Yesterday, major league teams started eagerly throwing big (and small) piles of money at international free agents, almost entirely teenagers from Latin America. Prospect watchers annually anticipate the day, and its second only to the recently completed Rule Four draft. However, like the draft, expectations have to be tempered by the realization that over 90 percent of these guys will never appear in the majors.
The Blue Jay shave signed
seven at least 10 players so far, five of which are in Baseball America’s Top 50 available international free agents.
The players are:
Eric Pardinho, RHP, Brazil (No. 14 prospect), $1,400,000
Miguel Hiraldo, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 23 prospect), $750,000.
Alejandro Melean, RHP, Venezuela (No. 32 prospect) $775,000
Leonardo Jimenez, SS, Panama (No. 36 prospect), $800,000
Alberto Rodriguez, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 38 prospect)
Rainer Diaz, SS, Dominican Republic
Jose Rivas, SS, Venezuela, $280,000
Ronald Govea, RHP, Venezuela, $200,000
Geybar Jiminez, C, Venezuela, $100,000
Jhon Solarte, OF, Venezuela
Erikvi Celedonio, OF
(there’s also a mention in one Sanchez tweet of a SS Rainer Nunez who may or may not be the same guy as Rainer Diaz mentioned above, for now I am assuming he is)
(Signing bonuses per @JesseSanchezMLB)
[list updated 7-3 per published reports from Sanchez and BA]
The top two on that list have particularly high praise. The first is Brazilian Eric Pardinho, who’s considered the best pitcher available. You can find a deep dive article on him at ESPN. The second is shortstop Miguel Hiraldo, who scouts have referred to as the best pure hitter available. Per Baseball America, just nine of their Top 50 international prospects are left without a team after day one of the international signing period. Three of those players are in BA’s Top 15 overall: No. 10 OF Raimfer Salinas, No. 11 SS Ronny Rojas, and No. 15 C Antonio Cabello. As such, the Jays’ still have the chance to make one last splash.
It is worth emphasizing again that sometimes even the highly paid signings, let alone the flood of players signed for a pittance to fill out the Dominican Summer League squad, fail. It’s natural to be excited when you land a big fish, but for every Roberto Osuna there’s more than one Adonys Cardona (see below). Laying aside Vlad Guerrero, Jr., who is something of an outlier, these guys are even more of a high risk proposition than any Rule Four draft selection. Anyone remember the last Brazilian pitching phenom that the Jays signed? There ya go.
In honor of signing day, here’s your all-international minor league review.
Hottest Pitcher: Yennsy Diaz
Diaz was signed in 2014 and the now 20 year old Dominican RHP with the blazing fastball has become the savior of an otherwise depleted Lansing Lugnut rotation. Added to the team in early June after Patrick Murphy joined Justin Maese on the DL (where both remain), Diaz has wowed with 30 strikeouts in 19.2 IP (against 10 walks and 15 hits). Diaz works off an upper 90’s fastball and most reports suggest his secondary pitches are works-in-progress in various stages of development. He’ll need them at higher levels.
At 6’1″ and 160, Diaz still has a bit of physical projectability (he has room for another 15-20 pounds of muscle) and if he can refine at least one secondary pitch to above average status and tick up a few more MPH on the fastball, the team might be tempted to fast-track him towards a major league bullpen role.
Hottest Hitter (other than Bo): Edward Olivares
Another 2014 signing, Olivares, 21, has been tracked by deep-dive prospect watchers as a guy with talent, showing flashes of results, but not really achieving prospect status (which is tough to do for an unheralded player in the lowest levels of the system). Assigned to full-season Lansing this year, and playing in the shadow of the Vlad & Bo Show, Olivares got off to a slow start but has taken off and played his way into top 30 prospect conversations.
He opened the season 4 for 36 (albeit two of those were homers), since then (in 59 games and 249 at bats through Saturday) he’s hit .305/.340/.546/.886 and this is highlighted by good speed that’s led to 16 steals in 21 attempts and nine triples. More, his OPS was 1.014 in June.
5 Other to watch
- Jol Concepcion – reaching down into the low low levels here to add some variety. Concepcion was signed one year ago, part of the class that was capped as the Jays paid their penalty for the amount of money they spent on Vladdy. Still, his $150k bonus was 4th highest among those they signed and is a not insignificant amount. He’s a 6’5″ 195 RHP who was dominant in four DSL starts while waiting for the Gulf Coast League to get started. On Friday he made his first stateside start and recorded five strikeouts in five shutout innings. What do we know based on five starts? As outside observers, hardly anything. But with that frame and so-far excellent control paired with high strikeout rates, he’s at least separated himself from the crowd.
- Richard Urena – He entered the season as MLB.com’s #4 prospect in the system (and in basically everyone’s top 10) and is a mere 21 at AA which is impressive. But so far he’s been pretty consistently ordinary at the pate in 2017. If the Jays were buyers, this would be the guy they could most afford to trade but…yeah…moving on…
- Adonys Cardona – And here, friends, is our cautionary tale. Cardona was rated the third best International prospect in the 2010 signing class and the Blue Jays shelled out $2.8 million to get that signature. They brought him along slowly for three seasons, then in 2014 assigned him to his first full-season team. But in a start at the end of April he was felled by a broken elbow that needed to be surgically repaired. He’d go on to miss the rest of 2014 and all of 2015. Since his return, working exclusively in relief, his control seems to be completely gone (55 walks in 61.2 innings) and while he’s still just 23, things look bleak.
- Sterling Guzman – This 19 year old third baseman has basically been viewed as “just a guy” talent wise but with a plus makeup and “grinder” attitude. He was signed in the 2014 class and showed good speed and defense along with the ability to take a walk in his DSL debut the next year. Neither of those offensive qualities appeared in his first year stateside, but this spring he managed to snare an assignment to Bluefield. The sample (nine games) is tiny of course, and indicative of almost nothing, but he’s out of the gates hitting .400 and I’ll use him as a placeholder to illustrate the truth that, just as with the draft, occasionally a guy who signed for an ordinary bonus turns out to be something impressive. He’s probably still “just a guy” but who knows?
- Francisco Rios – the New Hampshire RHP spends a lot of his time being overlooked, pitching in a rotation with the (pre-season) top two pitching prospects in the organization and a former first rounder. But look at his game log and you’ll find only one troubling start (before yesterday!). Take that out and in his other 10 he has a 2.47 ERA, over 47.1 IP in which his ratio is 13 walks against 37 strikeouts.
Disappointed in the Blue Jays? Don’t look to Buffalo for solace. The Bisons are in the midst of a 5-23 crash-and-burn and there’s basically nothing but dumpster fires to see here save the occasional wasted brilliant pitching performance.
Last night Conner Greene walked eight in four innings. The Fisher Cats are in their own valley, having lost 10 of their last 14, not a little because pitchers who were supposed to be quite good haven’t been.
Since coming off a nine game losing streak early last month, the D-Jays are playing .500 ball, supported primarily by strong work from the front of the starting rotation.
The Lugnuts finished the first half with a good-but-not great record of 37 – 29. They’ve started the second half slow as they continue to be plagued by inconsistent starting pitching.
The VanC’s have come out of the gate relatively strong at 10-7 and received a nice boost from three of this years draft choice. Kacey Clemens has a .980 OPS in his first nine games and that’s only good enough for third on the team behind Riley Adams and Brock Lundquist.
A 5-6 start is inconclusive of course. Besides Guzman, the offense has been carried by two recent draftees – Ryan Noda and Brandon Polizzi.
Lead Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports