Most of us already know that the Texas Rangers were the big dogs in the international free agent draft earlier this month. It was interesting enough that Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan shelled out $8.5 million to sign 16-year-old outfielders Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman of the Dominican Republic. And this on the heels of inking Cuban defector Leonys Martin to a five year, $15.5 million deal.
Martin, of course, is a professional who will make an immediate impact. He played for Fidel and Raul Castro about five years and is already on the Rangers 40-man roster. Mazara and Guzman aren’t expected to bear fruit until around 2014. But to what extend did the other major league teams indulge in this Latino, teenage bonanza?
In countries where pitchers and shortstops are as common as tortillas, outfielders continued to be the rich kids in this draft. Elier Hernandez, who was dubbed the best right-handed hitter in Latin America, was signed by the small-market Kansas City Royals for a shocking $3.05 million. And Colombia’s Harold Ramirez, a 5-11, 170-pound left fielder with a weak arm, was handed $1.05 million by the frugal Pittsburgh Pirates because he has a gold glove and runs like a deer.
The pitchers and catchers formed a disappointing list, but there were a few exceptions. The San Diego Padres, who built a beautiful training complex in the D.R. only to lose a lot of courted players to other teams, claimed Venezuelan receiver Jose Ruiz for $1.1 million. Did they pay too much for the 6-1, 200 pound unproven youngster? Probably. But credit Padre executive Randy Smith for trying to change the climate of an organization that, despite its good intentions, has not been known for signing Hispanic talent in recent years. The New York Mets like their prize catcher, Jose Garcia, who is a polished switch hitter. And the Tampa Bay Rays signed Eric Otanez of the D.R., who experts say has the best arm of the bunch.
The Colorado Rockies, who have a knack for landing Latino pitchers, found another ace in Venezuela’s Antonio Senzatela. The kid is a lanky string bean with excellent pitch command and a heater that already tops out at 94 mph. The Toronto Blue Jays reached out to Nicaragua in signing Osman Gutierrez, a 6-4, 210-pounder with the power arm of Vicente Padilla, minus the bad-boy attitude. The St. Louis Cardinals picked up Dewin Perez, a nice looking lefty for an economical $450,000, and the Houston Astros deserve a thumbs up for luring Harold Arauz, a giant right hander who was the MVP of the Dominican Prospect League. They got the youngster to sign for a paltry $300,000, probably because he’s actually from Panama and didn’t want to go home without a deal.
It’s ironic that the two best shortstops in the draft became millionaires by teams that already have star players at that position. Dorssys Paulino agreed to terms with the Cleveland Indians, while Enrique Acosta, a standout hitter, accepted an offer from the Chicago Cubs. Both players settled for $1.1 million and will be plugged into other positions since Azdrubal Cabrera and Starlin Castro will be blocking their paths. As for third basemen, some scouts say the New York Yankees reeled in the biggest catch of the draft by signing Miguel Andujar, who is destined to take over the hot corner someday, even though Alex Rodriguez has a contract for life. By the time that happens, A-Rod will be a DH anyway.
And the player with the best bloodline in the draft? He would be Pirates property Elvis Escobar, the first cousin of Los Angeles Angels hurler Kelvim Escobar and brother of San Francisco Giants minor league prospect Edwin Escobar. Only 5-9 and a trim 165 pounds, Elvis can thank his family tree for a $570,000 handout. Oh, by the way, he’s an outfielder!
The Blue Jays and Indians led all teams in the draft by selecting five players each. Clubs that came away empty-handed were the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals. … There is pending legislation in Venezuela’s congress that would make it more difficult for major-league teams to sign players from that country. That’s one of the reasons why many clubs declined to disclose the terms of contracts or bonuses of the players that were drafted this year. A total of 15 youngsters from Venezuela agreed to pro deals. Players from all countries have to be at least 16-years old to sign, and most have advisers to explain contract language and negotiate a pending deal.