, repeatable swing from the right side. He has a knack for barreling balls with explosion off the bat, and he recognizes pitches well for his age with a sound approach. That leads to frequent loud contact in games and the ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields. Duran is an offensive-minded player who the Yankees immediately put at second base, but he’s a good athlete and an above-average runner, although he will need to improve his lateral agility in the field.
MLB, Cuba Reach Signing Agreement
The new system essentially turns Cuban signings into a hybrid between the Mexican League and Asian professional leagues.
Junior Santos, RHP, Mets
It’s hard to miss Santos, a 16-year-old Dominican righthander who signed for $275,000 in September. He was 6-foot-6 when he signed and is now 6-foot-8 and athletic for his size. While a lot of young, extra-tall pitchers are raw projects, Santos separates himself by already showing feel for three pitches. He throws a fastball that has touched 92 mph, a low-80s slider with good bite and a changeup with good sink and run. That gives him the makings of a starter’s repertoire with promising upside if everything clicks.
Misael Garcia, LHP, Cubs
A 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Garcia signed out of Nolan Pena’s program for $150,000 in July, but his stock has improved since then. Leading up to July 2, Garcia was 6 feet, 170 pounds and was throwing in the mid- to upper 80s. He’s grown taller and added strength (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and now has touched 92 mph. He is a good strike-thrower and has advanced feel to spin a curveball that could develop into an out pitch.
Bryan Rocchio, SS, Indians
Rocchio is from Venezuela but spent a lot of time in the Dominican Republic before signing with the Indians for $125,000 on July 2. The 17-year-old doesn’t stand out physically (5-foot-10, 150 pounds), but he’s already nicknamed “The Professor” because of his high baseball IQ and overall game awareness beyond his years.
Rocchio is a switch-hitter with the offensive components to get on base at a high clip. He has excellent plate discipline, rarely chasing much off the plate and drawing plenty of walks. He doesn’t strike out much either, putting the ball in play frequently with a handsy swing that produces mostly singles and occasional doubles. He has a chance to stick at shortstop, where his hands, feet and arm all work well, with a knack for being in the right place at the right time.