The Early Returns from the 2014-15 International Spending Spree [2015 Season Review]

Wilkerman. (MLB.com)
Wilkerman. (MLB.com)

Four years ago, the MLBPA collectively bargained away the earning potential of amateur players. Spending restrictions were put in place for both the draft and international free agency, and while the spending limits are a soft cap, they do come with harsh penalties. Teams are given a bonus pool for the draft and international free agency, and exceeding the bonus pool comes with a hefty price.

Two summers ago, the Yankees decided to flex their financial muscle and go on a massive international spending spree. Their bonus pool was only $2.2M, but they spent upwards of $16M on bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period. As a result, they were taxed 100% on the overage — that’s another $14M or so in tax, mean the total cost was $30M+ — and are unable to hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods.

The Yankees were willing to pay the penalties to haul in the vast majority of the top talent available. They signed about four years worth of high-end international prospects in one signing period. Other teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Royals followed suit this past summer and blew their bonus pools out of the water. I’m guessing MLB and the MLBPA will look to change the system when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next offseason.

Anyway, the 2014-15 signing period was very heavy on position player prospects. There weren’t a ton of high quality arms to go around, so almost all the prospects the Yankees landed are hitters. Yeah, some balance would have been nice, but more pitching prospects weren’t going to pop out of thin air. The Yankees hoarded position player talent and those players made their pro debuts during the 2015 season. Let’s look at the early returns.

Stellar Debuts in the States

Rather than be held back in the Dominican Summer League, a few of the international signees were brought to the U.S. to begin their pro careers this season. The best of the bunch was Venezuelan SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus), a 17-year-old switch-hitter who hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with 25 walks and 19 strikeouts in 39 Rookie Gulf Coast League games. He’s a solid defender and may wind up at second base long-term, but he offers high-end bat-to-ball skills.

Hoy Jun Park
Park. (@myKBO)

Korean SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.16M) also had a strong debut. Park signed out of high school and is already 19, so it’s no surprise the Yankees brought him stateside for his first pro season. He hit .239/.351/.383 (109 wRC+) with five homers, 12 steals, a 19.1% strikeout rate, and a 13.0% walk rate in 56 games for the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. Park is a legitimate shortstop with strong defensive tools, and the left-handed batter showed this summer he can handle pro pitching, especially big fastballs. His pro debut was rather impressive considering he did not face great competition growing up.

Venezuelan RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000) is an interesting case because, as his bonus suggests, he was not a high profile prospect at all. The 18-year-old saw his velocity tick up in pro ball, and he now sits in the low-90s consistently. He also has a plan on the mound and the makings of an out-pitch curveball. Troya had a 1.80 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 27.4% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 60 GCL innings this summer. He, Garcia, and Park were the standouts who debuted in the U.S. in 2015.

The Big Money Prospects

When it comes to international free agency, bonuses can tell you quite a bit. The larger the bonus, the more the team likes the player. The bonus doesn’t necessarily reflect the market — you had to offer this much to get him because another team was offering a comparable bonus, for example — because teams zero in on these kids when they’re 14 or 15 years old. They agree to bonuses months or even years in advance, before other teams get a chance to scout them. I’m not joking when I say they hide these kids at their complexes so other scouts don’t see them.

The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period: Dominican SS Dermis Garcia ($3.2M), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M), Dominican OF Juan DeLeon ($2M), Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), Venezuelan C Miguel Flames ($1M), Wilkerman, and Park. Like Wilkerman and Park, Dermis Garcia made his pro debut in the U.S. this summer, hitting .159/.256/.188 (46 wRC+) with 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 scattered GCL games. (There was a ton of rain in Tampa this year. They went two or three days between games for a few weeks there.)

Garcia, 17, signed as a shortstop but has already moved to third base because he’s a big dude (6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) and lacks the defensive chops for short. He has huge right-handed raw power and a very strong arm, though he needs refinement at the plate and is very much a long-term project. The unteachable skills are there (power, arm, etc.). Now Garcia just needs to work on his approach and things like that.

The other four seven-figure bonus guys debuted in the Dominican Summer League this year. Gomez, 18, put up a .243/.350/.435 (123 wRC+) line with eleven homers, a 24.3% strikeout rate, and a 12.4% walk rate in 58 DSL games. Similar to Dermis Garcia, Gomez is a big bodied (6-foot-1 and 220 lbs.) masher with righty raw power and a strong arm. He might have more power, actually. His defense is fine and his approach is much more advanced than Garcia’s.

DeLeon, 18, had a statistically underwhelming season, hitting .226/.344/.336 (108 wRC+) with three homers and a 66/25 K/BB in 53 DSL games, but he might be the most tooled up player from the international class. He has high-end bat speed from the right side and strong center field skills, including a very good arm that would be more than fine in right. Don’t read too much into DSL numbers. DeLeon is arguably the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of their spending spree.

The 17-year-old Amundaray was limited to 13 games in the DSL this summer, hitting .111/.346/.167 (72 wRC+) with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s another guy who is more athletic tools than baseball skills, if you catch my drift. Amundaray has good bat speed and he’s a good runner, but he’s very raw at the plate with less than stellar bat-to-ball ability. He has power from the right side but sells out for it even though he doesn’t need to.

Flames, 18, had the best statistical debut of the big bonus guys, hitting .317/.398/.454 (142 wRC+) with three homers, an 18.5% strikeout rate, and a 9.2% walk rate in 54 DSL games. He did spend most of his time at first base though (only nine games behind the plate) because he’s not a great defender, so he did most of his defensive work behind the scenes. Flames has a pro body (6-foot-2 and 210 lbs.) and his right-handed hit tool/raw power combo is awfully impressive. He was a third baseman who converted to catching shortly before signing.

The international market is not the place for instant gratification. These kids sign at 16 and begin playing at 17, so they’re extremely raw and underdeveloped. The tools are far, far, far more important than the performance. Wilkerman and Park are more advanced than the rest, though Dermis, Gomez, and DeLeon have loud tools and star upside. There’s just a lot of work to be done to reach that ceiling.

Low Cost Prospects

The Yankees have excelled at finding low cost Latin American prospects over the years. You can go back to Robinson Cano, who signed for a $150,000 bonus back in 2001. More recently, the Yankees landed Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) on relatively small bonuses. The million dollar guys get the most attention, understandably, but the mid-range market is where organizational depth is built.

The best six-figure bonus prospect is arguably Venezuelan SS Diego Castillo ($750,000), who put up a .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) line with five steals, an 11.6% strikeout rate, and a 6.1% walk rate in 56 DSL games. He’s similar to current Yankees farmhand IF Abi Avelino in that he has no standout tool, but is solid across the board with great instincts that allow everything to play up. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Venezuelan OF Antonio Arias ($800,000) hit .235/.316/.316 (87 wRC+) in 39 DSL games. The 17-year-old is a pure projection play: he’s a high-end athlete with bat speed who is still working to turn those natural gifts into baseball skills. Dominican OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000), 18, put up a .256/.376/.365 (117 wRC+) line in 57 DSL games. The lefty swinger doesn’t have exciting tools but does know his game as a lefty gap hitter.

The international period begins on July 2nd each year, but it wasn’t until November that the Yankees snagged Colombian OF Brayan Emery ($500,000). He was originally expected to land a $1M+ bonus, but that didn’t happen. The 17-year-old Emery hit .192/.330/.308 (92 wRC+) with three homers, a 29.7% strikeout rate, and a 14.7% walk rate in 61 DSL games this summer. He’s a very exciting prospect, with a smooth left-handed swing and power potential to go with right field defensive tools. Emery needs experience more than anything.

Here are some of the other smaller bonus guys the Yankees landed during the 2014-15 international signing period. Again, “smaller bonus” is a relative term.

  • Dominican OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000), 18: .291/.391/.355 (122 wRC+) in 41 DSL games. Top notch tools, including great bat speed and high-end athleticism.
  • Venezuelan OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000), 17: .298/.367/.382 (116 wRC+) in 59 DSL games. His best tools are top of the line arm strength and an advanced approach at the plate.
  • Dominican IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000), 18: .256/.328/.312 (94 wRC+) in 62 GCL games. Versatile infielder who is known for his bat-to-ball ability. The Yankees liked him enough to bring him stateside in 2015.
  • Venezuelan C Jason Lopez ($100,000), 17: .240/.337/.301 (91 wRC+) in 42 DSL games. Recently converted third baseman with a very strong arm and some power potential.
  • Dominican OF Erick Mendez ($250,000), 19: .281/.381/.465 (140 wRC+) in 51 DSL games. Good all-around ability — bat speed, power potential, arm, speed — but needs to face age appropriate competition to really develop.
  • Venezuelan OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000), 17: .067/.125/.067 (-33 wRC) in six DSL games. Standout defensive center fielder with bat speed and a knack for trying to muscle up for power at the plate.
  • Venezuelan OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000), 17: .267/.370/.359 (116 wRC+) in 32 DSL games. Another great defender in center with excellent athleticism. His line drive approach doesn’t project to produce much power down the road.
  • Venezuelan IF Danienger Perez ($300,000), 19: .245/.311/.382 (104 wRC+) in 69 games between the DSL, GCL, and Short Season Staten Island. Perez is a slap-hitting defense first prospect.

The Yankees also signed Venezuelan RHP Servando Hernandez ($200,000), Venezuelan IF Wander Hernandez (unknown), and Dominican LHP Luis Pache (unknown) during the 2014-15 international signing period, but I can’t find any information on them. They didn’t play at all in 2015. It’s possible their contract agreements hit a snag, maybe due to age and identity issues. That stuff still happens on occasion even though MLB enlisted Sandy Alderson to crack down a few years back.

* * *

International free agency is a much different animal than the amateur draft. International prospects usually sign at 16 years old, so we’re talking sophomore in high school age. They’re very raw, and while recent pop-up leagues have helped, there’s not much high-caliber competition in Latin America. These kids aren’t on the high school showcase circuit strutting their stuff against other top high school talent from around the country, you know?

All the players the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period are just starting their pro careers. One season — it’s not even a full season, these guys played in short season leagues this year and are lucky to have 60 games under their belt — doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You’ve got to start somewhere though. That no one suffered a catastrophic injury or went through a growth spurt that sapped their athleticism makes year one a success.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 14th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

At long last, the week is over. The Winter Meetings were somehow both boring and hectic, and I’m ready to leave that whole scene behind. Anyway, here are some links for the weekend:

  • Baseball is flush with cash right now. Just look at the spending this offseason. Deals worth $100M+ are commonplace and $200M+ deals are happening more and more often. Jared Diamond writes that the days of ever-increasing contracts may soon come to a halt because these monster television contracts will become a thing of the past as more people unplug and rid themselves of cable. Baseball will have to find a way to make up the lost revenue.
  • Scott Miller’s piece on Yasiel Puig is a must read. Puig has become more than a distraction, he’s become something of a pariah in the clubhouse, so much so that some say his teammates want him gone. There are a bunch of damning anonymous quotes — going anonymous for something like this is kinda gutless, if you ask me — and anecdotes. It’s not just showing up late to the ballpark and stuff like that. Puig’s seen as a real bad dude.
  • Remember Floyd Youmans? I don’t, but he pitched with the Expos and Phillies in the late-1980s. He was part of the trade that sent Gary Carter to the Mets. Youmans, now 51, had some addiction issues and was pretty much out of baseball by 1989. As Pedro Moura writes, Youmans now drives for Uber and desperately misses the game. “I can’t make this feeling go away. But it’s OK for me to feel that way, because I love the game. I’m not gonna go off the deep end,” he said.

Friday: Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers and Devils are playing and that’s pretty much it. There’s no college hoops on the schedule tonight. Talk about those games or anything else.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Army-Navy game is on right now, plus all of the local hockey and basketball teams will be in action except the Devils. There’s a while lotta college basketball on too. Enjoy.

Sunday: This is the open thread for the final time this weekend. You’ve got the afternoon slate of football plus the Patriots and Texans as the late NFL game. The Devils and Islanders are playing (each other) and there’s some college basketball on as well. Have at it.

Sliding in Starlin

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

When your team trades for a player in December, it’s like getting a present early; there’s a shiny new toy with “your” name on it and you can’t even open the damn thing–let only fully play with it–for months. So, in turn, you build up anticipation both positive and negative about what this new toy could or couldn’t be. Such is the case with this post and newly acquired infielder Starlin Castro and where he fits in the Yankee lineup (as presently constructed, barring any more moves).

For most of his career, Castro has hit in the number two spot in the lineup. During his time with the Cubs, he amassed 1117 plate appearances in that spot over 252 games. He’s also had about a full season’s worth of PA in the leadoff spot (529); the third spot (494); the cleanup spot (537); and the fifth spot (525). In the Bronx, Castro won’t be relied upon to hit in those important spots in the lineup. Rather, it’s likely he’ll be called upon to add some right handed balance to the overall lineup as well as some contact skill to the bottom of the Yankee order.

There are definitely reservations to have regarding Castro entering the Yankee lineup at all before we even get to where he’s going to hit in that lineup. Castro’s career high walk rate is only 6.2%, which he notched in 2014. He’s only been over 5% on his walk rate three times including 2014; the other two were in his rookie year of 2010 (5.7%) and 2012 (5.2%). His power has been up and down and either average or slightly below. New York’s success over the last 20 years has been predicated on patience and power, but not every player can be a take-and-rake guy, especially in today’s offensive climate and especially when that guy is a middle infielder. The Yankees have at least four guys who can fill at least one of the “take” or “rake” role–Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann–and they don’t necessarily “need” the bottom of the order guys to do that. Granted, it’s a lot more helpful when the lower-in-the-order hitters can do those things, but that’s asking a lot in 2016. What Castro is good at, though, is making contact.

Castro has posted above-average contact rates for his entire career , including the down years he had in 2013 and 2015. After years of watching Jayson Nix and Stephen Drew rack up a good amount of strikeouts in the lower third of the order with not too much return (though Drew was probably a little better than we gave him credit for), it’ll be nice to have a player who can make contact to (hopefully) move more runners along and bring more runners home.

Lefties killed the Yankees in the second half last year after A-Rod slowed down and Mark Texieira got hurt, and that’s another area where Castro can help the club. For his career, he’s hit .295/.344/.415 against lefties with a .330 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. Depending on how manager Joe Girardi deploys Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks–who can hit lefties well–Castro will have some opportunity to spend time at the top of the lineup. It’s easy to see him leading off or batting second against lefties when Ellsbury or Gardner gets a day off. His high-contact, decent-OBP success against lefties bodes well for leading off or batting second and is something the Yankees sorely lacked with Ellsbury struggling against lefites and Gardner fighting injury (along with the aforementioned Teixeira and Rodriguez situations).

With the Yankees, Castro will not need to shoulder the load or be the catalyst for offense. He’ll simply need to keep doing what he does well–making contact and handling lefties–and he’ll fit in just fine, regardless of where he ends up hitting. There was a time–even a recent time–when I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of acquiring Castro, but he certainly fills a need and the hole he fills is bigger than the one the pieces used to get him–Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan–are leaving. Even if it’ll be a while before we can see what he can do, I look forward to seeing what he can do.

Carlos Beltran hints at retirement following 2016 season

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The 2016 season with be the third year of Carlos Beltran‘s three-year contract with the Yankees. The first two years have been a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, some injuries. To Beltran’s credit, he was the team’s best hitter from about mid-May through the end of the season in 2015.

Beltran will turn 39 shortly after Opening Day next year, and during a scheduled appearance in midtown earlier this week, he seemed to suggest he is considering retiring following the 2016 season. He indicated he’ll either play one more season after that or call it a career. From Zach Braziller:

“I don’t think there is any big decision I have to make — other than to play one more year or go home,” he said. “In my case, I am very happy with my career. … If I feel like I produce well to the point where I can make a good impact on a team, then I can play one more year. Or if I feel like I have [had] enough, I’ll go home.”

Beltran has had a brilliant career that, at the very least, will deserve serious Hall of Fame consideration when the time comes in a few years. He’s going to wind up retiring with 500+ doubles, 400+ homers, 300+ steals, and 70 WAR or so. Beltran is still looking for that elusive World Series ring, however.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, Beltran’s decision to retire or keep playing figures to have little impact on them. It’s hard to see the team bringing Beltran back in 2017 no matter what happens in 2016. The Yankees are focused on getting younger and right field is earmarked for top prospect Aaron Judge. Even if Judge flames out in Triple-A next year, others like Aaron Hicks, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Ben Gamel could get the call.

Beltran, who also told Braziller he intends to stay on top of new addition Starlin Castro, will again play right field next season because Alex Rodriguez is locked in at DH. Should A-Rod get hurt or see his playing time reduced at any point, Beltran’s the obvious choice to slide into a full-time DH role.

Yankees re-sign Domingo German, Diego Moreno to minor league deals

Moreno. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Moreno. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees have re-signed right-handers Domingo German and Diego Moreno to minor league contracts. The team announced the German signing while Chad Jennings reported the Moreno deal. German was non-tendered last week and Moreno became a minor league free agent after being dropped from the 40-man roster in October.

German, 23, did not pitch at all this season after blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. He came over from the Marlins last winter in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi deal. By non-tendering German, the Yankees were able to remove him from the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers. They did the non-tender/re-sign trick with Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos last year.

I ranked German as the No. 11 prospect in the system coming into the season. The right-hander broke out with the Marlins in 2014, pitching to a 2.48 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 123.1 innings for Miami’s Low Class-A affiliate. He’s a sinker/slider guy and represented the Marlins in the 2014 Futures Game. My guess is he heads to High-A Tampa once he’s done rehabbing next year.

Moreno, 29, split last season between Triple-A Scranton and the Yankees. He had a 2.18 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 53.2 innings for the RailRiders and a 5.23 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 10.1 innings for the big league team. Moreno’s season ended in August due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He’s a Triple-A depth arm heading into 2016. Nothing more.

Friday Links: Safety Protocols, LED Lights, Flynn, Dock

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Winter Meetings are over and soon the dog days of the offseason will be upon us. After the holidays it’s just day after day after day of no baseball. Lame. Anyway, I’ve got some miscellaneous links to pass along as you count down the hours until the weekend.

MLB recommends new fan safety protocols

During the Winter Meetings this week, MLB officially recommended new safety protocols designed to protect fans from foul balls and broken bats. The press release is right here. In a nutshell, MLB recommends extending the netting behind home plate from dugout to dugout, and far enough to protect every seat within 70 feet of home plate.

These are recommendations, not mandates, though many teams have already confirmed they will comply. The Yankees have not but that doesn’t mean they won’t before the start of the season. Right now the netting at Yankee Stadium does not extend to the dugouts. There is one unprotected section adjacent to each dugout. I’m not sure how far the netting would have to extend to satisfy the 70-foot recommendation.

This past season there were several incidents where fans were hit by line drives and broken bats, including one scary incident in Fenway Park, in which a woman seated next to the dugout was hit in the head by the barrel of a broken bat. I’m all for making parks safer. The guys who get paid millions to play the game for a living can barely react to line drives in time. It’s only a matter of time until a fan gets killed if the nets aren’t extended. Not everyone is as lucky as this guy.

New lights at Yankee Stadium

According to Sonia Rincon, new LED lights have been installed at Yankee Stadium. They’re brighter and more energy efficient, stuff like that. I accidentally bought an LED light bulb for my bathroom over the summer and when I turned the damn thing on I thought I was standing on the sun. It was insanely bright. The field will be very well lit going forward. Things should be much easier to see.

Flynn, Dock leave the Yankees

Two behind the scenes employees have left the Yankees. Video coordinator Anthony Flynn has left the team for a job in the private sector, reports George King. He spent the last eight years as video coordinator and the seven before that in the baseball operations department. The New Jersey native is taking over as the director of baseball marketing and sales with XOS Digital, a video editing and technology company.

In other news, Ron Dock, who served as the team’s intervention coordinator for the last 17 years, has left the club. “It was my choice, time to move on. I went to Brian Cashman and thanked him and he gave me a hug. There are no regrets, I left on a high note,” said Dock to King. Dock was instrumental in helping Slade Heathcott get over his alcohol addiction a few years ago, among other things.

Dock, 65, was based in Tampa and responsible for helping players and employees dealing with addiction problems, depression, and family or legal issues. The Bronx native battled addiction after serving in the Vietnam War, and he later met Darryl Strawberry at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Strawberry introduced him to then farm system head Mark Newman, who asked Dock to help a minor leaguer with a drug problem. The team hired him shortly thereafter.