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Why The MLB International Showcase Has Hybrid Feeling

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic
—Major League Baseball’s international amateur showcase is one of the most unusual events on the scouting calendar. It’s technically amateur scouting. The players are all 15 or 16, mostly from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. The earliest any of them will sign is July 2, when the 2017-18 international signing period opens. Yet the popular joke among scouts is that they’re here to do their pro coverage. Yeah, they’re seeing a lot of the top 2017 international prospects, but most of those players might as well already be with another club, since many of them already have unofficial agreements in place to sign. With the increasingly expedited speed of the international market, there are 2018 players—and even 2019s—who already have unofficial commitments. MLB does have a lot of the top talent here, though several prominent Venezuelan players did not make the trip. From the Dominican Republic, shortstop Jelfrey Marte (linked to the Twins), power-hitting outfielder Julio Rodriguez (linked to the Mariners), outfielder Adrian Hernandez (linked to the Mets) and shortstop Ynmanol Marinez (linked to the Marlins) were all on the initial roster but were late scratches who did not show up. Venezuelan shortstops Aaron Bracho (tied to the Indians) and Sander Mora also don’t show up from the original rosters, though Antoni Flores, who’s expected to sign with the Red Sox, was there instead. The event starts with the 60-yard dash. It’s immediately evident that this is not a usual showcase. There’s an audible groan from the scouts as two players turn the sprint into a 60-yard brisk jog. The low effort level obvious to those used to seeing these players run at full speed, but the players were told not to push themselves to reduce their risk of injury. During three games over two days, a pair of players do leave with injuries. The first is Ronny Mauricio, a Dominican shortstop who’s likely to sign with the Mets and is one of the top players in the class. Early in the first game, he makes a nice play fielding a ground ball up the middle to get the out, but after the play he stays down on the ground. He’s carried off the field and later has his ankle wrapped up. The next day, Keyber Rodriguez, a Venezuelan shortstop the Rangers are likely to sign, fouls a ball off his foot, then rolls to the ground in pain before having to be helped off the field. The reality is injuries could happen anywhere. A player can foul a ball off his foot in batting practice. A fielder could twist an ankle or a knee going after a grounder his trainer hits to him. If scouts are watching players they know they aren’t going to sign and worried about their own players risking injury, why does MLB invite those players? Some scouts even take it a step further. They don’t think MLB should be running showcases at all. This showcase—like MLB’s Dominican and Venezuelan national showcases, both of which were cancelled this year due to protests pertaining to the international draft—sets up an artificial deadline for teams to try to get players off the market before everyone sees them at an MLB event. Not only do those scouts think the MLB showcases push teams to strike earlier deals, they think it sacrifices one of their competitive advantages by being able to outwork other clubs identifying the top talent. Overall though, the showcase has its benefits for both players and teams. It’s a well-run event operated by an independent entity that doesn’t represent players, so scouts can be confident that the 60-yard dash is indeed 60 yards, and that the baseballs aren’t manufactured by Titlelist, a popular conversation among scouts. And for the grumblings of having players at the event who are essentially already off the market, having them there has its advantages. If a scout wants to see the top 2017 prospects who are still out there, he can see them compete against some of the best players in the class for better comparative analysis. Dominican scouts can get looks at top Venezuelan players. Executives and pro scouts who don’t focus on the international market can get a better overall gauge of the class. For international directors who follow all the players in the market, the showcase gives everyone a chance to get what’s likely a last look at many of these players to recalibrate their evaluations. Franco, Flores Rise To The Top There are two players here on a different level than anyone else. There’s Wander Franco, the 15-year-old Dominican shortstop linked to the Rays and expected to be the top-paid player in the class at around $4 million. He’s a switch hitter with plus bat speed, a compact swing that keeps the barrel on plane through the hitting zone for a long time and good bat control for a high contact rate in games. Franco has a thick lower half so some scouts question whether he will stay at shortstop or move to second or third base, but for 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, his power is impressive, launching balls out of the park from both sides. Franco’s raw power is the best of anyone’s at the MLB showcase, though with Julio Rodriguez not showing up, this year’s event lacked a raw power monster along the lines of Dermis Garcia or Gilbert Lara. Franco, however, is a far more complete hitter than Garcia or Lara, showing a mature approach for his age with good rhythm and balance in the box. He went 2-for-7, with one of his hardest hit balls of the event a rope he drove the opposite way just in front of the left field warning track for an out. The second day he smashed another opposite-field drive from the left side that Venezuela’s Jorge Barrosa made a diving catch on in left field to rob him of a hit. Then there is Daniel Flores, a 16-year-old catcher sources say the Rangers are the favorites to sign for what will likely be the top bonus for a 2017 Venezuelan player. On the first day, each catcher gets three throws to second base. It’s not a true game setting, but the catchers are wearing full gear. You don’t need a stopwatch to see that Flores is operating at a completely different speed than every other catcher here. If you do want the numbers, though, 2.0 seconds is considered the average major league pop time, or how long it takes from when the ball hits the catcher’s mitt until the throw reaches the fielder’s glove at second base. Some major league catchers are slower, while 1.9 seconds is good and the elite clock 1.8 seconds. Flores’ first throw gets there in 1.8 seconds. It’s on the wrong side of the bag, but he shows incredible quickness, exchange, footwork and arm strength on the play. His second throw is another 1.8-second pop time, this one on the right side of the bag. He finishes with a perfectly located throw for the fielder to have the tag right in place, this time in 1.74 seconds. In the games, Flores goes 1-for-6 with a walk and two strikeouts, but he shows the offensive components that should translate to success. He’s a 6-foot-1, 190-pound switch-hitter whose power was among the best at the showcase. His swing is quick, powerful and direct to the ball, though he did over-swing some in the game. If everything clicks, it’s not hard to envision Flores as a franchise catcher.

Red Sox Catcher Daniel Flores Passes Away From Cancer

Red Sox catcher Daniel Flores, 17, has died from cancer complications.

Alberto Rodriguez, a lefthanded Dominican outfielder, led the showcase in hits, going 5-for-7 with an opposite-field double poked down the left field line. He also stole a hit from Daniel Flores with a sliding catch in shallow left field. Two of the players expected to receive among the biggest bonuses of the 2017 class are 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Larry Ernesto (likely to sign with the Brewers) and 16-year-old shortstop Luis Garcia (likely to sign with the Phillies). The MLB event isn’t their best showing, as Ernesto goes 1-for-7 with a double and five strikeouts, while Garcia goes 0-for-6 with a walk and three strikeouts. In the United States, when a scout is watching a high school game, he might only be looking at one player on the field. If it’s a college game, maybe a few more are potential draft picks. Here, there are a lot more players available for teams to sign. The MLB international showcase might have a hybrid feel, but it offers plenty of benefits both to teams and players.

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