Once the calendar flips to July 2nd, MLB teams will once again be free to sign 16 year olds from Latin America, but this year there will be a twist. Thanks to the new CBA, teams are limited to $2.9 million in spending, which prompts a couple of interesting shifts in strategy. First, no longer will teams be priced out of Latin America. It used to be where teams could make the excuse (though not a good one) that there was no point in signing international FAs because the richer teams could afford to buy all of them. Now everyone is on the same budget and, assuming the top prospects still take up much of a team’s budget, can afford to sign some players. As such, teams will likely have to face the difficult decision of whether to sign one of the better prospects available and then have their budget sapped, or whether to spread it around and sign some lower profile guys. (I’d go with the lower profile guys, but more on that later).
For now, let’s look at some of the players the Twins are rumored to be interested in:
Luis Torrens, C, Venezuela
Torrens is relatively new to catching, which helps his stock quite a bit. He already has shown a nice hit tool, and it is believed that his power will be coming shortly. Him being new to catching means he’s very raw and not very good back there, but it does mean that he has fresh legs and his body hasn’t been worn down from catching yet. Scouts love his raw athleticism and assuming he can stick behind the plate he could rocket up prospect charts. He is, however, most closely associated with the Yankees. However this is obviously not as much of a roadblock as in years past.
(scouting video of Torrens can be found here)
Amaurys Minier, SS, Dominican Republic
Minier is a 6’2″, 200 lb shortstop who is a shortstop pretty much in name only at this point. Scouts are in near universal agreement that his frame will portend a move to third base, and his bat is what teams are really after. If it sounds a lot like Miguel Sano to you, perhaps you know why the Twins are so interested in Minier. Though he doesn’t have good range, and won’t in the future, scouts say he has soft hands and a rocket arm, making it more likely that he will be able to stick at 3B (though Sano has gotten more positive reports for his hands this year as well, so who knows).
Minier is currently a switch hitter, though he’s much better from the left side currently (though scouts do say he can generate the same bat speed and power from both sides of the plate). He’s struggled against breaking balls thus far, but he’s a 16 year old kid and thus there are much worse sins to have at that age. Speaking of youngster sins, he can get pull happy at times, but he’s also shown good power to both alleys. Minier has a lot of holes in his swing that needs to get fixed, but he’s also probably the highest ceiling guy on the international FA market.
(scouting video of Minier can be found here)
Now for a couple players the Twins aren’t as in on, but are some guys who might require less of a price tag and thus the Twins could get them to supplement Minier.
Alvaro Castillo, RHP, Dominican Republic
Castillo only throws his fastball in the low 80s right now (fill in your “perfect for the Twins” joke here) but will definitely get a look because of his frame. Castillo stands at 6’6″, 195 lbs and isn’t even close to done physically maturing. Once he signs and gets into pro ball he should add 20-25 pounds on his frame and add 10 or so mph to his fastball. Though his mechanics need some work, that is likely just his need to grow into his frame. Castillo has shown the ability to throw a good curveball already and also has a pretty decent change up. If he doesn’t add enough velocity he might just end up a mid rotation type of starter, but that would be well worth the modest investment it would take to sign him.
Felix Suarez, SS, Dominican Republic
Unlike most middle infielders in the DR , Suarez isn’t flush with tools. He does however have probably the best fundamentals in this July 2 class. He will probably have to move to second base where his arm will play better, but he has some raw power and a good hit tool, making his profile a good offensive and defensive second baseman. The one pause for concern is that because he is so advanced but has a lower ceiling, I wonder if he will be less effective when his more toolsy peers catch up in terms of those fundamentals. Still, you can’t teach baseball sense and Suarez has it.
(scouting video of Suarez can be found here)
Gustavo Cabrera, OF, Dominican Republic
We will end with one of the monsters. Cabrera would have probably challenged for a record bonus under the old system, but will have to settle for somewhere between 1.5 to 2 million in this one. His hit tool is a bit behind his others; as you’ll see in the video below he has some mechanical issues in his swing such as a pretty big collapse in his back side, but he has tremendous raw power and has shown a pretty good approach in games.
His other tools are the calling card though. Even though he is a pretty big kid (6’1″, 190 lbs) he has 60 to maybe even 70 speed, and he throws 90 mph from the outfield. He should be able to stick in center, as even if he loses some of his raw speed he has such a good first step that it likely won’t matter. Cabrera has been comped most often to Justin Upton, and a Justin Upton who plays center field would obviously rank among the most valuable players in the game.
(scouting video of Cabrera can be found here, courtesy of Bullpen Banter)