10 International Prospects Who Could Be the Next Felix Hernandez

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterAugust 6, 2012

10 International Prospects Who Could Be the Next Felix Hernandez

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    Discovered by a scout as a 14-year-old scraping 90 mph in 2000, the Mariners signed Felix Hernandez in July of 2002, not long after the right-hander turned 16.

    After a breakout professional season in 2003 as a 17-year-old, Hernandez was named the Mariners’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2004, a year that saw him reach Double-A as an 18-year-old.

    King Felix made his major league debut in early August of the following season, making him the youngest pitcher (19) to start a game since the Cincinnati Reds’ Jose Rijo in 1984.

    Since then, the now-26-year-old has put together quite the big-league résumé: 95-72, 21 CG, 7 SHO, 3.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 228 starts (1,552.1 IP).

    His best season to date came in 2010, when he was 13-12 with six complete games, 2.27 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He was named the American League’s Cy Young.

    A product of excellent international scouting, Hernandez’s success story is something that every organization hopes to replicate. In recent years, teams have heavily invested in international prospectsin hopes of finding more King Felixes working their way through the minor leagues.

    Here are 10 international signees who could be the next Felix Hernandez.

10. Jose Castillo, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Age: 16 (Signed: 2012)

    Country: Venezuela

    The 16-year-old southpaw has all the makings of a future power pitcher: 6’4”, 200-pound frame, consistent delivery and strong arm.

    His fastball has scraped 93-94 mph and he flashes an above-average changeup, while his breaking ball is still pretty raw and inconsistent.

9. Adys Portillo, RHP, San Diego Padres

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    Age: 20

    Country: Venezuela

    Signed in 2008 as a 16-year-old, the 6’2”, 185-pound right-hander has a power pitcher’s frame and the arsenal to match. He’s reportedly reached 100 mph with his fastball and, when he’s locating it, uses it to set up his secondary offerings.

    His breaking ball has poor pace and shape, though he’s thrown it with better arm action this season, while his changeup lacks the necessary fade and is often left up in the zone.

    If he can improve both pitches to be at least average offerings he should reach the major leagues with two seasons. 

8. Jose Almonte, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Age: 16 (Signed: 2012)

    Country: Dominican Republic

    The 6’2”, 185-pound right-hander has a lanky frame with room for projection as well as smooth, clean arm action. His fastball reached 90-91 mph this past offseason.

    As he fills out, Almonte should hit the mid-90s with consistency. Although he struggles to throw it for a strike, his breaking ball is of the downer variety with tight rotation.

7. Ariel Pena, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Age: 20 (Signed: 2006)

    Country: Dominican Republic

    Signed as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, it’s taken Pena five season to get out of Class-A. Over the last two seasons, the right-hander has blossomed into a potential mid-rotation starter.

    Pena’s fastball sits in the low-90s with late sink to the arm-side, and he’ll reach back for mid-to-upper-90s on occasion.

    He complements it with a plus slider with late, hard break and decent command. His changeup shows promise but at the moment he lacks the experience to throw with efficiency.

    Overall, Pena’s command continues to be shaky, as his mechanics often become sloppy and he’ll lose the feel for his arm slot.

6. Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Age: 17 (Signed: 2011)

    Country: Mexico

    At 6’2”, 230 pounds, Osuna doesn’t call for as much projection as many of the other names on this list. Nonetheless, the right-hander has a strong arm that generates fastballs as high as 94 mph. He gets better movement when he takes something off.

    His curveball is his best offspeed pitch, though he can get around it at times and cause it to flatten out. He’s made progress with a changeup, thought there’s still considerable work to be done.

5. Michel Ynoa, RHP, Oakland Athletics

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    Age: 20 (Signed: 2008)

    Country: Dominican Republic

    Signed to a monster $4.25 million signing bonus in 2008, Ynoa had logged only nine professional innings prior to the 2012 season due to a series of arm injuries. When healthy, the 6’7”, 210-pound right-hander pounds the zone with a 91-94 mph that effortlessly comes out of his hand.

    His curveball isn’t the absolute that it was when the A’s signed him, but it’s rounded back into form this season and still flashes plus break when thrown well. His changeup is at least an average pitch at the moment with deceptive arm speed and late-fading action.

4. Jose Mujica, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Age: 16 (Signed: 2012)

    Country: Venezuela

    With a quick, whip-like arm, the 6’2”, 180-pound right-hander has one of the better fastballs in the 2012 international signing class, with room left for projection.

    Mujica, 16, has clean arm action that delivers a low-90s fastball with late, heavy sink. The right-hander also throws a breaking ball, but his best offspeed pitch is his changeup, which is thrown with convincing speed.

3. Luis Heredia, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Age: 17 (Signed: 2010)

    Country: Mexico

    Considered too advanced for the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, the Pirates assigned Heredia to the Gulf Coast League in 2011 as a 16-year-old.

    However, they’ve been extremely cautious and protective of the tall right-hander, giving him ample rest between starts and allowing him to log only a certain number of innings per outing.

    Heredia’s fastball velocity is up since signing with the Pirates in 2010. He sits 92-93 mph but has been clocked as high at 95-96.

    His breaking ball shows a lot of promise and he has a late, downward bite, but it’s an inconsistent offering given his lack of experience. The right-hander also mixes in a changeup with some sink and fade that projects to be at least a third above-average pitch.

2. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Age: 20 (Signed: 2010)

    Country: Dominican Republic

    Thanks to a lightning-quick arm, Martinez’s fastball sits in the upper 90s and even touches triple digits on occasion. He also has a 90-93 mph fastball variation with late sink.

    The right-hander’s heater explodes out of his hand and jumps on unsuspecting hitters due to an effortless delivery.

    His secondary stuff has significantly improved this season, as his curveball grades out as at least a 60 and is the downer type with good pace and shape.

    Martinez also has mixes in a changeup that has some fade, although he struggles with his command when he tries to fight his natural arm speed. 

    He slows down his arm at times with both offerings, causing them to flatten out and lose effectiveness. However, it’s nothing that can’t be ironed out or improve with experience.

1. Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    Age: 21 (Signed: 2007)

    Country: Colombia

    His fastball sits in the 93-97 mph range and he’s aggressive with its placement, working both sides of the plate and pounding the lower half of the strike zone. 

    However, he’s been missing with the pitch far too often over the last year, which has led to fewer strikeouts and more home runs allowed this season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

    Also in his arsenal is a plus changeup with excellent fade as well as a curveball and slider.

    Both pitches grade as above-average with potential to be plus offerings down the road. He has showcased improved command of all pitches since 2010 but clearly needs more refinement to be successful at the big league level.