Top 2019 International Prospects To Watch
We're five months away from July 2, but right now, teams aren't focusing much on 2019 players.
Nothing is certain until the 2019-20 international signing period opens on July 2, but most of the top 2019 prospects have already made unofficial decisions on where they're planning to sign.
So while scouts are bearing down on 2020, 2021 and even 2022 players, the 2019 class looks like a strong one. It's also the first year under the bonus pool hard caps in which no teams will be limited to a $300,000 maximum bonus, a relic of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, so it's also an intensely competitive year. The one outlier will be the Braves, who can't sign anyone for more than $10,000.
Below are some of the top players for 2019. The team listed for each player is where that player is expected to sign, based on conversations with people in the game, though nothing here is a guarantee. There will probably be at least 30 players who sign for $1 million-plus and around 300 who sign for six-figure bonuses, so we will have more in-depth reports on these players and other top players in the class for Baseball America subscribers as July 2 approaches.
Due to safety concerns, I'm not going to mention any signing bonus amounts for Venezuelan players.
Jasson Dominguez, OF, Dominican Republic
Dominguez has an exciting level of explosiveness, athleticism and loud tools, with 60s and 70s scattered across his tool set. He's a bursty athlete with well above-average speed and arm strength, excellent bat speed and big power from both sides of the plate coming from his muscular, 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame. Scouts highest on Dominguez raved not only about his tools, both about his ability to both hit and hit for power in games. With Dominguez having premium tools, athleticism and offensive game performance, several scouts consider him the best overall player in the 2019 class. Dominguez trains with Ivan Noboa and is expected to command a bonus of around $5 million.
Robert Puason, SS, Dominican Republic
The Braves reached an agreement to sign Puason when he was 14, but that's no longer happening. MLB did not penalize the Braves for reaching an early deal with Puason. They were penalized, in part, because they had agreed to sign Puason in a package deal, signing other players from the same program to inflated signing bonuses as a condition for being able to secure Puason.
With the Braves now unable to sign Puason per MLB's decision, he now is expected to sign with the Athletics, likely for a bonus around $5 million. A lean, 6-foot-2, Puason is extremely athletic with some of the best tools in the 2019 class, with plus speed and arm strength. He has has similarities to a switch-hitting version of Twins shortstop Wander Javier, who signed out of the Dominican Republic for $4 million three years ago. Puason trains with J.D. Ozuna.
Bayron Lora, OF, Dominican Republic
Nobody in the 2019 class has more raw power than Lora. Even when Lora was 14 years old, he had more power than most of the top players in the 2018 class. At 6-foot-4, Lora has excellent strength and bat speed, with the power to be a middle-of-the-order masher if everything clicks. While he's a large human being who projects as a corner outfielder, he's flexible and moves well underway for his size. His bonus is expected to be in the $4 million neighborhood. Lora trains with Hector Evertz.
Erick Pena, OF, Dominican Republic
Pena grew up playing in La Javilla, the little league program in Santo Domingo where Nomar Mazara and Amed Rosario played. Pena has a lot of game experience growing up in the Dominican Republic and traveling to the United States for different events. A 6-foot-3 lefty, Pena is an advanced hitter with strong hands who makes consistent hard contact. He's also fluent in both English and Spanish, with a bonus expected to be in the $3-$4 million range. Pena trains with John Carmona, whose program also has two of the slickest fielding shortstops for 2020, Armando Cruz and Luis Ravelo.
Luis Rodriguez, OF, Venezuela
Rodriguez is one of the most complete players in the 2019 class, with a good combination of size (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), athleticism and hitting ability from the right side. When I saw him face live pitching in the Dominican Republic, he homered to right-center field off a pitcher who was throwing up to 92 mph, then narrowly missed another homer that hit the fence to the same part of the park. Rodriguez has good plate discipline, hits well in games against older pitchers and has a natural ability to lift the ball for power. He runs the 60-yard dash in around 6.7 to 6.8 seconds, so if he can retain that speed, he could stick in center field, too. Rodriguez trains with Angel Valladares.
Yhoswar Garcia, OF, Venezuela
Garcia has an exciting tool set in a lean, athletic 6-foot frame. He's a plus-plus runner who defends his position well in center field with a strong arm. He's a righthanded hitter who has also performed well in games against professional pitching, with a hit-over-power offensive profile. If he retains his speed and keeps hitting the way he has recently, he could develop into a player along the lines of Nationals center fielder Victor Robles. Garcia trains with Roberto Vahlis.
Ronnier Quintero, C, Venezuela
Given the difficulties for players in Venezuela right now, some of them have spent a lot of time living and training in the Dominican Republic, which has been the case for Quintero, who is with Jaime Ramos. Quintero is a power-hitting catcher, generating easy pop from left-center over to his pull side. He has a strong arm too, though several scouts have said he will need to work at his receiving to stay behind the plate.
Ismael Mena, OF, Dominican Republic
Mena is one of the best athletes and fastest runners in the class. He's a wiry, 6-foot-2 center fielder who defends his position well with well above-average speed and excellent range. Mena is a lefty who stays behind the ball well, and while his power is mostly to the gaps right now, he has the leverage and loft in his swing to grow into more over-the-fence juice as he gets stronger. Mena trains with Rudy Santin and is expected to top $2 million.
Where Are They Now?: Earl Cunningham
The Cubs drafted powerful South Carolina high school outfielder Earl Cunningham eighth overall in 1989, but he was stymied by strikeouts and never advanced past high Class A.
Arol Vera, SS, Venezuela
Venezuela typically has a bundle of smaller shortstops whose games play up because of their game savvy and instincts, but Vera is 6-foot-2 with a lean, projectable frame. He's a switch-hitter with a smooth, easy swing from both sides who has shown the ability to control the strike zone and hit well in games. He's represented by Felix Olivo.
Adael Amador, SS, Dominican Republic
Amador is one of the more polished players in the class. He played for the Dominican Republic's gold medal winning team at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championship in 2017, hitting .500 and making the all-tournament team. Then, in August 2018, he was the starting shortstop at the U-15 World Cup, batting .391/.533/.565 in eight games. Amador has a simple, compact swing from both sides with good balance, strike-zone judgment and strong hands. He trains with Cristian Pimentel expected to sign for around $1.5 million.