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June 23, 2009

The Latin Talent Market

The Rumor Mill

by Kiley McDaniel

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The Video Notebook

Now that I've presented 25 scouting reports for July 2nd prospects (here and here) along with videos of the top players (all of them which you'll find here), you may be wondering what I have to left write about, with all of the crucial information already written and still 10 more days until players can sign. First, the ranking of players is always changing, though I'm not going to edit that list just yet. If there's one thing I can tell you about this market, it's that something is always happening. Every call I make not only yields solid information and teaches me something new, but there's at least one off-the-wall item mentioned as well. Maybe it's a function of a maturing market where everyone isn't on the same page yet, or perhaps there's just more to be made from misinformation in a free market. Probably both, and some other factors, but rest assured, I have more than enough material. The trick is to figure out what is most legitimate, and of that, what is most important. I've been working the phones as the signing period nears, so here is your information dump, notebook-style.

The Curious Case of Guillermo Pimentel

Guillermo Pimentel, OF, Dominican:This seemed to be an open-and-shut case from the start, the one sure thing in Latin America this year. Now it's become the complicated soap opera that no one seems to understand. To recap, it was alleged that Pimentel (scouting report) had struck a verbal deal with the Texas Rangers sometime late in January, for either $1.8 million or $2 million. Soon after his January workouts for Texas, other clubs began complaining that they weren't being allowed to see him, which is as effective as his agent setting up a 40-foot-tall neon sign outside his house saying "a deal is done with Texas, leave us alone." Literally every single Latin source I spoke with for months would respond to the topic of Pimentel with a sigh and a roll of the eyes so obvious that I could hear it through the phone.

Teams were miffed enough that Pimentel was being "hidden" that I was told by multiple sources that formal complaints were lodged with MLB, and there was speculation that Texas would be barred from signing the player if any evidence of wrongdoing was found. Throughout the process, Texas denied doing anything inappropriate, insisting that Pimentel wasn't on "lockdown" at their academy, and that a deal hadn't been done by any stretch of the imagination. This issue became big enough that it inserted itself into any writing about Pimentel's talent-no one had seen him play for months, so scouting reports were outdated and there was no bidding war to speculate about.

Then, in the last few weeks, the hot rumor on the island was that Pimentel was being stashed at the Mariners complex. Wait... what?

The Mariners were the first team heavily tied to Pimentel, even before the Rangers were alleged to have locked him up in late January. While it was nearly eight months before he was eligible to sign, he was still widely believed to have made a verbal deal with Seattle before Texas. Did Seattle swoop back in to lock up Pimentel, and if so, how did they do it?

Before the draft, speculation began to run wild that Rangers owner Tom Hicks' money troubles would lead to slashing of their amateur budgets and to expect conservative, slot-friendly draftees, and the possible loss of Pimentel. Then, the Rangers made their first two picks, which were the opposite of conservative, in left-hander Matt Purke and right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who are both looking for well over-slot bonuses. After these strong actions, sources indicated that Texas wasn't cutting their amateur budgets at all. Some speculated that Texas had never formally offered a deal to Pimentel, and that Seattle had simply stolen him, but these people were admittedly grasping at straws.

After some digging, an alternate narrative for the story emerged. The Reds, Yankees, Mariners, and Rangers were all interested in Pimentel at the beginning of the year, and were working him out individually. Midway through these workouts, he suffered an injury (rumored to be a fractured hamate), and after a few more workouts, he realized that it was a problem. He then opted to rehab the injury, sitting out for what amounted to a couple of months. Since he was last seen belting three home runs in a game at the Rangers' complex, the club seemed very interested, and when Pimentel stopped working out, rumors spread of a deal being done.

Like a high-stakes scouting version of telephone, eventually everyone "knew" Pimentel was stashed in the Rangers academy. Since he wasn't working out and no one knew why, the rumors stuck. There was undeniable interest from Texas, and he was at their academy at some point for sure, but in this alternate narrative, a formal offer was never even extended. After Pimentel was back at 100 percent, he went on more visits in April and May, including stops at the Yankees' and Mariners' academies, but some interested clubs still didn't know that he was on the market. He was at the Mariners' complex this past week, and rumor has it that a deal for $1.8 million is in place, but this is not a "lockdown" situation.

With or without a deal in place, Seattle is now acknowledged as the front-runner, even by rival clubs looking to sign him. Every indication is that Pimentel is still on the market, and his agent has a good relationship with Texas in a realm where relationships mean everything. I recently spoke with an assistant GM from a club not mentioned above who said Pimentel was, shockingly to him, back on the market, and that the player may attend a workout for his club soon. There's a very good chance that Pimentel will leave an opening for other clubs to step in, with many teams interested and the asking price still reasonable. He may still land with the Mariners in the end, but it's not as done as many think.

To step away from the TMZ-ness of these past few paragraphs, let's cleanse your palette with some baseball. Here's a video of Pimentel in action:

Guillermo Pimentel from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

So what can we learn from the last 800-some words? I submit three things:

  1. There are two completely separate theories about what's going on, and odds are that the truth has elements of both, but we should know much more after July 2nd.

  2. While the rumor mill may be right sometimes (more on that later), at other times it is spectacularly wrong.

  3. Scouts, agents, executives, buscones, and writers might love gossip more than 13-year-old girls do.

I will say that the rumor mill regarding July 2nd signings probably has a higher batting average than its domestic counterpart, simply because more things are happening. Every player has rumored interest by teams, active representation, and a potential bonus that all largely have to be resolved by July 2nd. Also, teams want budget certainty, and big-dollar deals are frequently done early, known about quickly in informed circles, but never officially confirmed. In the states, a regulated version of this exists in the amateur draft, along with a trade market that has an absurd ratio of rumors to actual trades.

Another point to emphasize here is that having a deal done early does not imply any kind of wrongdoing. At times, particularly in the past, an instance that turned out to include some impropriety would involve players being off of the market early with a contract and illegal side deals having been agreed to far in advance. Those have been cracked down on dramatically and, most importantly, the existence (or rumored existence) of an early verbal deal implies nothing more than a club simply trying to lock up a player early so they can shift their focus to signing other players.

Top Prospect Rumors and Video

While Pimentel's saga may be the most talked-about issue in Latin baseball circles, other top players and their agents have been making big moves of their own.

Gary Sanchez, C: Sanchez has been rumored as a future Yankee for months, but the range of his expected bonus amount has varied wildly. Even recently, talk ranged from $2.3 million all the way up to $3.5 million. I learned late last week from multiple sources that a deal had been completed with the Yankees, and that the bonus will be between $2.8 million and $3 million when he signs on the dotted line on July 2nd. I was also able to get some video of Sanchez in action (his scouting report is here). It's admittedly a little fuzzy, and the hitting and throwing portions of the video wouldn't play nice in the same file, so I cut them up into two videos.

Gary Sanchez (Hitting) from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Gary Sanchez (Throwing) from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Wagner Mateo, OF: First, you'll find his scouting report here. Mateo has also had a fair share of media attention on his negotiations; the Giants and Cardinals have been long-rumored as his leading suitors, with the Cubs also thought to be heavily interested. It was reported that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was making a trip to the Dominican to see Miguel Sano work out, but he no doubt planned to see Mateo as well. Multiple sources have indicated that on this trip, Mozeliak offered Mateo a $3 million bonus, which the Mateo camp turned down.

Latin insiders universally agreed that this was a misstep by Mateo's representation. I mentioned earlier that an international scouting director concluded that Mateo could get $4 million, though it was unlikely. Obviously, Mateo's agent feels that he will be offered more than $3 million, but a similar situation from just a month ago serves as a cautionary tale. A prospect received what turned out to be his highest offer rather early, assumed that other offers would only get higher, and not only was that high offer eventually pulled off of the table, but this prospect now stands to lose well into the six figures as a result of chasing after a little extra money.

The Cardinals have been the most aggressive team with Mateo, and while that usually is a very good indication of who will eventually sign the player, it is unclear how St. Louis will react to the situation. As a refreshing dip back into players who are actually playing baseball, here's the video I took of Mateo on a recent trip to the Dominican.

Wagner Mateo from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Miguel Sano SS: Sano (whose scouting report is here) has had an avalanche of media coverage following him for months, to an unprecedented level for a July 2nd prospect. As a result, the Sano camp and the interested clubs have all dug into their respective positions and are avoiding tipping their hands at all. This is making it more difficult than usual to handicap the race to sign him. The list of interested teams is long, headed by the presumed leaders, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, with a group of 8-10 other interested teams that is proving tough to sort through. The Indians and Yankees both appear to have dropped out of the running, while the Cardinals and Orioles are dark-horse clubs showing more interest of late. The bonus really could fall anywhere from $3 million to $5 million, with the midpoint in the high-three to low-four range in terms of millions being most probable. I can't embed the video, but an upcoming documentary, Pelotero, focuses on Sano, and there's a clip from the movie featuring him (with some on-field sections) available at Global Post.

Quick Hits

Rafael DePaula, RHP, Dominican Republic: DePaula is an interesting case as someone wwho may be getting a lot more press in short order. DePaula is 17 years old, and he had opted to wait and hit the market this year rather than go up against Michael Ynoa last season, but then he was suspended last month due to irregularities in his documentation. Word is spreading that these irregularities are being cleared up, and that DePaula may be unblocked soon; he would be eligible to sign immediately if the suspension is reversed. The Yankees and Red Sox are said to be very interested, and scouts have said that he may actually be a better talent than Ynoa. DePaula has had his velocity spike from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and he's now sitting at 92-94 mph in recent outings, and touching 97 mph. He also throws a changeup and curveball that have plus potential, along with an aggressive approach and a projectable 6'3" frame. If the MLB suspension is upheld, he could sign with one of the interested Japanese teams, who are looking for their next posting-fee jackpot candidate. Insiders say that he is an easy seven-figure talent that could get well over $2 million. I managed to get some video, which is a little fuzzy, but you still get an idea of the talent:

Rafael DePaula from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Chesler Cuthbert, 3B, Nicaragua: Cuthbert has been mostly tied to the Royals and Pirates, and last month I projected his bonus to be in the $600-800,000 range. I was told last week that Cuthbert reached a deal with the Pirates for $750,000, and after some investigation I found that Pirates brass were in Nicaragua recently to close the deal. Count that one in the "rumor that looks to be correct" category.

Daniel Sanchez, RHP, Venezuela: Sanchez showed up at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis last week, along with the top prospects for the 2010 draft. Sanchez was throwing his fastball at 92-93 mph while showing the usual three-pitch mix and polish that clubs have seen before. You can check last month's article for details and a scouting report, but Sanchez's age is still disputed, though his ability is not. One onlooker at the showcase said that when Sanchez walked off of the field, he was "tackled" by representatives of Boras, Inc. It is still widely believed that Sanchez is 19 years old (fewer say he's 16), but once his representation and age get straightened out, he should still be a rich man.

Interesting quote this week from an international scouting director: "The names you're tying to us; some of them are legit, but we're going to end up with guys you didn't expect at all... you know, like the twist at the end of a movie." Many have said that this year some top players will wait until after July 2nd to sign, hoping that the money they were expecting shows up later (it probably won't). That, combined with more teams than ever aggressively chasing top talent (though in a poor economy), should add up to some very surprising occurrences come July 2nd. I'm sure I'll look foolish.

Interesting scouting director quote number two: "The Red Sox have all that money they were set to spend on Teixeira left over on top of an already big international budget. I have some money to spend, but if they want to get in a bidding war with me, they're going to win every time. And they like a bunch of the guys we like." The Red Sox are considered one of the early favorites for two Cuban defectors, shortstop Jose Iglesias and left-handed pitcher Noel Arguelles (covered in depth here), and they will be all over DePaula when and if he hits the market.

Along those lines, the Sox locked up shortstop Jose Vinicio over a month ago for what looks more and more like a $2 million bonus (rather than the $1.5 million that some claim), while ESPN's Jorge Arangure first reported that they locked up left-hander Victor Payano with a $900,000 bonus. Scouting reports for both can be found here. Since this is the video notebook, I'll include my clip of Payano below, which features maybe the worst three pitches he threw all day (sorry about that), but you can get a feel for him nonetheless:

Victor Payano from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Jochy Ogando, RHP: You'll find his scouting report here. Ogando's velocity was down in the high 80s for a workout at the Astros' complex, that after he had hit 95 mph in the past. Observers said he simply looked tired, leaving pitches up in the zone, but it can't be a good sign, even if it was "just" fatigue.

David Perez, RHP and Jean Carlos Valdez, SS: These are two new players added to the list who should fetch mid to high six-figure bonuses, with a shot to get seven figures each. Perez is a long, loose 6'5" projectable hurler, while Valdez may move to third base, but shows solid tools across the board and power that will grow as his frame fills out.

Club officials and agents: Both parties have mentioned that after the top talents go off of the board, there will be a lot of money chasing the "backup plan" players in the high six figures. This chase to secure a solid talent will naturally push up the prices of these players. One agent went so far as to say, "Any player that gets a bonus between $800,000 and $1.5 million got overpaid. That's the overpay zone."

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