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June 8, 2009

The Latin Talent Market

A Scouting Report Bonanza

by Kiley McDaniel

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I've got a lot of ground to cover today, so we'll skip any long-winded introductions and just get right into the good stuff. As with last week's piece, non-subscribers who would like to take a look at the videos embedded below can check out my Vimeo page.

While I was in the Dominican last month, the biggest showcase of the year featured various top July 2nd prospects facing off against the Canadian junior national team. Left-hander Jake Eliopoulos, the top Canadian prospect in tomorrow's draft, toed the rubber for three innings. Here's a bonus video and scouting report on him, as you'll want to know something about him, as he should be drafted tomorrow:

As a projectable 6-foor-4 high school lefty, Eliopoulos has been talked about as a second- or third-round pick, and he looked the part in this outing. Pitching with a fastball clocked at 90-92 with heavy movement, he also flashed two average off-speed pitches (his slider and changeup). Shown in the at-bats on the video is outfielder Wagner Mateo (you can review his scouting report) and shortstop Rossel Herrera (whose report is below, in this article). Eliopoulos showed consistent stuff and command, impressing the sixty or more scouts on hand. Of course, during the most notable at-bat, I managed to not have the camera on, so you'll just have to use your imagination about what it looked like when 16-year-old Dominican right fielder Jose Pena (whose report is also below) took Eliopoulos deep with a frozen rope over the wall in left-center field, eliciting oohs and aahs from the scouting section.

As first reported by Ken Rostenthal and then later by Melissa Segura, the Angels' international scouting supervisor, Clay Daniel, was fired last week. Sources indicate that the Angels were the only other team bidding against the Yankees for top July 2nd catching prospect Gary Sanchez (and here's his scouting report) and it's assumed this development only increases the odds that Sanchez will sign with the Bombers. The Yankees feel Sanchez is the top July 2nd prospect this year, and multiple sources indicate that the Yankees are expected to eventually agree to terms with Sanchez on a bonus somewhere in the $3.1-3.4 million range. (For updates on the negotiations of Miguel Sano and Wagner Mateo, check my Unfiltered post from last week).

Two more notes before I jump into the rest of the July 2nd scouting reports. The first is that the full reports on a pair of Cuban defectors, left-hander Noel Arguelles and shortstop Jose Iglesias, will come in the next article, as they aren't expected to be declared free agents anytime soon. Also, there is a Dominican shortstop that multiple sources indicate will be suspended soon for falsifying his age, but I'll withhold his name until that becomes official; a source added that the player had been offered a $1.3 million bonus before his age was discovered.

I'll pick up where I left off last week, with players ranked based on their expected bonus amounts.

5. Jose Vinicio, SS, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 5'11"/160
Bats/Throws: S/R
Agent: Josue Herrera

Pros: Vinicio possesses solid athleticism and emerging power. He's expected to grow another inch or two and fill out his wiry frame, but he already has surprising power for his size. Scouts point out that he plays more games than most top prospects, and will have no problem sticking at shortstop defensively at the upper levels. Vinicio shows a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate, also hitting with solid power, particularly from the right side. His speed is above-average; some think his power could produce 15 home runs annually.
Cons: Vinicio isn't big right now, and is still raw in his offensive approach. If you're giving out elite money to get him, you're counting on continued offensive and physical development.
Quick Fact: Herrera, Vinicio's agent, is a former Indians scout credited with signing Fausto Carmona.
Comparison: A switch-hitting Edgar Renteria was tossed out as a future body comparison; that also sticks as a projected skill set.
Projected Team/Bonus: In terms of talent, Vinicio was already considered worthy of a $750,000 to $1 million bonus, but during the showcase in Santo Domingo rumors spread that the Red Sox has struck a verbal deal for $2 million. Some sources contend that the bonus is for closer to $1.5 million, and the higher bonus number was leaked to discourage other offers. Either way, Vinicio is expected to sign with the Red Sox on July 2nd.

6. Jose Pena, RF, Dominican Republic
DOB: 3/3/93
Height/Weight: 6'4"/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Agent: La Academia Internacional de Beisbol Profesional

Pros: Pena has come on quickly, from his initial status as a little-known prospect to arguably the most in-demand hitter on the market. He shows a consistent ability to make hard contact, and has big-time power, along with a frame that has many projecting 30-plus home runs in the majors. Pena also owns an above-average arm and the athleticism to become a right fielder. He gets commended for his makeup, while also being the only top prospect this year still in school, as he finished up with his finals recently.
Cons: Almost every bonus for $2 million-plus goes to a player who plays either shortstop or center field, at least when they're 16, and Pena is already a corner player, limiting his financial upside. He also had some trouble with breaking pitches versus Team Canada, though he made adjustments later in the game:

Quick Fact: Pena has been on fire lately, both in games and in batting practice. He hit a home run over the batter's eye on his first swing in front of Dodgers' Assistant GM Logan White. As mentioned before, he took Eliopoulos deep, outshining even Wagner Mateo in the game versus Team Canada. This week, he hit 15 home runs in three batting-practice rounds at a workout for the Indians; at a workout for the Giants, he hit five BP homers and then went 4-for-5 in the subsequent game.
Comparison: Jermaine Dye and Juan Gonzalez have both been tossed around, as they were big-framed, power-hitting right fielders.
Projected Team/Bonus: Pena was the hottest name on the island after his showing in BP and against Team Canada, with over 15 teams said to be legitimately interested. The field has been narrowed after a hectic private workout schedule, with the Indians, Giants, and Brewers as the current favorites, though the Dodgers and Padres are also very interested. Pena's bonus was expected to be around $500,000 just a few short weeks ago, but he now appears to be ensured of a seven-figure pay day, with estimates going as high as $1.5 million.

7. Rossel Herrera, SS, Dominican Republic
DOB: 10/16/92
Height/Weight: 6'4"/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Agent: Edgar Mercedes

Pros: Herrera has a long, projectable frame, and a wide set of skills that gives him significant upside as an up-the-middle player. He has solid defensive actions and plenty of arm to play shortstop. Herrera also has a powerful swing from both sides with pull power that's already present.
Cons: His swing can get long at times, and he sometimes has trouble with advanced pitching. His lanky frame is expected to fill out, so most believe that Herrera will move off of shortstop eventually. Due to his long actions, many say he's a better fit in center field than a reaction position like third base. Some question his foot speed and say he's more of a corner outfielder.

Rossel Herrera from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

Comparison: One scout who projected a move to center field called Herrera "a poor man's Dexter Fowler. Not quite the same hitability or foot speed, but similar skill set and projectable frame."
Projected Team/Bonus: A reliable source told me at the workout that Herrera had just agreed to a $1 million bonus with the Rockies. I ended up sitting next to the Rockies' scouting contingent during the game, but didn't think much of it at the time. After Herrera was hit by an errant curveball to a generally mild reaction from among those in the scout's section, two of the Rockies' scouts gritted their teeth, while the third one starting cursing quite loudly; a reliable source, indeed.

We're now past the projected millionaires and I've written far too much already, so I'll go shorter-form the rest of the way:

8. Juan Urbina, LHP, Venezuela
Height/Weight: 6'2"/175
Urbina is a projectable lefty, and is the son of Ugueth Urbina. A number of teams are interested in him because of a fastball that's hit 92 that he throws with solid command, as well as for his good feel for a breaking ball. The buzz is that he's already reached a verbal deal with the Mets for $800,000, but Urbina contends that he's still uncommitted. One interested club says he is indeed off the market, and left some money on the table; the Royals, Cubs, Padres, and Rangers are among those still hoping to land him.

9. Jurickson Profar, SS/RHP, Curacao
Height/Weight: 5'11"/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Profar was a Little League World Series hero, hitting a two-run shot to give Curacao their first title in 2004, but they failed to repeat the next year, having to settle for taking Hawaii to extra innings in the title game. Profar is still the two-way standout that he was in his Little League days, though most teams prefer him on the mound. He works in the low 90s, touching 93, and has feel for a slider, though some scouts have said that his stuff has gone backwards of late, along with his desire to pitch. That's because he prefers to play in the field, where he's a raw shortstop with some upside, but there are considerable concerns about his hitting ability. He has been long tied to Texas, with many saying a deal is done for $750,000, while others dispute that, saying Profar is holding out for seven figures. Scouts have complained that he refuses to pitch at times, and that he'll only sign if he's promised that he'll play shortstop. Some have compared the situation to that of Red Sox prospect Casey Kelly, who it should be noted has taken to pitching quickly, to the point of dropping his request to play in the field. This odd situation is limiting the market for Profar's services, but whoever signs him will likely let him play shortstop at first while hoping that he ends up on the mound.

10. Luis Jolly, LF, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'2"/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Jolly is a well-rounded outfielder with solid tools and hitting ability. He is athletic, and gifted with above-average speed, but he lacks the defensive instincts to project him as a center fielder. A below-average arm makes Jolly a left fielder, but happily there's enough power emerging in his projectable frame. He makes consistent hard contact in workouts, but his bat will have to carry him to profile as an everyday left fielder. He's drawn heavy interest from the Phillies and Dodgers, with the expected price in the $600-900,000 range.

11. Chesler Cuthbert, 3B, Nicaragua
Height/Weight: 6'1"/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Cuthbert has a chiseled frame that had one international scouting director saying that it reminded him of a linebacker's. He also has some length and stiffness to his swing, which has some thinking he may struggle to hit at higher levels. Cuthbert has solid to average speed, and good hands and range along with an average arm, which projects him to be a solid defensive third baseman. He can generate some legitimate power in BP displays with impressive bat speed and leverage. The only real concern is his general rawness, including what one scout called, "a little scariness to the bat." A number of teams are interested, with the Royals, Braves, and Pirates mentioned most often, but the Phillies, Rangers, Mariners, Red Sox, Cubs, and Cardinals are also showing interest. The projected bonus has risen with growing interest from clubs and is projected to be in the $600-800,000 range.

12. Jochy Ogando, RHP, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'5"/215
Ogando is a late-rising power arm who has shown the most velocity of any July 2nd prospect, getting clocked as high as 96 mph recently. His big frame has already drawn Josh Beckett comparisons, but the stuff isn't on that level. Ogando has been sitting at 93-94 mph in workouts with spotty command, but also throws a solid slider. The Angels, Dodgers, Astros, Mariners, Padres, and Rangers are all showing interest, with the Padres believed to be the leader. Ogando's bonus is expected to be in the $600-800,000 range.

13. Edgar Ferrera, LHP, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'3"/190
Ferrera is another late-rising Dominican power arm; he recently hit 94 mph. There is a lot of projection left in his frame, but velocity is the main draw here. Ferrera's command and secondary pitches are lacking, but the basic elements are in place to attract a big bonus. The Cardinals and Athletics are believed to be hot on Ferrera's trail, and he is also projected to receive a bonus in the $600-800,000 range.

14. Chris Cabrera, RHP, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'1"/185
A number of teams have been chasing Cabrera, with eight clubs showing significant interest or getting private workouts recently. Cabrera has some projection, but he's shorter than many of the other July 2nd pitching prospects, making up for it with more polished stuff and command. He works at 90-91 with his fastball (touching 94), and shows promise with a slider and changeup that both grade out as average at times (with potential for more). The Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers, and Rays are all finalists for Cabrera, who should be looking at a bonus in the $500-700,000 range.

15. Victor Payano, LHP, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'3"/165
Payano is represented by Edgar Mercedes, and I was able to see him pitch in the workout that Mercedes organized versus Team Canada, so I have another short video embedded below. Payano worked at 85-88 with a heavy fastball, and he also flashed an average slider and changeup. Payano's very projectable frame gives him a shot to add some velocity to his sinker and eventually own three average-grade pitches. His command was solid (even though the video doesn't show it) in part due to his simple, repeatable mechanics. ESPN's Jorge Arangure reported that Payano may be close to a $600,000 deal with the Rockies, who as I've noted are also expected to sign another Mercedes client, Rossel Herrera. I had Payano pegged for a $300-500,000 bonus, so Arangure's report makes some sense, as you normally pay toward the top end of the scale to try to get a player locked in early. The Giants, Cardinals, and Dodgers are among the other clubs that have shown interest in Payano.

Victor Payano from Kiley McDaniel on Vimeo.

16. Jacob Beltre, 1B, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'5"/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
A few months ago, Beltre was being spoken of as a catcher some preferred over Gary Sanchez, but then Beltre hit a growth spurt, showed some stiffness behind the plate, and now he's a 6'5" first baseman. Being relegated to first base as a 16-year-old and hitting right-handed are some significant dings to Beltre's value, but he still has his share of supporters. Every scout praises his makeup, attitude, and infectious enthusiasm for the game. He has some significant power, decent feel for contact, and solid hands, but he isn't especially agile, as some have called him muscle-bound and one scout called him "stiff as a board." The Rangers, Pirates, and Brewers have shown the most interest; it's been tough to nail down a possible bonus, but $400-600,000 seems about right.

17. Jose Osuna, RHP, Venezuela
Height/Weight: 6'3"/190
Osuna is another projectable arm with some velocity, and he's one who shows feel for a breaking ball. He's been clocked as high as 92, but not recently, and he's more usually been in the high 80s, with his once-solid curveball flattening out some. This may be due to some stiffness in Osuna's arm action that worries some scouts, but here again, that may be correctable. There's some upside to his projectable power arm that has drawn interest from the Yankees, Indians, Royals, and Mets, in the $250-400,000 bonus range.

18. Jean Carlos Batista, SS, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'1"/170
Bats/Throws: S/R
Batista is a switch-hitting shortstop with a lean, projectable frame and solid athleticism, which combined should allow him to stick at the position if he can continue to progress defensively. He has a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate, with gap power that will grow as his frame fills out. The Dodgers, Rangers, A's, Indians, and Yankees have all shown interest, and Batista figures to fetch a bonus in the $150-300,000 range.

19. Juan Castillo, SS, Dominican Republic
Height/Weight: 6'0"/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Castillo is an offense-oriented shortstop who will be moving off of the position early in his career. Many have him sliding over to third base, while others say second, and some would simply put him in left field. That's because there's some power projection to him; Castillo's best tool is his bat, but fringy speed will limit him and force that bat to determine the full extent of his value. The Yankees and Mariners have been tied to him, and the bonus could be in the low six figures, somewhere between $100-300,000.

20. Daniel Sanchez, RHP, Venezuela
Height/Weight: 6'3"/220
Sanchez has quite a range of possible bonuses. He opened the eyes of the 20-plus teams that attended an open workout in Maracay, as his fastball sat in the low 90s and touched 95, and he also flashed an above-average slider and feel for a changeup; he also showed advanced pitchability. Every scout there had one of two immediate reactions: he's a potential $2 million bonus baby, but also "there's no way this guy is 16." After digging on this one for over a month, I still don't know what to make of it. The vast majority of teams say that they've known he was older than 16 for months, but a few teams contend that they have documentation proving that he's 16. There has been unconfirmed talk about the US consulate in Venezuela reaching a decision on a travel visa and/or passport, but the bottom line is that there hasn't been a concrete announcement that I'm aware of regarding Sanchez's age. The rumor on what his age might be is that Sanchez is 19, and I have him ranked here because, in that event, he would presumably be suspended for a year, then sign for a bonus in the low six-figure range, because his talent is very real. That being said, don't mistake Sanchez having a ranking with me having any idea what's going on here.

Other Names of Note

  • Wilfredo Solano, 3B, Venezuela: The third baseman has a swing that some scouts prefer over Cuthbert's, but he also has less athleticism and overall upside. Still, there's some talk that he might get as much as $500,000.
  • Dionicio Ramirez, C, Venezuela: The Phillies, Indians, and Mets are interested in this compact, well-rounded backstop, with the money expected to run in the low six figures.
  • Leonardo Fuentes, OF, Colombia: An athletic, raw power bat, he looks likely to sign with the Yankees for a low six-figure bonus.
  • Mario Sel Cairo, LHP, Dominican Republic: Another player in Edgar Mercedes' stable, he's 6'1" and rail-thin, but has hit 89 and shows a solid curveball and command.
  • GianCarlos Santana, RHP, Dominican Republic: The younger brother of Ervin Santana looks ticketed for the Angels for a bonus in the $50-100,000 range. He operates at 86-87 mph, throws three pitches and advanced pitchability, but has limited projection standing just 6'0" and 185 pounds.

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