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July 2, 2009

The Latin Talent Market

D-Day

by Kiley McDaniel

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While tradition would say that it's technically ridiculous to post July 2nd signing-related notes and predictions until after the signing period has opened, this year is playing out uniquely. It appears that many players will be waiting a day or two later to agree to contracts, with some waiting a week or two, for various reasons I'll cover below. If anything, July 2nd appears to be the day that all the done deals that have been reported for weeks will be official, along with a couple of surprises, but it will not be the cavalcade of information you might expect. On top of that, it's notoriously difficult to even get lists of who signed with each club on July 2nd; a few teams will have press releases, a few don't mind leaking a list, but the vast majority don't want the information out there for some reason.

I say all this to temper your enthusiasm for July 2nd day-of coverage. There will be lists and names and bonuses and some breaking news, but not quite as much as you may be expecting. The market was slow to develop this year, and a number of clubs and agents are unsure of how money will be spent and just need a few days to hammer things out, along with some ongoing age-related investigations that need to conclude (including that of Miguel Sano). What's the reason for the later decisions by clubs and agents? This is the biggest market of active teams July 2nd has ever seen, along with a recession that has messed with club's budgets and changed expectations on the fly. You also can't ignore the heightened awareness of age falsification, with many players being suspended even recently. One insider described the situation by noting, "A few guys from last year's class were outed as being older in the last few weeks and now these teams are thinking twice about walking down the aisle with this year's crop unless they're absolutely certain of the age."

From back when I was posting scouting reports and video, I admitted that the lists were always fluid. Rather than giving updates every time a new name or shift in my rankings came up, I kept it to myself, so I could unveil an update just before the signing flurry would commence. So, without further adieu, here's a rundown of what to expect from my edited top players list, ranked by expected bonus.

1. Miguel Sano, SS, Dominican Republic: Sano is still in a tough situation to figure out, but it does seem to be generally agreed within the industry that he won't sign for at least a few days after July 2nd, likely about a week or so. It's also agreed that the final three suitors are Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Baltimore. The wait is for clubs to see the final results of MLB's ongoing investigation of Sano's birth date, and while a few teams are happy with the outcomes of their own investigations, it can't hurt to be a little extra-extra sure. Industry predictions about his price still run anywhere from $3.5 million to $4.5 million, though most seem to guess the final bonus will be about $3.75 million. That seems a little low given all the hype about Sano breaking Michael Ynoa's record $4.25 million bonus, but very few people think record-breaking money is out there. Agent Rob Plummer probably likes it this way, as he's consistently beat expectations in situations like this, such as last year, when he got $2.55 million for outfielder Rafael Rodriguez from the Giants, higher than anyone expected.

2. Wagner Mateo, OF, Dominican Republic: In previous weeks Mateo was said to be a strong lean to the Cardinals (with the Giants and Cubs also in play) and was mentioned here last week to be dancing around a $3 million bonus with St. Louis. Sources have confirmed since then that a deal for $3.1 million was struck and will be signed today.

3. Gary Sanchez, C, Dominican Republic: Sanchez was tied to Yankees for what seems to be years, and it was reported here last week that the deal was done, though the exact bonus wasn't clear. I said $2.8 million to $3.0 million, and I'll stick by that range; the deal will be signed today as well.

4. Jose Vinicio, SS, Dominican Republic: Also long tied to a single suitor, Vinicio was rumored long ago to be headed to the Red Sox for $2 million; expect him to sign his deal today as well.

5. Guillermo Pimentel, OF, Dominican Republic: Covered nearly every week as an ongoing saga, he was first a Mariners lock, then a Rangers lock, then a Mariners lock, then up for grabs, and now he again appears to be a Mariners lock. Nothing would surprise me at this point, but he's expected to ink with the Mariners for a bonus of either $1.8 million or $2.0 million. The Yankees and Rangers are still long-shot possibilities.

6. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Nicaragua: Cuthbert was long thought of as a solid mid-to-high six-figures player, and my sources indicated a deal for $750,000 was in place with the Pirates. Slowly, that appeared to unravel, as talk of a bigger bonus with the Royals spread and eventually appear to be true. Cuthbert is now expected to sign with the Royals for a bonus between $1.0 million and $1.5 million. Different numbers in that range have been tossed around, with $1.1 million and $1.2 million the most likely.

7. Luis Sardinas, SS, Venezuela: Sardinas is actually very similar to Vinicio, down to the switch-hitting and body size, give or take five pounds. Sardinas is actually a better hitter from the left side (Vinicio excels from the right side), but Sardinas is generally thought of as a very comparable talent. While the Red Sox are believed to have overbid on Vinicio by a couple of hundred thousand dollars to lock him up early, Sardinas' bonus projections run between $1.1 million and $1.3 million, with the Mets, Rangers, and Rockies all finalists for his services.

8. Jose Pena, RF, Dominican Republic: Pena has been covered here quite a bit as a late-rising, big-framed, power-hitting right-field prospect. The Padres were thought to be his destination, but they appear to have shifted to players with price tags in the low-to-mid six-figure range late in the process, leaving the Brewers, Indians, Giants, and Dodgers on Pena. ESPN's Jorge Arangure reported last night that a deal was struck with Milwaukee, which I haven't been able to confirm, but the Brew Crew and Indians appears to be leaders and the bonus should be in $900,000 to $1 million range.

9. Juan Urbina, LHP, Venezuela: The son of former big leaguer Ugueth Urbina has long been expected to sign with the Mets for a bonus of $800,000, but observers insisted all along that he was leaving money on the table. Talk has now emerged that the bonus could be as high as $1.25 million, and other teams may have entered the fray, reportedly the Cubs and Rangers.

10. Humberto Valor, SS, Venezuela: Valor has proved hard to peg for a potential bonus. He was said to be a solid low-to-mid six-figure talent early in the process, with some saying the teams that liked him might go into the high six figures to close the deal. Then, recently lots of seven-figure talk has cropped up (some of it really big seven-figure talk), and it's hard to know what is accurate. Splitting the difference and leaning to the evaluations rather than the rumors, I'm looking for the Reds or possibly the Braves to pay the steady-hitting, solid-across-the-board infielder (that even though he's not a shortstop long-term) somewhere in the high six figures to low seven figures.

11. Rosell Herrera, SS, Dominican Republic: Herrera is a lanky shortstop who will likely move to center field, third base, or right eventually, but has some promising pop in a switch-hitting package. He's been said to have a $1 million bonus from the Rockies for some time and he's expected to sign on July 2nd.

12. Victor Payano, LHP, Dominincan Republic: Like Valor, Payano was thought of as a low-to-mid six-figure guy for awhile, but then he caught the eye of the right teams. The Red Sox are expected to ink Payano for $900,000 today.

13. Damian Arredondo, SS, Dominican Republic: Arredondo jumped onto the big stage recently with a big-time workout at the Yankees complex, and it now appears that he will ink with the Bombers for a bonus of around $800,000. He's a solid-hitting shortstop with a projectable frame, but his calling card is blazing speed, solid defense, and a plus arm.

14. Jurickson Profar, SS/RHP, Curacao: Profar's recruitment has also been somewhat of a saga, as the former Little League World Series hero is a superior prospect on the mound, but insists he doesn't want to pitch. The Rangers are expected to sign him for about $700,000 as a shortstop, and are hoping he'll eventually change his mind and end up on the mound.

15. Johendi Jiminian, RHP, Dominican Republic: Jiminian is a lanky 6-foot-3 arm with a projectable frame and surprising amount of polish for his age. He's been clocked up to 92 mph while also showing off a solid curveball and good feel for his craft. His bonus is expected to be in the $600-700,000 range, with the Rockies appearing to be the frontrunners, but the Dodgers, Padres, and Pirates are also interested.

16. David Perez, RHP, Dominican Republic: Perez is very similar to Jiminian, due to his velocity (around 90), projectable frame (although he's taller at 6-foot-5), loose arm, and his advanced feel for his curveball. Perez's changeup and command are also solid for his age, and his bonus is expected in the same range as Jiminian, with Houston, Cleveland, Toronto, and San Diego involved, but a decision isn't until a few days after July 2nd.

17. Chris Cabrera, RHP, Dominican Republic: Cabrera is just a few inches shorter than Perez and Jiminian at 6-foot-1, but he has better velocity, hitting 95 mph recently, along with advanced secondary stuff and command. He figures to fetch a bonus in the $600-700,000 range as well, with the Reds, Yankees, Red Sox, and Braves among the finalists.

18. Jorge Polanco, SS, Dominican Republic: Polanco is an athletic switch-hitting shortstop who should be able to stick at the position, but he has limited power potential. He is also a bit of an overachiever, which makes him something of a welcome sight in the more usual tools/projection-only July 2nd scene. Talk of a $600-700,000 bonus from the Twins won't go away, but other clubs like the Yankees, Rangers, and Dodgers have been mentioned as well.

19. Jean Carlos Valdez, SS, Dominican Republic: Valdez is a bigger shortstop who may have to move off of the position eventually, but he also figures to add bulk and power to his lanky frame as he matures. He has the attention of a number of teams, with the Nationals rating as the current frontrunners, although the Astros, Padres, and Indians are all showing interest for a bonus in the $500-750,000 range. Valdez also doesn't figure to sign until a few days after July 2nd.

20. Edgar Ferrera, LHP, Dominican Republic: Ferrera is a projectable 6-foot-3 lefty who has hit 95 on the gun, but he lacks advanced feel or secondary stuff. The Cardinals, Yankees, and A's were mentioned as early leading clubs, but the buzz now is that the Braves are leaders, with the bonus around $500-600,000.

Other Notables

Leonardo Fuentes, OF, Columbia: Fuentes is a projectable power bat who was tied to the Yankees early on for a low six-figure bonus, but he is getting buzz saying he'll sign the high six figures, with interest coming from the Mets, Rangers, Giants and Braves.

Jacob Beltre, 1B, Dominican Republic: Beltre is a somewhat polarizing talent, and someone most think will settle for a bonus in the mid six-figure range, though many don't think he's a six-figure talent at all. The Cardinals, Brewers, Rangers, Giants, and Cubs have all been mentioned, and it could get as high as $750,000.

Luis Jolly, OF, Dominican Republic: It's been difficult getting a sense for Jolly's market, as the Phillies and Dodgers were interested, but seemed to have moved on and his bonus could be anywhere from $400-700,000, similar to Beltre.

Jochy Ogando, RHP, Dominican Republic: Thought to be in that same bonus range as Beltre and Jolly, but that was before his velocity dropped into the mid- to upper 80s in recent workouts; now teams aren't sure what to make of him. Expect something under $500,000 from one of the many interested teams-the Dodgers, Astros, Mariners, Padres, and Rangers.

Santo Aybar, SS, Dominican Republic: Aybar is similar to Jean Carlos Valdez as a lanky shortstop who will likely fill out, add power, and move off of the position. His bonus should be a little lower, in the $400-500,000 range, with interest coming from Padres, Dodgers, and Twins.

Raul Alcantara, RHP, Dominican Republic: When it was reported that he was signing with the Red Sox for $500,000 earlier in the week, I honestly had no idea who he was, a problem I shared with a number of my contacts likewise in the dark. Alcantara is a projectable righty with current high-80s velocity, three pitches, and advanced feel.

Angel Hernandez, OF, Dominican Republic: Another new name, he has a right-field profile with a power bat and solid-across-the-board tools. Cleveland, Toronto, Houston, San Francisco, and San Diego have been mentioned, with his bonus figuring to be in the $300-500,000 range, though Hernandez isn't expected to sign on July 2nd.

Leonardo Perdomo, RHP, Dominican Republic: A lanky right-hander whose fastball has been clocked in the 90s, Perdomo "looked bad" in a recent workout, according to one international scouting director. Many pitchers are having similar problems; with so many interested teams looking in on top players, workout fatigue has set in. This isn't a good time for middling performances, as clubs have plenty of alternatives to choose from. A bonus in the $350-500,000 range is expected, though a team that saw him with better velocity may go higher than $500,000. The Rangers, Yankees, Rockies, Giants, and Dodgers are said to be in the hunt.

Jairo Kelly, SS, Dominican Republic: A switch-hitting shortstop who makes the most of his average tools, Kelly has been linked most frequently to the Mets, with one insider suggesting that a deal with them will likely be tied to New York's success in landing Venezuelan shortstop Luis Sardinas. Kelly's bonus is expected to be in the $300-400,000 range; the Blue Jays and Tigers have also shown interest.

Wilfredo Solano, SS, Venezuela: Solano is bat-first prospect who projects to move to third base, but is also someone who has a solid approach and good power potential. Another player with a market that's tough to gauge, the A's, Mets, and Rockies are mentioned with a mid six-figure payday possible.

Daniel Sanchez, RHP, Venezuela: Every team I've talked to (aside from one or two) now believe that Sanchez is 19, but it's his consistent performances may still get him a mid-to-high six-figure bonus, though he wouldn't technically be a July 2nd prospect if he admits to being 19. The Brewers have long been interested, as Sanchez is the brother-in-law of one of their scouts; the Yankees and Rangers are among the other interested clubs.

Rafael DePaula, RHP, Dominican Republic: DePaula is 17, choosing to hit the market this year rather than going up against Michael Ynoa last year, but then he was suspended for irregularities in his documentation a few months ago. There was some talk that he may be unblocked late in the process, with many teams including the Yankees and Red Sox eager to offer seven figures for a prospect some said is better than Michael Ynoa. One interested club said they don't expect DePaula to be eligible to sign anytime soon, but you never know.

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