Perhaps searching for Derek Jeter’s future replacement, the New York Yankees selected five shortstops in the annual shopping spree for amateur international free agents. But there will be a long wait in the Bronx before any of these youngsters begin to bear fruit.
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The official signing period for foreign players commenced on July 2, which is basically a pool of 16-year-old players who have performed during showcases in the Dominican Republic. There’s a buffet of talent for every budget and need, although it’s a competitive process with teams expected to coddle their investments. The Tampa Bay Rays, for example, nailed down Dominican infielder Adrian Rondon with a $3.3 million bonus. But since Rondon is only 15, the contract is not legally binding until his birthday in the fall. These type of transactions are why Major League Baseball will never receive enough support to have a combined international and domestic draft. With these selections, it’s a lot easier to bend the rules.
Anyway, the Yankees made the biggest splash by far this year, inking 10 players with combined bonus money totaling $14 million. That put New York almost $12 million over their allotted spending limit. As a result, the extra money will be taxed and could put financial restrictions on selections made down the road. The biggest fish hooked by the Yanks was Dermis Garcia, a 6′-2″, 190 pound Dominican shortstop with big power and a rocket arm. Known in local circles as “the Torpedo,” Garcia is built more like Alex Rodriguez than Jeter, and is considered a below-average defender. New York went with more offense when they bagged Nelson Gomez, who, at 6′-2″ and 210 pounds, is more suited for third base than shortstop, although he moves well for a big kid. Garcia and Gomez are ranked at the top of MLB.com’s prospects list, and this pair alone tied up $5.5 million in bonus money. The Yankees also committed $2 million to Juan DeLeon, an athletic outfielder who is number two on Baseball America’s list and arguably the best all-around position player available.
As for legit shortstops, the Yankees looked to Venezuela and grabbed Wilkerman Garcia, a 6′-0 170 pound blue-chipper who resembles “The Captain” in his youth. And for good measure, New York selected the only Asian player, Hyo-Joon Park, an 18-year-old “veteran” from South Korea. In case you’re wondering, Park is a shortstop.
The Houston Astros had the largest sum of money to spend without penalty, which totaled around $5 million. They also concentrated on middle-infield depth, but with an interesting twist. As we are all aware, the team’s franchise player is Jose Altuve, a 5′-6″, 175 pound second baseman who leads the American League in several offensive categories. He was also part of this selection process back in 2007. So, possibly with Altuve in mind, the Astros selected two undersized shortstops, Juan Pineda and Ozziel Sanchez, who stand about 5′-10″ and tip the scales at 145 and 160 pounds, respectively. Both youngsters are from Panama, and Pineda has Altuve-type power, while Sanchez is known for his range and glove work. Houston also picked up Franklin Perez, a right-handed pitcher from Venezuela who was one of the more polished hurlers on the list.
“The Astros have a rich history of signing players from Latin America,” noted Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow. “We are very excited about the guys we selected.”
I’m not sure why all 30 MLB teams don’t fully embrace the opportunity to sign these young stars of the future. Maybe it’s the paperwork challenges and possible false documents. Or perhaps some teams are reluctant to invest in a player who might have a PED history. But these kids are gifted athletes who could eventually make it to the show in four or five years, and still be barely old enough to drink a beer.
To me, it’s a risk worth taking if you have the patience to wait.