I usually don’t spend too much time covering July 2nd signing period, because there are so many false reports and so much sketchy information out there about international amateur players that it’s hard to know what’s reliable and what’s not. One place that always has reliable info is Baseball America, and I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk exchange emails Ben Badler, BA’s international free agent guru.
In case you don’t know, July 2nd is when teams can begin to sign international players who aren’t draft eligible as free agents. Most players come from Latin America, but in recent years we’ve seen teams scour Australia, Asia and even parts of Europe for talent. The players must be at least 16-yrs old to sign but, as always, there are some loopholes that could be exploited. Jesus Montero is the Yanks best international signing of late, and big leaguers Melky Cabrera, Robbie Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera were all acquired this way in the past.
You can read Ben’s stuff at BA’s site, and you could also follow him on Twitter for more prospect info than you can handle. I think I speak for all of the RABiverse when I say that I greatly appreciate Ben taking time from his hectic schedule to drop some knowledge on us. Here we go…
Mike: The worst kept secret on the international market this year is the Yankees’ interest in catcher Gary Sanchez, and in fact it seems like he’s all but signed on the dotted line. What can you tell us about him, and what kind of bonus is he looking at?
Ben: Sanchez is the top catching prospect this year from Latin America. Anyone I talked to about Sanchez leading up to July 2 figured he would sign with the Yankees, and now it looks like he’s going to sign with them for a bonus of around $3 million (the exact number isn’t clear), which will probably be the third-highest bonus for a Latin American player this year after Miguel Sano and Wagner Mateo. There is another Dominican catcher who is looking at a considerable bonus by the name of Jacob Beltre, but most scouts with whom I have spoken think Sanchez is the better all-around prospect. Some scouts I have talked to aren’t quite as impressed as the Yankees apparently are; he’s got the arm strength, the quick release and he can crush the ball in BP, but some of them aren’t sold on him hitting in games. But the Yankees have seen him more than anyone, and if they’re going to give him approximately $3 million, I’m sure they’re comfortable with his ability to hit in games, either presently or in the future.
How does Sanchez compare to the patron saint of Latin American catching prospects, Jesus Montero?
It’s not a given that Sanchez will stay at catcher, but I think he has a better chance to stay behind the plate than Montero because of his tools and athleticism, although there has been some concern from scouts in recent months about Sanchez’s body, so I think he’s going to have to stay on top of his conditioning. Still, his arm is stronger than Montero’s and his pop times are quicker as well. The problem is that his receiving skills and his footwork still need to improve, so making progress in those areas is going to be vital for Gary. Sanchez has considerable offensive potential, but his bat isn’t in Montero’s class. Then again, there are few players who can hit like Montero.
We’ve also seen the Yanks loosely connected to outfielder Guillermo Pimentel, although last month you reported that the Rangers were the favorites to land him. How does he compare to last year’s Latin American darlings, Rafael & Yorman Rodriguez?
Well, now it looks like the Mariners are the favorites to sign Pimentel. I heard in spring training that the Mariners liked him, but by the time I wrote my first July 2 preview in May, everyone I talked to about Pimentel said he was going to sign with the Rangers. Rafael Rodriguez and Yorman Rodriguez were solid players, but the scouts I spoke with last year never understood what all the fuss was about them. Rafael Rodriguez is a big guy with raw power, but he never showed much feel for hitting in game situations. Yorman Rodriguez–and I saw him once this year as well–is a great athlete with plus-plus speed and a great body to project on, but scouts say his bat also needs a lot of work. Pimentel sounds like a more advanced hitter than either of those guys, as do several of this year’s top July 2 hitters. Pimentel’s swing is short and direct to the ball, and he has very good power for a 16-year-old kid.
Any other hitters connected to the Yanks that we should know about?
Man, I hope you guys don’t hate this answer. Mike, you sent me these questions at least a week ago, and I tried to hold out as long as I could until I got some reliable information on who the Yankees had atop their wish list after Sanchez. If you asked me this question at this time last year, I would have had more information. But this year’s July 2 market has been slow to develop (probably because of the economy, MLB’s stricter investigations, new teams getting involved in Latin America, among other variables), and it seems especially so for what the Yankees plan to do. They should sign Sanchez, but other than him, it’s really not clear which hitters they are going to target. The talk I’ve heard within the industry is that the Yankees are expected to make some of their moves between Monday and Thursday (same with many other teams), but there is also talk that some teams might hold back until after July 2 for some of these players’ prices to drop. There are rumors out there, but I’m always cautious to believe anything I hear, and I’d be skeptical of anything I read as well.
There’s no Michael Ynoa this year, no pitcher who stands head and shoulders above his peers both literally and figuratively. Who are some of this year’s notable arms?
Scouts say it’s a down year for pitching in Latin America, but frankly, there are always going to be good arms that will seemingly come out of nowhere. For me, the two that stand out are Venezuelan lefthander Juan Urbina and Dominican righthander Johendi Jiminian. Yes, Urbina is Ugueth’s son, and it shows in his advanced mechanics and feel for pitching. He’ll probably sign with the Mets. Jiminian is another guy with advanced mechanics and feel for pitching, and he’ll throw 88-90 mph with a better curveball than most 16-year-olds have to offer. There will be some other players who have a chance to get comparable or even more money, but reports from the scouts I have spoken with are generally positive on those two players.
The Yanks have done a nice job landing less heralded pitchers like Jairo Heredia and Arodys Vizcaino the last few years. Have you heard them being in on any intriguing arms?
The Yankees’ recent history has been to get their pitching in the draft and use Latin America to go for the bats, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they landed one of the big-name arms out there. Again, I wish I had more information, but most people I talk to say the Yankees are taking longer than usual to make their moves, so I don’t have any firm information to pass along. I’m extremely hesitant to link a player to a team because there is so much misinformation that gets spread about July 2 prospects, and I would prefer to not be part of the problem. I’m a big Vizcaino fan, by the way, and I’m expecting a breakout performance at some point in the near future.
How good is Miguel Sano really? His agent Rob Plummer described him as “a Hanley Ramirez body and the possible upside of an Albert Pujols-type bat,” but that can’t possibly be true, can it?
Sano will get a lot of money, and the latest rumblings from Latin America is that his bonus could be comparable to or possibly surpass the $4.25 million the A’s gave Michael Ynoa last year. With any 16-year-old player from Latin America, you’re going to get divergent opinions from scouts because of how young the players are and because of the context in which they have to be scouted. But I’ve had several international scouting directors tell me that Sano is one of the best prospects they have ever seen from Latin America. If the economy was better, he’d break Ynoa’s bonus record easily. There are teams that would sign him for $2 million, $2.5 million, but since the bidding is going to be much higher than that, they’ve just dropped out of the race and reallocated their resources to scouting other players. His body, his swing, his power, his athleticism and his arm are all highly advanced for his age, so he has monster upside. There are teams that have scouted Sano since he was 14 years old, but there’s risk involved with any 16-year-old prospect, especially one from Latin America.
If he was draft eligible this year, where would he have been drafted?
With this year’s draft, it’s hard to say. Our draft gurus here at Baseball America ranked BC catcher Tony Sanchez as the No. 32 prospect in the draft, yet the Pirates took him fourth overall. After Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley, teams’ draft boards were all over the place. Who knows? I’ll bet there are people in the Pirates organization that like Sano more than Sanchez, so maybe he goes fourth overall, but there is an elevated level of risk involved in any 16-year-old player. I can’t imagine he’d last beyond the middle to the end of the first round, though.
What in the world ever happened to Edward Salcedo? He was supposedly the best thing since sliced bread, but now he’s seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth. If he was as good as advertised, someone would have signed him by now, right?
I have never received a definitive answer on Salcedo. He was one of the top prospects in the Dominican Republic a couple years ago after emerging as a late pop-up guy (which is usually bad news), but there were all sorts of questions about him, and he’s still unsigned. I’m not aware of any teams who are interested in signing him right now and he’s not a player I’ve heard anyone in Latin America talking about recently.
Last question, but it’s only half serious. A few years back the Yanks signed a young Dominican southpaw named Melvin Croussett, who has done nothing but crush the competition in the Dominican Summer League for the last three years. He’s a cult hero at RAB. Can you tell us anything about him?
I have never spoken to a scout about Croussett, so I couldn’t tell you.
For shame. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us.