Yankees sign shortstop Ronny Rojas for $1M, and they remain connected to several top international prospects

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Ronny Rojas to a $1M signing bonus. The Yankees had been connected to Rojas for weeks, but had to wait until his 16th birthday on August 23rd to actually sign him. Now that he is of age, the two sides put pen to paper. Badler has a photo of the contract signing, if you’re interested.

Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs all ranked Rojas as the 11th best prospect available during the 2017-18 international signing period, which opened July 2nd. Pretty rare that three scouting publications all agree on a ranking like that, especially beyond the top two or three prospects. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report:

Rojas succeeds in large part because of his quick hands and a good hitting approach from both sides of the plate. Scouts think he has a chance to hit for average and they love that he makes hard contact from both sides. In games, Rojas has displayed gap-to-gap power and there’s a chance he could hit home runs in the future … He makes all of the routine plays and has enough arm strength to keep him at the position now and in the future.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement teams can trade for an additional 75% of their original bonus pool. I didn’t realize that. It used to be 50%. The Yankees made three separate trades for international bonus space this summer — they made two minor deals with the Orioles and also netted bonus money in the Sonny Gray trade — and have reportedly maxed out their bonus pool. They started at $4.75M and are now at $8.3125M.

Bonus information for so many international deals goes unreported, and based on what we know, the Yankees have now spent $4.45M of their $8.3125M bonus pool. It is extremely likely they’ve spent more than that. Not necessarily a lot more — the big bonuses are always reported, but the small six-figure deals add up — but more. And, according to Badler (subs. req’d), the Yankees are still connected to several top unsigned international amateurs:

The Rangers still appear to be the favorites for Patiño, and while there’s more uncertainty with Salinas and Cabello, several sources believe they could go to the Yankees, who have traded up for additional bonus pool space.

The Yankees are also the favorites to sign Venezuelan shortstop/center fielder Osleivis Basabe, the No. 46 prospect, though there is talk he might wait until 2018 to sign.

Salinas is Venezuelan outfielder Raimfer Salinas and Cabello is Venezuelan catcher Antonio Cabello. Salinas and Cabello are ranked among the top 15 international prospects by both Baseball America and MLB.com, so they’re not nobodies. If they sign, they’re getting a nice chunk of change. As for Basabe, I’m not sure why he’d wait to next year to sign, but hey, if he’s willing, that saves 2017-18 bonus space.

All things considered, the Yankees may end up spending north of $6M on international amateurs this signing period should the Salinas and Cabello signings happen. Probably more than $6M. That’s just me guesstimating. All those smaller signings add up, and as consensus top 15 prospects, Salinas and Cabello should be locks for mid-to-high six-figure bonuses, maybe even seven figures. For now, $6M to $6.5M is a guesstimate.

Every international signing these days is viewed through the Shohei Otani lens. Otani, should he come over to MLB this offseason, will be subject to the international hard cap because he is only 23. That $1M for Rojas means the Yankees have $1M less to offer Otani. That $8.3125M is a hard cap and it, along with whatever international signings the Yankees have made and will make, will determine how much they can offer Otani.

Based on my guesstimate, the Yankees would have approximately $2M for Otani after the season. Will it be enough? Who knows. This much is true: Otani won’t be coming over because he wants top dollar. Most teams have spent (or traded) most of their international bonus money, so while that $2M may not seem like much, few teams may be able to offer more. If Otani wanted to maximize his earning potential, he’d stay in Japan, where he’s making $2.3M this year and would make even more next year.

For now, the Yankees added another high-end international prospect in Rojas, and might add two more in Salinas and Cabello. Maybe even Basabe too. How that impacts a pursuit for Otani, assuming he comes to MLB this winter, remains to seen. I know this much: the Yankees aren’t stupid. They’re making these international signings with Otani in mind. It’s all part of the plan and hey, maybe they don’t like Otani and the plan is to not pursue him.

DotF: Ford’s homer sends Scranton to championship series

Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Lehigh Valley) they win the best-of-five first round postseason series three games to one … they’ll take on Durham (Rays) in the best-of-five International League Championship Series, which starts Tuesday … they’re looking to become the first back-to-back IL champs (and back-to-back Triple-A champs) since Columbus in 2010 and 2011

  • CF Mason Williams, 2B Donovan Solano & RF Jake Cave: all 0-3 — Cave struck out twice and threw a runner out at second
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-3, 1 2B — 5-for-16 (.313) with three doubles and a homer in the four-game series
  • 1B Mike Ford: 1-2, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — his eighth inning solo homer accounted for the game’s only run
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 67 of 98 pitches were strikes (68%) … wonder if he’s going to get popped in the Rule 5 Draft … stuff is iffy, but the performance at Double-A and Triple-A the last two years is undeniably great … seems like a rebuilding club could take a chance on him as a swingman
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 12 pitches, nine strikes
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten of 15 pitches were strikes … by Triple-A standards, Holder/Rumbelow is a dominant setup man/closer tandem

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DotF: Hendrix & Estrada lead Trenton to championship series

Triple-A Scranton (6-1 win over Lehigh Valley) they lead the best-of-five first round postseason series two games to one

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R — 5-for-13 (.385) in the series, and according to people at the games, he’s made a number of great defensive plays as well
  • 2B Donovan Solano: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 E (fielding) — 7-for-13 (.538) with two walks in the series
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — second homer of the series, and he hit it against former big leaguer Henderson Alvarez
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 0-2, 1 RBI, 1 K — flashed his arm on a nice play going to his right (here’s video)
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB
  • RF Jake Cave: 0-3, 1 K
  • RHP Brady Lail: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 64 of 96 pitches were strikes (67%) … comes up big in his first postseason start after allowing 15 runs in his final 21.1 regular season innings

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DotF: Trenton throws combined no-hitter in postseason win

A few quick notes to pass along:

  • Now that High-A Tampa’s season is over, OF Estevan Florial and SS Kyle Holder have joined Double-A Trenton, reports Kyle Franko. Both are working out with the team but are not on the active roster. They could be added if there’s an injury.
  • RHP Clarke Schmidt has resumed throwing following Tommy John surgery, according to his Twitter feed. The Yankees’ first round pick in this year’s draft had his elbow rebuilt in early May. He’s been throwing for two weeks now, so it seems his rehab is going well.
  • Baseball America released their end-of-season minor league All-Star Teams and two Yankees farmhands made it. RHP Chance Adams is on the First Team and Florial is on the Second Team.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Lehigh Valley) the best-of-five first round postseason series is now tied at one

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 SB — 3-for-8 with two walks in the two games so far
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 3-5, 2 2B, 1 RBI — here’s video of the first double
  • 1B Mike Ford: 1-5, 1 RBI
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — back here after crushing the ball in a few rehab games at the lower levels
  • RF Jake Cave: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Chance Adams: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 2/5 GB/FB — 61 of 102 pitches were strikes (60%) … bit of a grind, but he got through five with a lead
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 22 of 35 pitches were strikes (63%) … bullpen got pretty taxed in extra innings yesterday, so he came up pretty big in a close game today

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DotF: Estrada hits for the cycle in Trenton’s postseason win

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 loss to Lehigh Valley in 12 innings, walk-off style) they trail the best-of-five first round postseason series one game to none

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 BB
  • 2B Donovan Solano: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-6, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — here’s video of the dinger
  • 1B Mike Ford: 1-6, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-6, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — opened the scoring with a two-run homer
  • RF Jake Cave: 1-5, 3 K
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 10/3 GB/FB — 54 of 82 pitches were strikes (66%) … started out great, but things unraveled in the sixth, when four of those five runs scored
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 24 of 37 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 0/2 GB/FB — 23 of 42 pitches were strikes (55%) … bad things happen after leadoff walks

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DotF: Frazier begins rehab assignment in Double-A postseason

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was rained out. Their best-of-five first round postseason series with Lehigh Valley (Phillies) will simply be pushed back a day, so Game One is tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (4-1 loss to Binghamton) they trail the best-of-five first round postseason series one game to none

  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 0-4, 2 K
  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-3, 3 K — played six innings in the field as scheduled in his first rehab game
  • DH Garrett Cooper: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — this is already his tenth day on the rehab assignment
  • 2B Nick Solak: 0-4, 2 K
  • 1B Ryan McBroom: 1-4, 1 K
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 40 of 73 pitches were strikes (55%) … rough start in the postseason opener
  • RHP Jose Mesa Jr.: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 41 of 59 pitches were strikes (59%) … Jose Table II has been ridiculously good for weeks now

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Putting Miguel Andujar’s breakout season into context

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The minor league regular season wrapped up Monday and boy, it was a successful season for the Yankees’ affiliates. The eight domestic affiliates went a combined 489-325 (.601), and seven of the eight qualified for the postseason. Two tied their franchise record in wins. It was a great season in the minor league standings and a great season for many individual prospects too.

One of those prospects, 22-year-old third baseman Miguel Andujar, had a breakout season in which he hit .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with system leading 36 doubles and a career high 16 home runs in 125 games split almost evenly between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He struck out 71 times in 522 plate appearances, or 13.6% against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Heck, Andujar even went 3-for-4 with a double in his one-game MLB cameo in June.

Andujar is not new to the organization. The Yankees signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for $750,000 back in July 2011, and he’s gradually worked his way up the minor league ladder since. For the first few seasons of his career Andujar would have a slow first half and a great second half. The last two years he’s been able to put together strong seasons from start to finish, and he’s continued to get better:

  • 2015: .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) at High-A
  • 2016: .273/.332/.410 (111 wRC+) at High-A and Double-A
  • 2017: .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) at Double-A and Triple-A

Andujar’s breakout season landed him in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list recently — he slid in at No. 100 once Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers graduated to the big leagues — and I’m hopeful he’ll pop up on a few more top 100 lists next spring. I’ve been an Andujar fan for a while now. I figured he’d be one of those “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?” players, except now he’s on a top 100 list.

Anyway, I like Andujar because he has power and because he doesn’t swing and miss often. He doesn’t walk much either (5.6% this year), so he is a free swinger, but he gets the bat on the ball consistently and makes it work. It’s a low walk/low strikeout profile rather than the always scary low walk/high strikeout profile. Martin Prado and Pablo Sandoval are good examples of low walk/low strikeout players, at least when they were in their primes.

To help put Andujar’s skill set — lots of contact and above-average power — into context, I decided to plot 2017 minor league K% and ISO rates. I set the minimum at 400 plate appearances to exclude the short season leagues, weeded out the stat-skewing Mexican League players, and wound up with 707 players. Their strikeout and isolated power rates:

2017-milb-k-vs-iso

There aren’t many dots around Andujar at all. The combination of contact and power is unusual. In fact, only two minors leaguers had a lower strikeout rate and a higher ISO than Andujar this year. One was Rangers prospect Willie Calhoun. He went from the Dodgers to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade and posted an 11.4% strikeout rate and a .272 ISO while spending the entire season in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

The other prospect? Yankees first baseman Mike Ford. Ford had a 13.5% strikeout rate and a .201 ISO. Maybe we should talk about Mike Ford more? Then again, he’s three years older than Andujar and played most of the season in Double-A, and like Calhoun, he’s a bat-only guy. Ford and Calhoun are essentially positionless. Andujar has a rocket arm and the tools to be a good defensive third baseman, even if the Yankees don’t consider him one yet.

(A third prospect, Dodgers outfielder Matt Beaty, put up a .179 ISO with an 11.2% strikeout rate this year, so he came close to the Andujar benchmark. Beaty is also two years older and spent the entire season in Double-A, so yeah.)

Going back through previous years, the number of prospects who did what Andujar did this year (13.6 K% and .182 ISO) at the same age (22) and at the same levels (Double-A and above) is quite small. The previous five seasons:

  • 2016: Willie Calhoun (11.6 K% and .215 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2015: Max Kepler (13.1 K% and .209 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2014: Mookie Betts (10.8 K% and .183 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A) and Giovanny Urshela (12.7 K% and .210 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A)
  • 2013: Maikel Franco (10.6 K% and .224 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2012: Oscar Taveras (10.5 K% and .252 ISO at Double-A)

That is quite a list of names. Kepler, Betts, and Franco are all big leaguers who have, at one time or another, looked like absolute stars. Taveras was baseball’s top prospect and next superstar when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Calhoun has not yet played in the big leagues but should soon — I’m guessing he’ll get a September call-up any day now — and Urshela basically stopped hitting after that big 2014 season. He’s the cautionary tale.

This isn’t to say Andujar is the next Mookie Betts or the next Giovanny Urshela or the next anyone. He’s not. He’s the next Miguel Andujar. It’s just meant to show how difficult it is to do what Andujar did this year, to hit for that much power while making that much contact at that age at those levels. One or two guys a year do it, and the guys who have done this sorta thing before were all considered among the game’s best up-and-comers at one point.

Andujar is, of course, a flawed prospect. Most are. He is still an impatient hitter, and when you swing so freely, you’re inevitably going to chase out of the zone and hit into some weak outs. Andujar also has to improve his defense. It’s more about breaking bad habits than refining skills or even a lack of skills. And there’s time to do that. Andujar is only 22 and he has two minor league option years, if necessary. His offense has really come together. Now he needs to do the same defensively.

At some point the Yankees will give Andujar a September call-up — “I think at some point he will be (up). As of right now, we have not made that decision to bring him up,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty earlier this week — and I don’t expect him to play a whole lot down the stretch. The Yankees are in the postseason race and they’re going to lean on their regulars. Where Andujar fits in the long-term is another question. For now, he’s raised his prospect stock quite a bit the last two years, and this year he showed a rare combination of power and contact.