We're about 5 months before the new signing period kicks off, but it's the beginning of showcase season in Latin America.
As is the case with the draft, the Astros will have the largest bonus pool for the international market. Here is a refresher on the new rules: http://sbb.scout.com/2/1277773.html
There are a few changes that will be taking effect this July 2. Previously, teams were able to sign 6 players for up to $50,000 without having them count against the bonus pools. That has been abolished by the CBA. In the 2012 and 2013 periods, signings of $7500 or less did not count against a team's bonus pool. Beginning this year, signings of $10,000 or less will be exempt.
A source with direct knowledge of the Yankees plans says they aim to spend $12-15 million in bonuses on international amateurs this year, which would trigger penalties of about $10-12 million per to the 2-year old rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that limit international spending.
The total outlay of about $25 million would blow away a record the Texas Rangers set in 2011 of about $15 million, of all penalty-free bonuses. That record was thought to be untouchable as it came in the last season before spending limits were implemented and was shocking at the time, also shattering the previous record.
MLB hasn’t notified clubs of their 2014 international spending pools yet, but the Yankees are expected to have a pool amount between $2.0 million and $2.5 million. They would be taxed 100% on any dollar they spend over 10% above that amount and the maximum penalty (for going over 15% above the pool amount) is not being allowed to sign a player for above a $300,000 bonus for the next two years. The maximum bonus penalty this year is harsher than the previous two seasons, when it was a one-year bonus limit of $250,000.
While it’s technically illegal to agree to bonuses with players before they are eligible to sign, it happens with almost every top international prospect, sometimes months early. With the new spending pools MLB put in place in 2012, clubs have begun trying to find bargains by locking players up even earlier. The Yankees plan was hatched in the summer, leading up to the heavily reported August meetings in Tampa with all of the Yankees scouting and player development personnel answering ownership’s questions about a lackluster farm system. Yankees Senior VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman didn’t respond to an email about this story in time for publication.
Given the stricter limitations on spending in the draft (loss of first round pick(s) and forfeiture of corresponding bonus pool allotment) and the cutting of big league payroll to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014, the international amateur market emerged as the most logical place for the Yankees to spend their massive revenues.
This isn’t a novel strategy, as the Tampa Bay Rays spent over 15% above their bonus pool in 2012 and the Rangers and Chicago Cubs did it in 2013. The new wrinkle with the Yankees plan is that, with this year’s expansion of penalties, it raises the stakes for this gamble, necessitating a bigger investment to make the strategy worth it.
While the previous three clubs just went a few million over their pool, essentially lumping 2-3 years of signings into one year, the Yankees would be spending more in bonuses in the summer of 2014 than almost any club will spend in the next five years, along with almost as much in penalties.
An executive with one of the three clubs that has already employed this strategy said they had trouble signing all the players they had targeted, as agents assumed their pre-July 2nd offers weren’t genuine when the agents caught wind of all the rumored deals the club had in place. Agents didn’t see the strategic move this club was making, assumed bad faith in negotiations and steered their players away from signing with that club. Now that the Yankees plans are well known this early and this strategy has already been employed three times in two years, the Yankees shouldn’t have any trouble implementing their plan.
One downside of doing it this year rather than last year (beyond harsher penalties) is that with clubs moving to lock players up even earlier than they did last year, the margin for error is even smaller. So, not only do the Yankees have to act quicker in locking up players when they are 15-years-old, but late-rising players may not be options as the budget may be spent before they emerge in the winter/spring. The Yankees top July 2nd signing last year, Dominican center fielder Leonardo Molina (scouting report & video), signed for $1.5 million and wasn’t considered an elite prospect at this juncture last year.
Effectively, the Yankees could spend over $20 million on what their scouts think are the top Latin American 15 year olds; a challenge no club has ever come close to trying before.
One of those targets is Dermis Garcia, who McDaniel considers to be one of the top targets (if not the top) for July 2. Garcia trains with Moreno Tejada, who has trained the likes of Robinson Canó and Miguel Sano, so the pedigree is certainly there. But, don't expect the Astros to be in the running for Garcia; McDaniel believes that he's already made a verbal commitment to the Yankees, and he'll be getting around $3 million come July 2.
Originally Posted by Kiley McDaniel
The most impressive overall prospect at the MLB event and the clear top July 2nd prospect I've seen thus far is Dominican SS Dermis Garcia. I have some history with Garcia, scouting him at this time last year. His agent told me then that Garcia was one of his top guys for next year and I confirmed he had a potential seven figure guy on his hands. It's worth noting that Garcia's buscone/trainer Moreno Tejada is considered one of the best in the business, also training Robinson Cano and Miguel Sano, among others. The pedigree is good and that also means Garcia has been seen early and often by scouts.
Last January, Garcia's swing was upright, narrow and somewhat lazy while yesterday, he showed the best combination of hitting tools and balanced swing mechanics I've seen this week. Garcia is stronger now but also matured, growing into his 6'2/182 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.
It's not all positives, as Garcia didn't get a hit in his two at-bats, striking out and flying out. His in-game approach didn't look like anything to worry about as his flyout was against a well-placed changeup from one of the top July 2nd pitchers on the market. While his balance and hitting tools are both very good, I'm not nuts about how he loads his hands and how his hands' first movement from the loaded position is sometimes down, though both should be fixable with pro instruction.
Garcia has enough defensive ability that you can't rule out him sticking at shortstop at this point. There have been examples, like Xander Bogaerts and Reid Brignac just 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, but the bat easily profiles if that happens.
Garcia's arm strength and speed are both about average now, though many 16-year old prospects improve those tools from this young age with physical maturity. That improvement is much rarer to see at at older ages, like at age 18 (high school) or 21 (college) with domestic amateurs. Garcia recently turned 16 and his January 7th, 1998 birthdate makes him younger than many of the top prospects in his class. To readers of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers it won't come as a surprise that the top July 2nd prospects tend to be born near the beginning of the window that, for this class, ranges from September 1, 1997 to August 31, 1998.
... it wasn't hard to figure out Garcia's market. He is one of the players that is widely believed in the industry to have a deal in place and every source I talked to said Garcia has a verbal deal with the Yankees.
...I'll reemphasize as I've said before that these verbal deals are non-binding and still fall apart for various reasons but, anecdotally speaking, deals done this early in the process stick something like 90% of the time. Multiple sources have indicated the deal with Garcia is for $3.0 million.
My week in the Dominican will be six days total, three separate two-day scouting events scheduled back-to-back-to-back so stateside executives can see the most players in a short trip before the American baseball season gets started.
As I've mentioned in some recent articles and tweets, the July 2nd landscape is changing. The spending limits MLB has imposed are forcing clubs to make the most of their fixed budget by locking up top targets even earlier than usual. I make a point of not reporting these verbal agreements as done deals since they aren't binding and sometimes fall apart for various reasons, but they typically stick about 90% of the time, so I trust the intel.
Estimates vary from scout to scout, but the consensus seems to be that about 10 notable players in this year's class have deals done and won't be in the Dominican this week. There are another 10 players or so that appear have deals done, but are on rosters for games this week and may or may not show. This could swing the caliber of talent we'll see this week somewhat dramatically, but many of the top hitters and most of the pitchers are still on the market and playing this week.
The first event of the six day stretch is a two-day workout of players from the Dominican Prospect League. The DPL was the first league to form to give scouts and players more organized games against strong competition. This not only gives clubs more information to work with on their evaluations, but upended the old system where it was often hard for lower-budgeted clubs to get looks at top players as agents only showed their players to clubs that had a history of paying top dollar.
The DPL has enough players that not all of them will play both days of the event, so it was a challenge for me to get good looks at every player today as two fields were going at all times and I had my head on a swivel trying to keep up. There weren't any notable July 2nd arms throwing today (the league had two last year in Mayky Perez/Padres/$600K and Marcos Diplan/Rangers/$1.5M), so I focused on the bats. Both today and tomorrow's DPL events were held at the Yankees' complex in Boca Chica.
The hallmarks of the DPL are well-run games and workouts with every player in uniform playing and nearly every player on the field eventually signing a pro contract. This keeps the level of competition high, but obviously some top bats may shy away from that type of challenge. There were a bunch of solid $100-300K bonus type players on the field, but I'll try to focus on the bigger money players.
As I mentioned above, I got quick and incomplete looks on most players, but was able to pinpoint a half dozen or so standout hitters that should draw at least mid-six-figure bonuses, if not more. SS Elwin Tejeda stood out the most to me today; the lanky 6'2/160 shortstop could outgrow the position but has a slight enough build I think he could stay there for awhile. He's not a blazing runner but he didn't run all out today and these kids are young enough that they still add speed with normal physical maturity. The separator here is the bat, as Tejeda already has sound mechanics with a direct path, good bat speed and some feel for contact. He hit a double over the center fielder's head in the game and reminds me of a more physical version of the Blue Jays top July 2nd signing last year, seven figure Venezuelan SS Yeltsin Gudino.
OF Bryan Pena has some of the best bat speed and raw power in today's group, is left-handed and has plenty of projection to offer with a live 6'4/195 frame. His high leg kick and pull-happy BP approach need to be toned-down and his physical length could present some long-term contact issues. That said, clubs keep paying this type of player and the tools are for real, so Pena could challenge Tejeda for the top bonus from this group.
Other players that stood out included 3B Gabriel Corporan, who is among the youngest of the top prospects from today and won't be eligible to sign until his 16th birthday on August 11th; he gets attention for his live body and above average bat speed. OF Estarling Cordero (another youngster that can't sign until July 21st) has a massive 6'5/200 frame and the raw power potential to match, but needs to shorten up his swing in games.
CF Israel Felix has above average bat speed and a center field profile while C Ismerlin Mota was the best of the backstops with a loose line drive strike. Two more young players from today's group, OF Juan Araujo (June 24th birthday) and SS Ricardo Baez (August 28th) also stood out today with a good mix of tools. It's worth noting that C Johandro Alfaro, the little brother of Rangers top prospect C Jorge Alfaro, also played today and will definitely sign a pro contract, though isn't quite as good as the players mentioned above. I'll post videos of most of these players when I get back to the States with more reliable internet.
I can already hear Yankee fans asking if I saw any of their rumored high dollar bats today and the answer is "not yet." Sources tell me that at least a few and maybe all of the half dozen or so of the high-end hitters the Yankees are targeting will be at the MLB showcase at the stadium in San Pedro de Macoris. That event is in the middle of the week (Wednesday and Thursday), with the International Prospect League having their two-day event Friday and Saturday at the Yankees' complex. As I understand it, most of the top-end players that have agreed to deals early are hitters, so basically all the top arms are still on the market and should be pitching later in the week.
The Dominican Prospect League wrapped up its two-day showcase event today at the Yankees' complex in Boca Chica with a couple big performances. To start the day, the DPL showcased the league's 2015 July 2nd prospects, something that's becoming more important for scouts as many top hitters verbally agreed to deals in the fall this year, many months earlier than it's happened before. The 2014 prospects took the second half of the day and the show was stolen by a player that I mentioned in yesterday's notebook, but I was also introduced to some new players worth noting.
2014 July 2nd Prospect Notes
OF Bryan Pena was one of the two players that stood out most for me yesterday, but came back out today and hit 2 homers in his game. Pena still has his share of concerns with a pull-happy, high leg kick, high effort swing that's inconsistent even in batting practice, but he squared up two game fastballs well over the right field fence in front of a lot of scouts today. His left-handed power is about as big and easy as you'll see at this age and the swing mechanics have good elements to work with, once some of the aggression and showcase type swings can be toned down. I'll wait until after the week is over to try to stack all these players up, but it's looking like Pena showed enough to tempt a club into paying seven figures.
On field three, a couple new players stood out as solid six figure follows. Among the outfielders, Rosmer Rojas stood out the most, showing good bat speed and a fluid cut with feel for all fields. Wilmer Reyes and Frailyn Serra were the best shortstops while currently-eligible catcher Wander Cabrera showed an above average arm and solid line drive stroke. On field two, Pena was the star but teammate and currently-eligible shortstop Esmerkin Gonzalez showed a fluid swing, hit a homer to center field and came close to doing that a few times in batting practice. Shortstop Julio Suarez showed easy power from the left side despite a slight 5'9 frame while OF Melvin Mendez showed some potential with a good swing, some pop and a projectable 6'4/170 frame.
2015 July 2nd Prospect Notes
OF Franklin Reyes is the younger brother of Padres OF Franmil Reyes (who signed for $700,000 in 2011) and was one of a couple underclassmen at the DPL event to jump off the field for scouts. The younger Reyes missed being in the 2014 July 2nd class by a month and stacks up well with the prospects in this year's class due in part to precocious coordination of his extra large frame. Reyes is a 6'4/190 15-year-old that already has at least average raw power and plenty more in the tank, along with an above average arm and a clean enough arm stroke that it could be plus one day. There's always the fear at underclass events like this that any standout may be older than he claims, but having a similarly sized/talented brother and well-known trainer helps quell these fears for Reyes.
Born just 11 days after Reyes, another big outfielder that stood out today was Rafioly Urena, a 6'4/200 lefty with above average arm strength and plenty of power. Urena has a more controlled, calm and repeatable swing than Reyes and with similar raw power. When talking with scouts after the underclass event, a few referenced Vinicio Martinez, who I said had a swing like Manny Ramirez, while others mentioned the bat speed reminded them of Javier Baez. Martinez isn't as projectable as many of his peers at 6'0/170, with some length and effort to his swing, but the bat speed is plus and the arm strength and raw power are both already major league average at age 15. SS Eriberto Franco is the last of the standout underclassmen from today, with arguably the best combination of size and defense among the shortstops, along with some real ability at the plate--above average bat speed and feel to hit to all fields.
The internet largely didn't appreciate my comment that I was scouting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. today, but little Vlady put on a nice show in BP. Junior is maxed-out at 6'0/200 and is more of an OF/1B fit, but has some bat speed, flashed average raw power, an arm that could be average and didn't wear batting gloves. 3B Fernando Tatis Jr. was also playing today and fits in the same group as Guerrero--solid player that likely gets six figures 18 months from now, but not an elite talent.
Tomorrow starts the highly anticipated MLB Showcase in San Pedro de Macoris that should feature the best talent of the three events this week, but it's still unknown exactly which prospects will show up.
Still extremely early, but I'll update with any significant news when I can.
Three other righties at the MLB event showed potential as starters: Venezuelan Juan Meza and Dominicans Chris Acosta and Juan Herrera. Meza is skinny and long-limbed but only 6'0/170, so you can't see that much more coming from him. That said, he's got a lot to like, including a smooth delivery and an advanced three-pitch mix. Meza broke a few bats with his heavy 87-90 mph sinker and liberally went to a 79-81 mph changeup that was above average to plus. His slurvy 3/4 breaking ball was a clear third option but was solid-average at times and gives him a chance to profile in the rotation. Sources indicate Meza has a deal done, with most believing Houston has him for around $1 million.
@KevinBassStache We certainly value INTL players, but we also know that $$$ does not necessarily mean production http://www.baseballamerica.com/onlin...08/266917.html ... So we need to be highly disciplined in how we spend our $$$. That said, we spent close to $4m + acquired Torreyes + acquired a draft pick. We will be similarly aggressive in 2014.
The next group for me is Dominicans CF Juan De Leon, SS Pedro Gonzalez, RF Bryan Pena and Venezuelan RHP Juan Meza. These players should all get $1.4 million (Meza's rumored deal with Houston) or more and I liked what I saw from them in short looks last week.
Today, BA's Ben Badler profiled 4 kids ($$) who could go for at least $1 million, including 2 kids who are being linked to the Astros.
Originally Posted by Ben Badler
Ronny Rafael, of, Dominican Republic
Rafael’s best tool is his power. There’s a lot of strength projection in his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, and he has plus power potential from the right side with good bat speed. Some scouts have seen him hit in games, but mostly scouts have questions about his contact rate, which was evident at the MLB showcase in San Pedro de Macoris in January. His swing isn’t long, but he will have to improve his pitch recognition and his plate coverage to tap into his raw power in games. Rafael is an average runner with a good arm, so he might start out in center field but is better suited for right field. Rafael, 16, trains with Amauris Nina and plays in the International Prospect League. The Astros have been active signing their players over the past year or so, and they’re considered the favorites to land Rafael. He’s expected to sign for more than $1 million and could be the second-highest paid Dominican outfielder this year after Juan De Leon.
Miguel Angel Sierra, ss, Venezuela
Sierra, who trains with Gustavo Salazar, is a thinly built 6 feet, 160 pounds and earns plenty of praise for his instincts and savvy, which help his solid but not flashy tool set play up. He’s a baseball rat whose feel for the game shows in all aspects of the game. He’s an average runner with a nose for the ball, sound hands and good reads off the bat at shortstop, where he projects to stay. Sierra puts together quality at-bats with a good approach, and scouts who like him the most see a contact-oriented hitter with a gap-to-gap approach. Some scouts felt his defense was ahead of his bat, with mixed reviews on his swing and limited power projection. He performed well at the MLB showcase in the Dominican Republic in January, going 4-for-8 with a double, two walks and two strikeouts. Sierra has been linked to the Astros, with a bonus that could reach $1 million.
Another Venezuelan pitcher being linked to the Astros is RHP Franklin Perez; Badler believes that he could command a "seven-figure bonus."
Perez is a training mate of Juan Meza at Carlos Guillén's academy.
Originally Posted by Ben Badler
Franklin Perez, rhp, Venezuela
Guillen’s other top arm is Perez, who until the end of last year had been showcasing as a third baseman. Perez had pitched in youth leagues when he was younger, and the move to the mound will likely get him a seven-figure bonus, with the Astros the team most frequently linked to him.
Perez, 16, is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and has power arm potential. He brought a strong arm with him from third base, throwing 89-91 mph with good finish and downhill angle. With his big, strong frame, he could eventually throw in the mid-90s. Even though Perez hasn’t been showcasing as a pitcher for very long, some scouts said he already showed solid strike-throwing ability, although there are times when he has trouble repeating his delivery and his control escapes him.
He was effective at the MLB showcase in the Dominican Republic in January, throwing a scoreless inning with two strikeouts and a walk. Perez doesn’t have the same feel for pitching or his secondary stuff as some of the other top arms in the class. His curveball has solid shape to it, but it’s a pitch he needs to sharpen and learn to corral in the strike zone.
Bold indicates that the prospect has been linked to the Astros.
1. Adrian Rondon, SS, DR
2. Juan De Leon, OF, DR
3. Brayan Hernandez, OF, Venezuela
4. Anderson Espinoza, RHP, Venezuela
5. Gilbert Lara, SS, DR
6. Nelson Gomez, 3B, DR
7. Wilkerman Garcia, SS, Venezuela
8. Arquimedes Gamboa, SS, Venezuela
9. Dermis Garcia, SS, DR 10. Juan Meza, RHP, Venezuela (the Blue Jays are considered the favorites for him, though)
11. Christopher Acosta, RHP, DR
12. Pedro Gonzalez, RHP, DR
13. Kenny Hernandez, SS, Venezuela
14. Huascar Ynoa, RHP, DR 15. Franklin Perez, RHP, Venezuela
16. Miguel Flames, C, Venezuela
17. Ricky Aracena, SS, DR
18. Hyo-Joon Park, SS, South Korea 19. Miguel Angel Sierra, SS, Venezuela
20. Christopher Torres, SS, DR
21. Ricardo Rodriguez, C, Venezuela
22. Jonathan Amundaray, OF, Venezuela
23. Bryan Emery, OF, Colombia
24. Diego Castillo, SS, Venezuela 25. Ronny Rafael, OF, DR
26. Amado Nuñez, SS, DR
27. Jesus Sanchez, OF, DR
28. Antonio Arias, OF, Venezuela
29. Daniel Brito, SS, Venezuela
30. Kevin Vicuna, SS, Venezuela
In 2012, Carlos Guillen’s academy produced righthander Jose Mujica, who signed with the Rays for $1 million. This year, after Anderson Espinoza, the two best pitchers in Venezuela come from Guillen’s academy, including Meza. He was one of the most effective pitchers at the MLB showcase in San Pedro de Macoris in January, when he struck out three batters in a scoreless inning.
With a large, projectable build and strong legs, Meza attacks hitters with downhill angle on a lively fastball that ranges from 88-91 mph. At times he has worked at lower speeds, but the physical projection and arm speed are there for him to throw harder within a few years. Meza has good arm action, a sound delivery and throws strikes. His low-80s changeup has good sink and fade to keep hitters off his fastball. He’s still learning to repeat his release point on the changeup, but it’s a projectable pitch and he maintains his arm speed. Meza’s curveball is the pitch that will need the most work. He has some feel to spin the breaking ball, but it does get slurvy. Scouts highest on Meza see the potential for three average or better pitches, which combined with his size and pitchability makes for a starter profile. The Blue Jays are the favorites for Meza, who should be in line for a seven-figure bonus.
Perez had been training in Carlos Guillen’s academy as a third baseman, where his arm was easily his best tool. When Perez moved to the mound, his stock took off, giving Guillen two of the top pitchers on the market between Perez and righthander Juan Meza. Perez pitched in youth leagues, so he isn’t completely new to pitching, and he’s taken to it quickly. He looked sharp at the MLB showcase in San Pedro de Macoris in January, throwing a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
While Meza is more polished, Perez has a chance to be a power arm. He throws 88-91 mph but has the big, physical frame that leads scouts to believe he will throw in the mid-90s or higher within a few years. He delivers his fastball with strong finish and steep downhill plane. Perez’s fastball is his best pitch, but he already shows feel to spin a curveball with top-to-bottom action that could be a weapon when he’s able to harness it in the zone. Since he’s relatively new to the mound, Perez is still learning to repeat his delivery and hone his feel for pitching, but he’s already a solid strike-thrower for his experience level. The Astros appear to be in the lead to land Perez.
Sierra might not light up the tools chart on an evaluation, but scouts across the league are confident he can stick at shortstop and rave about how his instincts and feel are among the most advanced in the class. The wiry, thin-boned Sierra is one of the most fundamentally sound players available, especially in the field. He positions himself well, gets good reads off the bat and has fluid actions with his hands and footwork. He’s an average runner who isn’t flashy in the field, but he’s a smart player who plays under control and slows the game down. His arm is fringy, but scouts think he’ll have more carry on his throws with physical maturity and once he learns to stay on top of the ball.
As a savvy player whose steady tools play up because of a high baseball IQ, Sierra has some similarities to Venezuelan shortstop Yeltsin Gudino, who signed with the Blue Jays last year for $1.29 million, but Gudino is ahead of Sierra at the plate. Some scouts see a comfortable swing and a player who takes good at-bats with contact skills, while others think Sierra’s stroke tends to get uphill and believe the bat will need time to catch up to his defense. He performed well at the MLB showcase in San Pedro de Macoris in January, going 4-for-8 with a double, two walks and two strikeouts. Sierra just has fair bat speed and he doesn’t have the strength projection of Wilkerman Garcia or Kenny Hernandez, so his game will have to be more about line drives and getting on base than power. The Astros have been tied to Sierra, who trains with Gustavo Salazar.
Like Pedro Gonzalez, Rafael has trained with Amauris Nina and played in the International Prospect League. They’re on opposite ends of the tools-skills spectrum, with Gonzalez the instinctive, game-savvy player who needs to gain weight, while Rafael is the strength-based tools guy who’s still learning feel for the game. Rafael packs solid quick-twitch athleticism into a stout, compact frame. That strength gives him an advanced tool set for his age, especially with his power. He has good bat speed, at least average raw power and makes hard contact when he does connect. Among high-profile prospects, Rafael has one of the highest swing-and-miss rates, which was evident at the MLB showcase in January in San Pedro de Macoris. He spins off and needs to improve his plate coverage to handle pitches on the outer half and cut down on his strikeouts. He’s a free swinger whose pitch recognition needs work, so his offensive profile projects to be power over OBP.
Rafael is built low to the ground and doesn’t have a long, gliding stride, but he runs well for his frame with solid-average speed. He might start his career in center field, but retaining his speed and playing that position long-term seems like a stretch. He has the tools to be a quality defender in right field between his athleticism and strong arm. While performance hasn’t been there consistently for Rafael, he can look good if you see him on the right day, with tools to work with if he can make the adjustments to improve his game skills. While the scouting consensus has Gonzalez ahead of Rafael, there’s a chance Rafael could get a bigger bonus, with the Astros looking like the favorites.
In addition to the 4 above, the Astros are also being linked to Venezuelan C Brandon Benavente.
Another Venezuelan catcher, Brandon Benavente, also projects to stick behind the plate with good receiving skills. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, he’s going to have to keep his heavy body type in check, but he’s a solid catch-and-throw guy, if not the most mobile. He’s a righthanded hitter with a decent swing and solid sock to take the ball to the fence in BP, although scouts consider his defense ahead of his bat. Sources believe the Astros are the favorites for Benavente.
Early returns have been promising for Houston’s 2013-14 international signing class, with Joan Mauricio performing well in the Dominican Summer League, Wander Franco leading the league in walks and Osvaldo Duarte earning a quick promotion to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. They have the biggest pool again this year, with $5 million at their disposal. They didn’t drop $1 million on anyone last year (though they did try valiantly for Venezuelan catcher Jose Herrera), but they will this year. They’re tied to three players in the Top 30—Venezuelan righthander Franklin Perez, Venezuelan shortstop Miguel Angel Sierra and Dominican outfielder Ronny Rafael. They could all be seven-figure signings, and with an estimated combined price under $4 million, the Astros would still have plenty of flexibility to pursue other players. Venezuelan catcher Brandon Benavente and Mexico City Red Devils righthander Juan Robles are two other named who have been connected to them, likely for low six-figure deals.