It’s difficult to keep track of young IFA prospects. The Latin American pipeline is paramount to the future of the MLB Yankees. Somewhere, on some team’s DSL team, the next Robinson Cano or Mariano Rivera is playing baseball. History suggests that the higher profile, big money signings are less important than the dozens of small-to-midsize signings that rarely find their way even into a Baseball America roundup of IFA news. Trying to figure out what 16 year-old players will be major league baseball players is a giant crapshoot.
My instinct is that this group of players, particularly the top-4, are more talented than previous generations of Yankee IFAs, although they lack the presence of an automatic blue chip guy like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez. A similar list circa 2008 or so would go something like this: Jesus Montero, Jose Tabata, Abe Almonte, Jairo Heredia, Marcos Vechionacci, Carlos Urena, Eduardo Nunez, Zoilo Almonte, Prylis Cuello, and Manuel Banuelos.
Here are ten players to watch:
1. Luis Severino, 20, RHP
Severino qualified as an “old” Latin American signing by inking just before his 18th birthday for just over $200,000. Baseball America rated him the #9 Yankee prospect this year, and 2nd best pitcher (Behind Ian Clarkin) in the organization. While I think you’re crazy to take either over Manuel Banuelos, that ranking should be considered high praise for an unheralded mid-dollar IFA with just 17 innings above rookie ball. He’s got a mouth-watering scouting report: great control, two solid-or-better offspeed pitches, and a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His stat line reflected that scouting report this season: 44 innings between the GCL and Charleston with a 2.45 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, and just 1 HR allowed. If you wanted to pick a sleeper to break out in 2013 and become not only the #1 Yankee prospect, but also a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, he’s it.
2. Abiatal Avelino, 19, SS
Avelino isn’t far behind Severino. A $300,000 signing, Avelino flew under the radar until his U.S. debut this year. Between rookie ball and Staten Island, he hit .303/.381/.399. Early scouting reports expect him to stick at shortstop, hit decently well, and steal some bases. He’s a ‘baseball sense’ type of prospect, who scouts like above and beyond its tools.
3. Miguel Andujar, 19, 3b
Miguel Andujar was the top Yankee IFA signing in 2011. The Yankees gave him $750,000, and quick pushed him to North America. A lot of people were excited that he could become the next Sanchez/Montero to come out of the system. Then, he had a terrible professional debut, hitting .232/.288/.299. He improved in 2013, hitting .323/.368/.496 with solid reviews on defense. It seems like every 3rd base prospect you read about fits the, “Strong all around hitting skills, solid defensive skills, average athlete, 20-25 HR” type, and Andujar is no exception.
4. Luis Torrens, 18, C
Torrens was the top Yankee IFA in 2012. He signed for $1.3 million. BA had him as the #2 IFA of his class, and the top Yankee in the GCL. He only converted to catcher after signing last July, and it is unclear if his permanent home is behind the plate. In a sense, he comes from the same tradition as Gary Sanchez and Jesus Montero: a bat-first defensive work in progress. However, while Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez were considered power hitters right out of the gate, Torrens doesn’t even show home run power in batting practice. He’s definitely a strong IFA-type prospect, but he’s missing something before you can call him a real blue chipper. We have no idea where he is going to end up defensively (although he is more athletic than the other Yankee catchers), and he isn’t yet a standout on offense.
5. Leonardo Molina, 17, CF
I’d be lying if I said knew much about Molina. BA had him at #5 in the 2013 IFA class, and the Yankees devoted nearly their entire budget ($1.4 million, out of $1.9 million total) to signing him. He’s a big, strong center fielder with plus-plus speed. Reports put his hitting skills at average-or-better. He is not related to the Molina brothers.
6. Omar Luis Rodriguez, 21, LHP
Luis is a weird one. He was intially signed out of Cuba for $4 million dollars, but the bonus was reduced following visa issues (and presumably something else) to $2.5 million. I wouldn’t read too much into the big dollar figure, since Cuban players were signing at a huge premium right before the new CBA IFA rules were about to take effect. He has a low-90s sinking fastball with lots of developing (but not standout) secondary pitches. He’s a little small at 5’11”, and could end up in the bullpen. He didn’t do himself any favors in his pro debut this year when we walked 29 players in 31 innings. His left-handedness and solid stuff will earn him a lot of chances, and we shouldn’t be too offput by a small sample size. Solid prospect.
7. Yonauris Rodriguez, 17, SS
Rodriguez is first and foremost a defensive shortstop. After blowing most of their 2013 IFA budget on Molina, they committed close to every remaining cent to Rodriguez, who got $550,000. I know less about him than Molina. He has a very strong defensive reputation. Presumably, his bat isn’t as developed. We’ll see.
8. Thairo Estrada, 18, SS
Estrada is the biggest out-of-nowhere prospect on the list. He signed for just $49,000 last year. However, he showed up as BA’s #20 GCL prospect on this year’s list, following a strong .278/.350/.432 debut. He is described as having strong all-around hitting skills, although nothing seems to stand out. Baseball America lists are essentially ordinal representations of the conventional wisdom of the scouts and baseball people following a particular league. That a guy who just recently signed for $49,000 made this list, even at #20, is saying something. Estrada is a real sleeper.
9. Alexander Palma, 18, OF
I couldn’t find much information on Palma. He signed alongside Torrens in 2012 for $800,000. He was the #4 ranked IFA in his class. He can play defense and has some hitting skills. He should end up stateside in 2014.
10. Yancarlos Baez, 18, SS
I’ve got a little bit more on Baez, who signed for $650,000 alongside Palma. Since it all comes from one source, I’ll quote DPL Baseball here:
“Baez is the most projectable of the Dominican infielders and has a higher ceiling defensively than any of them. He’s a wiry athletic body type, he’s long and rangy at 6-foot-2, 165-pounds. He was developed by Academia Josue Mateo in San Cristobal, DR, which is one of the more notable programs in the region.
Baez runs a 6.7 60-yard dash and should get faster as he gains some body strength, you can really see his speed and athletic ability on defense. He has an exceptional ability to accelerate through balls hit in front of him to cut off bad hops and shorten the distance on his throws. He is sometimes too quick on his release and can look a bit frenetic at times, but when he stays back and shows his arm strength it shows plus potential with a present 87 mph gun reading.”