Top 2018 Prospects From MLB Venezuelan Showcase
CARTAGENA, Colombia—For the top prospects in the Dominican Republic, scouts travel to see them on their home turf.
For Venezuelan players, they have to travel to the scouts. Nearly all of the top 2018 prospects from Venezuela have flown out of the country—to the Dominican Republic, the United States, Aruba, Colombia and elsewhere—to play in front of top decision makers, as the number of scouts willing to travel to Venezuela continues to shrink.
One of the most recent events was Major League Baseball’s annual Venezuelan national showcase, held last month in Cartagena, Colombia. While MLB’s Dominican national showcase featured the majority of the top 2018 prospects from the Dominican Republic, the group that traveled to Cartegena wasn’t the Venezuelan varsity team.
Among the players who didn’t travel to Cartagena:
• Francisco Alvarez, a stocky, offensive-minded catcher with good power and a strong track record of performing well in games. He’s linked to the Mets.
• Gabriel Rodriguez, a shortstop who might end up at third base but has hit well in games with a sound swing from the right side of the plate. The Indians are the favorites for Rodriguez.
• Jose Rodriguez, another offensive-oriented catcher who has hit well against live pitching but has to improve his defense to stay behind the plate. The Rangers are the favorites to sign him.
There were talented players at the showcase, but majority of those at the event were sleeper types who could break out later on but are tricky to distinguish at this point. The two-day showcase featured a standard workout setup, with batting practice on both days and three games total.
Diego Cartaya, c
Cartaya is the top catcher in the class. For some scouts, he’s the best prospect in Venezuela, and he’s in the conversation as one of the top overall 2018 prospects, with the Dodgers the favorites to sign him.
In Cartagena, Cartaya was the best player on the field. A 16-year-old righthanded hitter, Cartaya is 6-foot-1, 198 pounds with a well-rounded skill set for a catcher. Cartaya stays inside the ball well with a short swing and showed a professional approach during batting practice, using center and right-center field. He doesn’t have huge power, but he drove the ball to the gaps and has the frame to grow into average or better power as he matures. He showed the offensive skills to be a high on-base threat, tracking pitches well with sharp strike-zone discipline.
Cartaya, who trains with Alexi Quiroz, was the most polished hitter in games at the showcase. He had seven plate appearances, all of which were all quality plate appearances. Cartaya went 2-for-4 with three walks, and his two outs were his best plate appearances of the event, with hard contact but right at the left fielder both times.
Cartaya stood out both offensively and defensively. When the catchers threw to second base in the pre-game workout, Cartaya’s throws were consistently around 1.9 seconds (the MLB average is right around 2.0 seconds), showing a strong arm with a quick release. In games, he threw out 1 of 2 runners attempting to steal second base with pop times of 1.95 and 1.93 seconds. He’s flexible and agile behind the plate and he received pitches well with soft hands.
In every phase of the game, Cartaya showed a high baseball IQ with strong instincts and game refinement for his age. Cartaya doesn’t have the same raw power as Dominican shortstops Marco Luciano, Noelvi Marte or Orelvis Martinez, but his ability to stick behind the plate, defend his position well and hit in the top half of a lineup make him a premium player in the 2018 class.
Misael Urbina, of
Cartaya and Urbina are expected to be two of the highest-paid Venezuelan players this year. Urbina, 15, is 5-foot-11, 175 pounds and an athletic center fielder. He ran the 60-yard dash in 6.88 seconds at the MLB showcase, but I saw him run the 60 in 6.68 seconds in November and scouts who have followed him longer have seen him record faster times. In one of the games, Urbina beat out an infield single to shortstop in 4.20 seconds from the right side, a time that’s consistent with plus speed. He showed a slightly below-average arm with the speed and range to play center field.
Urbina isn’t that big but he hits the ball hard when he squares it up in BP. He was the only player to hit a ball over the fence in two days of BP, sneaking one out down the left field line. In games, Urbina went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and one hit by pitch. His swing gets in and out of the hitting zone quickly, but he has good bat speed and some scouts who have followed Urbina longer said he has performed better for them than he did in Cartagena. The Twins are the frontrunners to sign Urbina, who trains with Yasser Mendez.
Others To Watch
• The Brewers are linked to shortstop Eduardo Garcia, who trains with Jose Montero is expected to sign one of the higher bonuses in the class. He’s 6-foot-2, 160 pounds with a thin lower half, and as one of the younger players in the class, he won’t be eligible to sign until he turns 16 on July 10.
• Asdrubal Bueno, a 16-year-old shortstop who trains with Henderson Martinez, showed well on both sides of the ball. At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Bueno collected three hits—including a double to left field—and made a good defensive play at second base diving to his left on a groundball up the middle to get the out at first base.
• The White Sox are connected to 16-year-old shortstop Anthony Espinoza, who trains at Academia Maggy. Espinoza showed athletic actions and went 2-for-5 with two walks.
• Venezuela is typically deep in catching talent. Two catchers who performed well at the event were Miguel Palma (triple and a single, runs well for a catcher) and Abel Noguera (triple, double and a walk).