27 May 2010

Reviewing the Class of 2006 International Free Agents: Dominican Republic

This will be the first of several pieces on MLB free agent signings from 2006. I was able to put together a rather comprehensive list of the major signings (28 total). The first part (this current post) will focus on the Dominican Republic. The second will be on Venzuela. The final piece will focus on the rest that I have listed in Pacific and Netherlands.

Dominican Republic

11 players, 19.93MM spent

1. Angel Villalona, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Villalona was a heavily sought after prospect with many of the big players in the DR bidding for his services. He profiled as a bat with plus power and a good hit tool. The Giants, who had been in contact with him since he was 13, was able to secure Villalona for a signing bonus of 2.1MM. It was thought that the Mariners outbid the Giants, but Villalona was loyal to the contacts made with San Francisco. At 16, Villalona was aggressively pushed into rookie ball and short season A ball. He was roughly three years younger than the competition, but was able to perform on level. BA listed him as the 33rd best prospect in baseball. At 17, he played full season A ball, showing plus plus power, but no ability to take a walk. The plate discipline issue was a concern and he fell to 44th. In 2009, he had injury issues and no improvement to his walk rate. He also was arrested for the murder of a man in the DR. The civil part of the trial was settled, but the criminal phase continues. If/when Villalona returns, there are concerns about his plate discipline. It should be considered though that he was quite young for the leagues he was playing in.

2. Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS, Washington Nationals
As everyone probably remembers, Esmailyn Gonzalez was four years older and went by another name. The 1.6MM spent on him was a waste and illuminated some sketchy goings on in the Nationals international scouting department, if not all of baseball. Needless to say, this one did not work out.

3. Carlos Triunfel, SS, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners signed Triunfel for 1.3MM. He is the most successful of the 2006 DR class. He was listed on BA's top 100 prospects prior to 2008 and 2009, but was left off the list this past year as he struggled in a handful of at bats and was lost for the season at AA. He is now starting at SS for AA West Tennessee, but he is filling out and will see a shift over to third base. There is still power potential in his swing, but he needs to be performing at a higher level than he is currently. It may take a while after last year's abbreviated play for him to get back on track. He probably ranks at about a C+ level if he cannot stay at short.

The rest of the DR class after the jump.

4. Francisco Pena, C, New York Mets
The Mets paid three quarters of a million dollars to sign Pena. He is a rather large target behind the plate, but is severely lacking in his footwork. He shows a lot of power in batting practice, but has had difficulty transfer that into games. His main problem is a lack of contact. Last season as a 19yo, he ops'd 588 in HiA. He currently is in extended spring training trying to overcome a foot he fractured in Spring Training.

5. Engel Beltre, OF, Boston Red Sox
Engel Beltre was signed for 600k and was traded a year later to the Rangers in the Eric Gagne deal. As with many of the players, he has been one of the younger players in the leagues he has played in and has shown no ability to take a walk. His second walk through at hiA has resulted in a much higher successful contact rate and a significant reduction in strikeouts. Gap power is there, but he is not well skilled at using his speed on the basepaths. He is a top ten organizational talent.

6. Oscar Tejeda, 2B/SS, Boston Red Sox
Tejada was signed for a half a million dollars. He is currently in HiA ball and may be breaking out this season. His contact rate and his power have suddenly appeared. He has little plate discipline, but a high batting average and above average power could making him a useful utility player or fringe starting 2B.

7. Emmanuel Solis, 3B, Texas Rangers
Solis was also signed for 500k. He displayed plus power and a strong arm. After a season in the DSL, he was promoted to rookie league ball and completely failed. He played DSL a second time as a 19 year old and performed on average. In 2009, he split time between rookie league and short season A ball. He had no success and was released.

8. Carlos Urena, LF/1B, New York Yankees
Urena was paid 350k. He has been unable to achieve any measurable success after three seasons in the DSL. As a 20 year old, he is probably in extended spring training and awaiting a rookie league to begin. If he does not show off his potential this summer, he will probably be released.

9. Robert Rodriguez, RF, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners invested almost 300k in signing Rodriguez. He has not shown much ability in rookie ball. Last year was rough between his 502 ops in rookie ball and testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. He is currently still on roster and serving out a 50 game suspension. If he does not show anything this year, he will probably be released.

10. Damian Taveras, C, New York Yankees
Taveras signed with the Yankees for 200k. Like Rodriguez, he was also caught for using a performance enhancing drug as had to sit out 50 games in 2008. In 2009, he showed remarkable plate discipline and secondary power. He currently is awaiting rookie league ball to begin. He is new to catching and will need a great deal of instruction, but he may be a diamond in the rough for the Yankees. This season will be a better indication of what his abilities may be.

11. Rey Lebron, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Lebron signed as a promising corner outfielder with a plus arm. After two seasons in the DSL, he showed absolutely no talent in making contact with a baseball, so he was converted into a pitcher last season. He logged in 3 quite uneven innings last season and is still undergoing instruction. I do not have any information how successful the transition is currently going.

I'll ignore the Gonzalez incident and pretend that Villalona is not on bail. As such, we are looking at 10 prospects who signed for more than 100k coming out of the DR in 2006. Villalona, Triunfel, and Beltre are all capable of playing on level ball at AA while being about 2-3 years younger than the competition. This is impressive, but there comes a point where youth needs to start fulfilling potential and the lag in plate discipline is concerning. Without the ability to take a walk, the margin of safety for a contact oriented approach is rather thin. Any of the three (if Villalona could play) could break out with a giant season and that would not be surprising. Of the other, Oscar Tejeda and Damian Taveras are interesting, but nothing near a sure prospect. Tejeda may establish himself this season if he keeps his offensive performance up. Taveras needs a successful transition to rookie ball. The other five players look to be near lost causes.

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