The annual Latin American amateur free-agent draft was held a week ago, just in case you didn’t catch the news. This is an event that lacks the publicity of the June draft for high school and college players in this country. It’s sort of a “Slumdog Millionaire” saga where 16-year-old youngsters with exceptional baseball skills have an opportunity to lift their families out of the misery of poverty. It’s a very political process, since the players with the best connected “buscon” (trainer/adviser) have the inside track.
As usual, the central focus was on athletes from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, where all the major academies are located in a showcase atmosphere.The following is a list of the top players selected:
Franklin Barreto, INF, Toronto Blue Jays
The speedy Venezuelan is a “veteran” with high-level exposure, breaking records in Pan American competition since he was 10 years old. Small in size but extremely strong, Barreto, now 16, is built like Houston Astros star second baseman Jose Altuve, and that’s the defensive position he’ll probably end up playing as a “can’t miss” big league candidate. This young man, according to my contacts, remains unsigned at this posting. But he is sure to crack the $2 million mark as the number-one pick.
In my opinion, Barreto’s biggest asset is his bat. He has power beyond imagination.
Luis Torrens, RHP, New York Yankees
With all of the Yankees’ international connections, they don’t really need to get involved in this “beauty contest.” But Torrens, a 6′-1″, 175-pound infielder-turned-catcher, is the protege of a former respected scout within the organization. His defensive position down the road doesn’t really matter, because his hitting skills are amazing, which warranted a $1.3 million signing incentive. Torrens is also a product of Venezuela.
Jose Mujica, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Very athletic with a live, moving fastball, the Rays invested $1 million in Mujica. This kid’s the real deal, has had excellent instructors and isn’t expected to need much seasoning. He is a new member of the millionaire club.
Alexander Palma, OF, New York Yankees
Like Mujica, a graduate of the Carlos Guillen Academy, which is among Venezuela’s best prospect factories. Palma is a powerful corner outfielder who launches bombs from the right side of the plate. Surprisingly, he signed for a mere $800,000, a very economical sum for a fourth overall pick.
Gustavo Cabrera, OF, San Francisco Giants
The first Dominican player selected, although they later dominated the scene. Cabrera is a terrific athlete who stands out in every category except hitting, which makes him an odd commodity for the Giants, who at times struggle to score runs. Perhaps another Cabrera, nicknamed Melky, can give Gustavo some pointers in the near future. He agreed to a hefty, $1.3 million bonus.
Jose Castillo, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays raped the pitching market in this draft, although they paid an inflated sum for this 6′-4″, 200-pound port-sider. Castillo’s reward was reported to be $1.55 million, a record for any amateur Venezuelan southpaw. They also grabbed a highly regarded catcher from that country, David Rodriguez, in a later pick.
No Central Americans were selected among the top 20 prospects, although Luiz Gohara, a quality left handed pitcher from Brazil, will likely sign when he turns 16 years old later on this month. Mexican southpaw hurler Julio Urias is in the same boat, and looks to be a Manny Banuelos-type talent. But Nicaraguan right-handed pitching sensation Ronald Medrano got the Rodney Dangerfield treatment.
It’s unfortunate that more kids from Panama, Nicaragua and even Guatemala aren’t better represented in this process, because it certainly isn’t due to a lack of talent. But until scouts from major league teams and their network of “bird dogs” beat the dusty paths of these largely untapped areas, it will be business as usual.
Obviously, amigos, that’s a damn shame.