A lot of great information on international free agents has been published of late, especially from Baseball America. BA’s recent breakdown of the Yankees’ Latin American class of 2010 is a must-read (subscribers only), as it gives some excellent scouting info on the big-money guys that the Yankees have signed. The reports on the mysterious Rafael DePaula are nothing new, but nonetheless exciting (fastball touching 96 and good curve), while outfielder Wilmer Romero is described as “one of the toolsiest players in Latin America.” The Yankees also added several other hard-throwing pitchers and toolsy shortstops (some of whom had age discrepancies).
John Manuel and Ben Badler of BA recorded a podcast today that is supposed to be full of IFA discussion. I will give it a listen when it is posted, to see if there is any mention of the newest Yankee prospects. The BA post also begins with this paragraph, which I think is reflective of the strategy the Yankees’ pursued with the 2010 class:
The Yankees typically come away with at least one of the most expensive players in Latin America every summer, as they’ve spent seven-figure bonuses recently on Gary Sanchez, Jesus Montero, Jose Tabata and Kelvin de Leon. In a weaker year of Latin American talent, the Yankees avoided million-dollar bonuses but still spent more than any team other than Seattle, with a focus on the Dominican Republic. The Yankees acquired high-upside players and signed more players to six-figure bonuses than any other team in baseball with a mix of July 2 eligibles and unsigned players from previous classes.
I think this assessment by BA should address the concerns of those who were upset that the Yankees didn’t shell out multi-million dollar bonuses to guys like Adonis Cardona, Luis Heredia, or Esteilon Peguero. The Yankees were able to take advantage of the chaos created by age-related suspensions to sign guys like DePaula at relatively discounted prices, and also have used the new Dominican Prospect League as a showcase to sign prospects such as Christopher Tamarez.
Missing from the BA writeup is the Yankees’ newest signing, Juan Carlos Paniagua, age 20, who signed for a whopping $1.1 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic (the late signing is the result of a suspension for age fraud, similar to DePaula). To put that signing in perspective, it is the highest bonus (to my recollection) the Yankees have ever paid to an amateur free agent pitcher (the previous high was the since-traded Arodys Vizcaino, who got around $850,000, whereas DePaula, who has a similar age situation, got $500,000). Paniagua is described by BA as having a fastball that sits in the mid-90′s, touching 98, with developing secondary pitches. While it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from the size of the bonus (as hype and representation often can inflate the value of a player), the fact that the Yankees shelled out over $1 million for a guy with known age concerns speaks to the level of his talent.
From a developmental standpoint, I will be intrigued to see how the Yankees handle Paniagua and DePaula, as they are older than the typical international free agent signing. I imagine that the organization will likely take it slow with them, starting them in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball) to get their feet wet and let them get adjusted to having professional coaching. If they are able to dominate the younger players they face, they could find themselves in Staten Island (short-season A) or Charleston (low-A).
I am hoping that the Paniagua signing is an indicator that the Yankees will continue to be aggressive in 2011′s international free agent class, and will continue to seek out talents hwo may have fallen under the radar due to age questions. Since the Yankees will not have a first-round pick in the draft, and have a lower than expected payroll in 2011 due to the Cliff Lee non-signing, I expect the Yankees to remain aggressive in Latin America and the draft to keep the infusion of new minor league talent coming. With Banuelos, Betances, and Montero turning heads in Spring Training, hopefully the Yankee higher-ups will continue to see the importance of investing in international free agency and the draft.
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