Last week, scores of talent evaluators packed up and shipped down to the Dominican Republic for a series of prospect showcases and exhibition games highlighting current and future international prospects. Among the prospects eligible to ink during the current signing period (July 2, 2012 through July 1, 2013) was 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jacob Constante, a bi-lingual power lefty that has seen his stock rise over the last 12 months in conjunction with his steadily improving velocity and breaking ball.
Yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds snatched-up the soon-to-be 19 year old, dishing out a $730,000 signing bonus on the heels of an impressive performance during the International Prospect League All-Star Game, held at the Tampa Bay Rays Dominican facility at the end of last week. This was the largest bonus handed out by the Reds during this signing period and represents about one-quarter of the total $2.9 million that each team is allocated to spend, penalty free, under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Next year, teams will be permitted to spend varying penalty-free amounts on international free agents based on overall record in 2013 (with the worst team receiving the largest spending allocation).
While Cincinnati had yet to make a splash under the new international free agent signing system, recent history has shown the Reds to be aggressive players in the market. Cincy turned heads in 2010 when they signed Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $30 million deal (which included a signing bonus north of $16 million). Prior to that, the organization dropped seven-figure bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Yorman Rodriguez (Advanced A) and Dominican outfielder Juan Duran (Advanced A). The two signed for almost $5 million combined, although neither has progressed as hoped. Conversely, some of the best success stories currently in the Reds minor league system were obtained with a fraction of the financial investment, including Dominican outfielder Jonathan Reynoso (Complex League), Dominican power reliever Daniel Corcino (Double-A), and Venezuelan lefty starter Ismael Guillon (Class A), each of whom will likely be considered when Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team tackle the Reds Top 10 Prospects in the coming weeks.
Constante’s deal didn’t reach seven figures, but it represents a significant investment, particularly in this new soft-capped spending environment. The investment, however, carries with it less risk than those in Rodriguez and Duran for reasons outside of the financials. Constante’s age and physical development is more on par with that of a draft-eligible U.S. high schooler, and a mature high schooler at that. While evaluators are still required to project out the finished project, there is less guesswork involved with Constante’s body type. Additionally, his status as a bi-lingual player removes some of the concerns associated with the often jarring shift from life in Latin America to life in small minor league towns.
First and foremost, however, it is Constante’s talents (current and future) on the bump that earned him attention from scouts and a significant bonus from the Reds. Last week’s IPL All-Star Game was the latest opportunity for evaluators to observe the lefty in game action, and he did not disappoint. This was merely the most recent venue for Constante, however, who was throwing against draft prospects just two weeks prior at the Perfect Game World Showcase, held at Terry Park in Ft. Myers, Florida:
Constante boasts a fairly easy arm and is at his best when he gets out over top of his plant leg, allowing him to stay on top of the ball and to drive it down in the zone. While there is still work to be done in ironing out the full body of his mechanics, the lefty does a solid job of staying direct to the plate and is impressive on pitches where everything clicks into place. There are pitch-to-pitch inconsistencies in his stride, arm path, shoulder tilt, and high three-quarters arm slot, culminating in present control/command issues, but none jump out as insurmountable obstacles to successful development.
The arsenal starts with potential above-average offerings in a lively fastball, which he currently throws in the 90-92 mph range (but can dial up to 94), and a sharp and deep low-80s slider (with, by mistake or design, a tighter “cutter” variation that can be equally effective). His change-up is in its infancy and will need to be a focus as he begins his professional career.
Constante has the body, the workable mechanics, and the potential arsenal to stick as a starter long-term but will require developmental attention across his game and the requisite reps to facilitate that development. A long-term project, the newest addition to the Reds’ system could garner quick attention among pro evaluators and will look to eventually join Robert Stephenson (Class A), Nick Travieso (Complex League), and Dan Langfield (Short-season Rookie ball) as the next wave of homegrown arms to hit Cincinnati.