By Kiley McDaniel
Something you can look for as an ongoing theme for these scouting reports is that I’ll mention a prospect that’s mostly projection, that would get $500,000 to $750,000 in most years, but this year will get that price pushed up by $250,000 to $500,000, due to demand. The supply is good this year, with a strong crop of talent, but the demand, especially at the top of the talent scale, is higher.
I suppose at some point, when every top player has their perceived value boosted that much, the effect may not be teams overpaying, but that we’re just seeing the new market.
That would be the market correction that competition brings to offset the bargains that the old July 2nd market had; the bargains that enticed all the teams to open up shop in Latin America in the first place.
For an economic look at this phenomenon, check this article, and stay tuned for another article about it here in the next few days.
As mentioned in the opening for the Michel Inoa report, the competition for second best July 2nd prospect is between power-hitting right fielder Rafael Rodriguez and dynamic five-tool center fielder Yorman Rodriguez, who has drawn Carlos Beltran comparisons. Most (including myself) prefer Yorman Rodriguez, and in lieu of a picture of him, we’ll run a Beltran picture.
Read on for a breakdown of the rest of the top 15 Latin American prospects, along with one sleeper, and subtitles that are the color of money, all after the jump…
The traditional powers, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Mets, and Braves, seem to be in on all the big talents, while new major players I referenced in the last article include teams like the Padres, Royals, A’s, Reds, and Giants. There’s obviously still some teams just below the “major player” level that are doing good things and may make a splashy signing or two, but the focus in this article is on the top guys and major players.
So, Who Else Is Getting Paid?
2. Yorman Rodriguez, CF, Venezuela
Yorman Rodriguez has been touted as the top position player in this class for some time. His selling point is a rare combination plus-plus speed and plus-plus raw power. He’s a five-tool talent with an outstanding frame, athleticism, and defensive tools, but like most July 2nd hitting prospects, he gets a wide range of reviews on his ability to hit.
The common refrain on a raw bat are heard with Rodriguez: lunges at the ball, trouble identifying breaking pitches, trouble with high level stuff, questionable approach, and 5 o’clock power (batting practice only). Some players grow out of it, some never adjust, so the team that gets Rodriguez believes in his ability to make adjustments.
He has all the elements of a star centerfielder. He’s been compared to Miguel Cabrera for his powerful bat and Venezuelan bloodlines, but more athletic comparisons like Cesar Cedeno, Eric Davis, or a right-handed hitting Carlos Beltran seem more apt. That being said, Rodriguez, or any of the hitters below him, could go to the GCL and hit .180 for three seasons and make everyone look stupid, but those kind of comparisons let you know why teams will pay him and that the tools are for real.
There are rumors that since his agent has stopped shopping him around that a deal has been struck and the Reds are rumored to be that team—another team new to being a major player on the international scene, spending $2.0 million in March on 16 year old power-hitting OF Juan Duran, and have already spent $3-4 million this season on pre July 2nd prospects. The Yankees, Mariners, Red Sox, and Cardinals are all heavily interested and Rodriguez figures to get a bonus between $2.5 million and $3.0 million, which would top Miguel Cabrera’s $1.9 million bonus in 1999 as the highest in Venezuelan history.
3. Rafael Rodriguez, RF, Dominican Republic
The rumor that won’t die about Rodriguez is that the Giants have offered him a $2.5 million bonus and he’s stopped shopping himself with a deal already done. It does seem like $2.5 million is a little rich for Rodriguez versus industry perception (about $1.5 million), but there is a lot of competition for players at the top and if the Giants like him, giving a game-ending offer weeks before the deadline to lock him up is a sound strategy. He’ll be eligible to sign when he turns 16 on July 13th.
As for the tools, Rodriguez has a projectable 6′5, 200 lb frame that one international scouting director compared to Dave Winfield in BA’s breakdown of Rodriguez. His right-handed bat draws praise for it’s power to all fields and his raw strength but there are serious questions about hitability, approach, balance, loop in the swing, and ability to hit off-speed stuff. None of those things are abnormal for a 16 year old, but all of them in a package that will cost seven figures causes many to pause.
The bat speed, loft, big power, and athleticism are all there, so if you buy his makeup and ability to adjust, there’s a ton of raw ability to work with; it’s easy to see why the Giants would like him. It does sound like more teams than not think there’s a lot of Joel Guzman in there, too; none of the other stuff matters if he can’t hit, and that’s a legitimate question at this point.
4. Adis Portillo, RHP, Venezuela
Portillo is the consensus second-best pitcher in this year’s crop, and as mentioned in the July 2nd Notes article he is getting bid up due to the “didn’t get Inoa” effect. His profile is along the lines of most high-profile July 2nd pitchers: projectable body (6′3 with room for a lot of bulk), average now velocity (88-92), a feel for a curveball and changeup, a loose arm, and a workable delivery (though it has some effort). Like many other Latin prospects, scouts are sold on his frame due to big feet, hands, and fingers; a good indicator that a frame that will grow.
The downside was alluded to in the upside: he’s not polished and no one is really sure what his next 2-3 years of development will look like. Everything except his average velocity and projectable frame is below-average right now, including his control, which worries more than a few scouts. There also is an issue common with pitchers of Portillo’s profile: a disconnect between bullpen performance and game performance, similar to how young hitters having trouble converting BP power into games.
The team that likes Portillo the most will be banking (as usual) on his makeup and ability to improve as lots is needed before the upper levels of pro baseball. All those negatives said, Portillo is still an easy $500,000 prospect, and many would pay up to about $800,000, with a few likely willing to go to seven figures. The aforementioned affect could push Portillo as high as $2.0 million, the indicated asking price by some sources. The number that sounds more likely is $1.5 million, with teams like the Cubs, Mariners, Royals, Phillies, and Padres all in the mix, with San Diego the rumored landing spot—another new power on the Latin front.
5. Julio Morban, CF, Dominican Republic
Morban is more of a baseball player-type prospect than the above hitters, that are more star potential athletes. Morban swings a consistent bat from the left side and has above-average speed and solid athletic actions in center field packed into a compact 5′11, 178 pound frame.
Despite not owning a big, projectable frame, Morban has a bat that almost every Latin insider can buy, along with athleticism that brought projections of a million dollar bonus before the market jumped a few notches. Morban’s swing has some issues to be ironed out like any 16 year old’s swing would, but with advanced hitability, a sound approach, solid mechanics, and enough bat speed to create some power, he may own the safest bat in this class. He also sports an above-average arm and glove in center, and while some think he may add power and eventually move to right field, the profile is that of an everyday player either way.
The Mariners, Mets, Red Sox, and Yankees have been tied to Morban. Baseball America has a profile and a projection that jives with what I’ve heard: $1.1 to $1.2 million from the Mariners.
6. Luis Domoromo, OF, Venezuela
As mentioned above with Morban, Domoromo is a change of pace from the Rodriguez’s, as more of a baseball player, with a bat teams believe in to varying degrees, but projects for more of a solid-average everyday profile and will likely end up at a corner outfield position.
Some scouts say he’s a little mechanical and others think he has more of an average bat from the right side, but in comparison to the other bats on this list, being a little stiff and having a low-end projection of an average major league bat is a welcome relief for the risk averse. Domoromo has a solid frame that projects for plus power, and as you might expect, he is more of pull-oriented hitter that doesn’t always convert BP power into game situations. He has a smooth, fluid swing and emerging power, but won’t get big money due to the lack his lack of elite athleticism or star potential. He’s fine in the outfield given the profile and his arm seems good enough for right field to be a longterm fit.
Domoromo was described to me a few weeks ago as a low-upside player who would get about $700,000, and as you might expect, he’s heavily rumored, including in his BA profile, to sign for seven figures. BA suggests a deal is done with the Padres for $1.2 million, and that’s more conviction than I have about any of the rumors I’ve heard about Domoromo, so I’ll go with that.
The Borderline Millionaires
7. Yeico Calderon, RF, Dominican Republic
The Skinny: This is the first spot where a million dollar pay day isn’t assured, where rankings will diverge, and where information is both harder to come by, and harder to trust as smokescreens and misinformation are common at this juncture in the process.
Calderon is a power prospect with a potent bat from the left side and right field tools that have drawn Cliff Floyd comparisons. One source even said his tools are on par with Rafael Rodriguez, but with a bat from the left side, and with better hitability. Calderon can turn on good fastballs in game situations, but is a bit rough around the edges with a rudimentary approach and power primarily to his pull side. He is athletic enough to play right field and has a strong arm that may get him a seven figure pay day from the right team.
The Yankees are known to have interest, but from this point on, you probably won’t see a correct bonus/team prediction, and you could put any of the big Latin spending teams on any of the listed players and probably be right.
8. Alvaro Aristy, SS, Dominican Republic
Latin shortstops are a successful group as a whole, and sought-after commodity every July 2nd. The top one looks this year looks to be a 6′0, 165 pound, defense-first prospect in Alvaro Aristy.
Aristy has the best chance to play shortstop in the bigs from this class, with sure hand and plus range, but scouts aren’t sure if his bat is enough to get him to the big leagues. With a thin build and lack of power, Aristy’s bat doesn’t stand out, but he’s elicited comparisons to Brewers SS Alcides Escobar, and may follow the same career path, with steady, incremental improvement at the plate. One insider likes his bat speed and projection and thinks he could be grow into his frame and become “Alfonso Soriano light.”
For the moment, he’s not a whole lot to get excited about, but neither was Escobar when I saw him in the Florida State League last year, and now he’s almost a big leaguer. That just might be enough to justify the $1 million price tag that’s he’s rumored to be getting, with a number of teams on him and San Diego, yet again, being the rumored front runner.
9. Giancarlo Arias, IF, Dominican Republic
Aristy, Arias, and the next prospect, Jose Osoria, have been lumped together as similar prospects that currently play shortstop and should get comparable bonuses, but Arias is a different sort of player than Aristy and Osoria.
Arias is a stocky six footer with a plus arm and impressive left-handed bat that many project to move off of shortstop in the near future. His hands are good but his foot speed is below-average prompting projections that he could stick at second base, although third base seems like a better profile, given his frame. Still, one source likes his footwork and hands and thinks Arias’ unusually-proportioned body may play at shortstop longer than expected, like Juan Uribe, especially given his plus arm.
Arias is talked about in the same $1 million neighborhood as Aristy, and BA reports he’s likely sign with the Yankees, for a bonus as high as $1.4 million. While that wouldn’t be shocking, that number is higher than anything I’ve heard on Arias.
10. Jose Osoria, SS, Dominican Republic
As mentioned above, Osoria has a similar profile to Aristy, as a glove-first shortstop with limited offensive upside. So, you can copy the words from Aristy’s report, adjust down a hundred thousand dollars or so and be pretty much on point with Osoria’s skills.
Beyond that, anything more than general information on Osoria has been tough to come by as he hasn’t been easy for scouts to get a look at. Considering that there were a number of teams showing interest in Osoria earlier in the process, it’s almost a lock that he’s got a deal already done, but trying to figure out which team is anyone’s guess.
The “Could Be” Millionaires
11. Ramon Flores, OF, Venezuela
Flores is an unheralded prospect that has shown an oustanding hitting ability for scouts, but due to questionable power, has an uncertain professional profile. If you follow the draft, you know that an uncertain profile as an outfield ‘tweener, without enough speed for center, or enough power to be a solid starter at a corner spot, leaves you in limbo and usually ends up costing the player a lot of money.
Flores shows an advanced hitability that some say could make him a .300 hitter someday. It goes without saying that not all project Flores’ bat so favorably, that he’s a little rough around the edges, he’s 16, blah, blah, blah, you get the idea. His power is more gap-to-gap and is based on hard, consistent contact moreso than freakish bat speed or strength, but most think it can be average, producing about 15 homers annually in the end. Flores has deceiving average speed that will play in a corner outfield spot and should be able to garner a bonus of $700,000 or more.
12. Gustavo Pierre, 3B, Dominican Republic
Pierre is another of the Dominican shortstops, but basically no one thinks he can stick there; third base and left field are the two most common positional projections. His bat shows flashes, but how good his bat has looked varies from one game, BP session, or workout to another. He has sound swing mechanics, but showing an inability to consistently perform in game situations has some teams worried about his long-term prospects.
At 6′2 and 175 pounds, Pierre has some projection left in his frame, quick feet, and some power potential. He has been connected to the Blue Jays for some time, and figures to get a bonus in the $600,000 to $700,000 range.
13. Ismael Guillon, LHP, Venezuela
Guillon is a big 6′3 lefthander that hasn’t been seen a whole lot, but has a good amount of polish for a 16 year old. He has a larger, more filled-out frame compared to fellow 6′3 Venezuelan hurler Portillo, and throws from the left side, but has a lower upside. Guillon works in the high 80s with his fastball and lacks bigtime projection, but has 3 workable pitches and some feel for pitching. He figures to get a bonus of about $700,000 as well.
14. George Drullal, 3B, Dominican Republic
Drullal is another under-the-radar prospect with some enticing upside. Drullal shows a solid swing, some power potential, and enough athleticism to profile as a pro third baseman. He is more raw than the hitting prospects listed above him, but not that many 16 year old hitters look much like they do at 25, so at this juncture of the rankings, you’re looking for elements you want to bet on. The Mets are heavily rumored to be the team that likes Drullal the best and his bonus could be as high as $700,000, which apparently is the buzz price for players of this ability.
15. Francisco Valdivia, RHP, Nicaragua
Not too many teams have seen Valdivia, the only Nicaraguan on this list, in game conditions, so there will be a lot of projecting to be made on a small sample of performance. But, as said above with Drullal, you can’t be too picky with the now-abilities of 16 year olds.
Valdivia has an extremely projectable frame at 6′3 and 180 pounds, and shows an average fastball with good sink from a three-quarters arm angle that has hit 92. He is raw, lacking high-level instruction and experience. Predictably, he lacks refinement in his secondary pitches and has mechanics that need to be reworked, but has a high risk/reward ratio.
Christian Betancourt, C, Panama
Betancourt actually turned 17 before July 2nd, so he was eligible to sign before the rest of these prospects and inked a deal with the Braves in March for $600,000. Betancourt owns an underrated mix of tools that are solid across the boards and don’t jump out at first glance. More importantly, for such a young player, he also shows the kind of work ethic and attitude you like to see from young backstops—he just gets it done.