Grading the 10 Biggest Moves of the 2014 International Signing Period
Though the 2014-15 international signing period began earlier this month, July 2, most teams have already locked up the best players in this year’s class.
As I detailed in a previous article, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are already considered the big winners this year, as both teams blew past their allotted international bonus pools so as to procure a variety of high-end prospects.
However, after looking at each team’s international class for the current period, today we’ll be breaking down some of the top individual player signings by issuing grades based on the strengths of those signings.
The grade for each signing is based on the player’s pre-signing period ranking (as determined by Baseball America, Scout.com and MLB.com), his reported signing bonus and his potential long-term impact with his new organization.
Here are the 10 biggest moves of the 2014 international signing period.
10. Christopher Acosta, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Signing Bonus: $1.5 million
The Boston Red Sox have landed two of this year’s top pitching prospects since the start of the July 2 period, though for now we’ll only look at right-hander Christopher Acosta, the less expensive of the two hurlers.
Scouts like Acosta's tall and lean body, along with his loose and easy arm actions on the mound. Acosta's fastball hovers in the 88 to 92 mph range, but his changeup might be his best overall pitch, and he can throw it in any count. Acosta's curveball has good rotation with bite, and he uses it in the strike zone early in counts and as a strikeout pitch.
Scouts like Acosta's command of all of his pitches and his overall feel for pitching. Some scouts believe he can look disinterested at times, and his delivery could use some work, but there is no denying his potential.
Though he lacks overpowering stuff at the present, Acosta’s relatively mature arsenal and feel for pitching could lead to a swift adjustment to stateside baseball as well as an accelerated rise through the minor leagues. If everything comes together as expected for the 16-year-old right-hander, then we could be looking back at his $1.5 million signing bonus years from now and wondering how the Red Sox landed such a steal.
9. Amado Nunez, SS, Chicago White Sox
Singing Bonus: $900,000
With the third-highest bonus pool among all teams ($4,273,000), the Chicago White Sox have quietly thrown around some money since the start of the international signing period, signing four promising up-the-middle prospects.
The organization’s biggest signing was arguably Dominican shortstop Amado Nunez, whom the team landed for $900,000.
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com’s scouting report on Nunez:
Overall, scouts like Nunez's medium-frame build, his bat speed and his power potential. He has also been praised for his fluid swing and balanced setup at the plate. The broad-shouldered teen can also hit the ball to all fields. The shortstop could end up at third base in the future, but he will likely stay in the middle of the infield for now because of his soft hands, quick feet and range. Nunez also has an average but accurate arm.
Though White Sox didn’t land a “sexy” shortstop prospect such as Dermis Garcia, Gilbert Lara or Adrian Rondon, the above report on Nunez paints him as a mature player on both sides of the ball given his age, which in turn suggests he could carry less risk compared to other players from this year’s J2 class.
8. Ronny Rafael, OF, Houston Astros
Signing Bonus: $1.5 million
The Houston Astros' biggest addition during the current period is Dominican outfielder Ronny Rafael, who signed for $1.5 million. Bed Badler of Baseball America also noted that the contract includes $100,000 in college scholarship money.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com offered a glowing report on Rafael, praising his potential on both sides of the ball:
On offense, Rafael has a good swing path and makes hard contact. He has impressed evaluators with his raw power and his ability to use that power in games. What's more, Rafael is also a plus runner and is aggressive on the basepaths.
On defense, Rafael has the ability to play all three outfield positions, partly because he takes good routes to fly balls and tracks balls off the bat well. His superb closing speed is another reason he could stay in center field as he moves up the Minor League ranks.
Rafael was one of the more intriguing players in this year’s class, as the 16-year-old already features a high-end combination of athleticism, speed and strength, making it easy to project him as an impact outfielder at maturity.
7. Juan DeLeon, OF, New York Yankees
Signing Bonus: $2 million
In addition to landing top-ranked infielders such as Dermis Garcia and Nelson Gomez, the New York Yankees also signed Dominican Juan DeLeon, one of the top outfield prospects in this year’s class.
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, who ranked DeLeon as the No. 5 international prospect in this year’s class:
There's a belief that DeLeon might have the best all-around combination of tools and body among outfielder in this year's class from the Dominican Republic. Evaluators often use words like "explosive" and "electric" to describe the outfielder's skill set, and some view him as a potential five-tool player. Overall, DeLeon is an athletic outfielder who will likely start in center field but could end up in right field because of his size and skills.
Based on Sanchez’s description of DeLeon, the 16-year-old seems to have all the makings of an impact corner outfielder at the highest level, and he potentially could develop into a star should his secondary skills eventually catch up to his impressive collection of tools.
6. Pedro Gonzalez, SS, Colorado Rockies
Signing Bonus: $1.3 million
The Colorado Rockies landed one of the better shortstops in this year’s international class in Dominican Pedro Gonzalez.
According to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, who ranked Gonzalez as the No. 12 overall international prospect:
What's certain is that Gonzalez is tall and lean, and he's gaining weight. He's listed as a shortstop, and he is projected to stay on the left side of the infield because of his defensive abilities and future arm strength. Some evaluators have expressed some concern with his hitting mechanics, but like all prospects his age, he will improve with instruction once he enters a team's academy. He displayed a good swing path and gap-power in International Prospect League games in the Dominican Republic and on the road as part of the team's travel squad.
Sanchez’s description of the 16-year-old indicates that he’s all projection right now but that he also has the tools and skill sets on both sides of the ball to be an impact player at maturity. However, only time will tell whether Gonzalez can come close to reaching his ceiling as an everyday shortstop.
5. Anderson Espinoza, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Bonus: $1.8 million
The Red Sox didn’t stop after landing Acosta, as they came right back to sign another high-profile arm in Venezuelan right-hander Anderson Espinoza.
Ben Badler of Baseball America contends that the 16-year-old is the best pitcher in this year’s class, noting "at 6 feet, 175 pounds, he has a loose delivery, a fastball up to 94 mph with advanced secondary stuff and pitchability."
Meanwhile, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com went into greater depth when discussing the right-hander:
Espinoza has three projectable pitches with command, and he's a plus athlete who has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Some scouts question his size and strength, but there is no denying the effectiveness of his power arm and his breaking ball.
The right-hander's fastball hovers in the 91 to 93 mph range, and his curveball comes in between 71 and 73 mph. Espinoza's changeup also has some sinking action, and some scouts think he could be the best overall pitcher on the market.
Unfortunately, the fact that Espinoza is a 5’10”, 150-pound right-hander means that questions about his durability will follow him throughout his development. However, there’s still something to be said for his athleticism, arm strength and pure stuff at this stage in his promising career.
4. Dermis Garcia, SS, New York Yankees
Signing Bonus: $3.2 million
Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required) ranked Dermis Garcia as the No. 9 prospect for this year’s international signing period, stating that the right-handed slugger has “70 raw power that rates as the best in the class.”
Garcia’s power also impressed Scouting Baseball's Kiley McDaniel (subscription required) during a scouting excursion to the Dominican Republic back in January:
Garcia is stronger now but also matured, growing into his 6’2/190 frame and leveraging those newfound abilities in a more efficient swing. Garcia launched a number of homers to his pull side yesterday, flashing plus raw power that was also the best I’ve seen this week.
Yet, while it’s easy to project Garcia as a middle-of-the-order hitter when all is said and done with his development, evaluators have expressed doubt over the 16-year-old’s ability to remain at shortstop long term.
Garcia “won’t play shortstop,” according to Badler, but he “has a chance to play third base, depending on how big he gets.”
McDaniel, on the other hand, isn’t comfortable writing him off at shortstop just yet:
Garcia has enough defensive ability that you can’t rule out him sticking at shortstop. There have been examples, like Xander Bogaerts and Reid Brignac among recent AL East examples, of bigger athletes that look ticketed for third base in A-Ball that eventually worked their way into becoming big league shortstops with work. If I had to guess, I’d say Garcia ends up at third base and that seems to be the assumption with scouts, but the bat easily profiles if that happens.
In general, Garcia’s defensive tools and skill sets seemingly are a cleaner fit at third base than at shortstop.
Though he possesses average speed at the present, Badler believes Garcia “will slow down as he gets bigger,” even suggesting that his size could push him to right field. However, he makes sure to mention Garcia’s plus arm and notes that “his hands should work at third base.”
Basically, the Yankees signed Garcia for his huge power potential, which they presumably believe will outweigh any defensive limitations that arise as he ages. If the slugger comes close to reaching his ceiling as a middle-of-the-order hitter, then it’s reasonable to think he could serve as one the American League’s more productive shortstops/third basemen in his prime. That being said, the 16-year-old obviously has a huge gap between the present ability and future potential.
3. Gilbert Lara, INF, Milwaukee Brewers
Signing Bonus: $3.1 million
Gilbert Lara, 16, was widely considered to be one of the top international prospects in this year’s J2 class, ranking No. 5 overall on Baseball America’s list of the top 30 players.
Ben Badler offered the following in his scouting report (subscription required) on Lara:
Lara is one of the most physically mature players for 2014 and it shows in his offensive game. His plus raw power ranks second in the class only to Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia, but Lara takes his power to the games with much higher frequency. His swing and hitting approach are unorthodox, but he has good bat speed and seems to find a way to make it work against live pitching.
Shortstop isn’t an option for Lara, who’s a below-average runner and lacks natural infield actions. He might get a chance to begin his career at third base, where he does have a quick release to make up for below-average arm strength and a funky throwing stroke. He doesn’t have great hands, range or timing in the infield though, and he’s going to be so big that most scouts consider him a first baseman or left fielder exclusively.
As is the case with so many international prospects each year, the Milwaukee Brewers went all-in on Lara for his offensive potential, knowing that there’s a realistic chance he’ll have moved to a corner position by the time he reaches the major leagues. Therefore, the hope is that Lara’s bat will make it easy to overlook his potential defensive shortcomings.
2. Nelson Gomez, 3B, New York Yankees
Signing Bonus: $2.25 million
The Yankees followed the signing of Dermis Garcia ($3.2 million) with another big-name signing, inking Dominican third baseman Nelson Gomez for $2.25 million.
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, who ranked Gomez as the No. 2 player in this year’s J2 class:
Gomez has gained a reputation as a pure hitter and is considered the best hitter in the entire class by some evaluators. Scouts already like his plate discipline, and he is expected to improve in that area once he enters a team's academy and plays in games on a regular basis. Gomez has a knack for squaring up the ball and has also displayed the ability to hit for power to all fields during Dominican Prospect League games.
However, unlike highly touted classmates such as Garcia and Lara, Gomez is expected to remain at his current position long term, with Sanchez noting that “Gomez’s offensive game is ahead of (his) defensive game at the moment, but he has an accurate, above-average throwing arm and is expected to improve in the field with instruction and repetition.”
Overall, it’s hard to not get excited at the thought of an offensive-oriented third baseman with a present feel for hitting and the potential to develop plus power. Furthermore, based on Sanchez’s report, it wouldn’t be surprising if Gomez moves through the minor leagues faster than most of his peers.
1. Adrian Rondon, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Signing Bonus: $2.95 million
According to Sanchez:
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder can do it all. Rondon has fluid actions on offense and defense, and he never seems out of control. He's expected to stay at shortstop when he signs with a Major League team because he projects to be a solid defender with a decent arm, quick feet and natural baseball instincts. Rondon can also handle himself in the batter's box.
On offense, scouts like Rondon's pure bat. He makes solid contact and has gap-to-gap power that should improve once he enters an academy and develops as a player. Rondon has already shown a good approach at the plate, and he shined during International Prospect League games in the Dominican Republic.
I really like the Tampa Bay Rays’ aggressiveness in signing Rondon; the organization went all-in on the right guy given the lack of a true long-term shortstop in its farm system.
The team went out of its way to acquire more bonus pool money (h/t MLB Trade Rumors) to ensure the 16-year-old’s $2.95 million bonus didn’t result in any future penalties. However, as Ben Badler of Baseball America recently noted, the Rays still face penalties for exceeding their spending pool with other J2 signings.
If that’s ultimately the case, then their current “A” grade for signing Rondon will likely change.