International free agent signings in baseball are absolutely insane. You see a 16 or 17 year old show off plenty talent but a ton of rawness all-around their game and you can never know what’s going to happen to them. Even when you find the most talented one you’ve even seen, so much can go wrong and the million dollars you spent signing him could very well be a complete waste. But sometimes you find someone on the opposite edge of the spectrum and you give them a chance. You find a player without the unbelievable athletic ability but better baseball skills and mental toughness. You find the guy who may not turn into the next Roberto Clemente or Pedro Martinez but has the ability to make an impact for your team someday. And when the risk is so much less than usual while the reward remains impressive, you have to pull the trigger. The Rays signed shortstop Cristian Toribio for just $65,000 last January. But after an impressive professional debut, Toribio value to the Rays could wind up being exponentially more than that by the time it’s all said and done.
Toribio ranked among Baseball America’s top 20 foreign rookie prospects after a season that saw him manage a .284/.346/.375 line with 10 doubles, 3 triples, 1 homer, 25 RBI, 13 of 16 stolen bases, and a 43-18 strikeout to walk ratio in 55 games and 236 plate appearances. Toribio isn’t an imposing athlete at 5’11″, 170, but he stands out thanks to great speed, quick wrists that give him a fluid live drive swing, good range defensively, and a strong arm. Toribio is able to make the most out of his current abilities with a decent knowledge of the strike zone, a simple stance and swing that kept his timing right, and soft hands in the field. But what the Rays may have loved most was Toribio’s ability to hustle out groundballs and stay focused over the course of a long season. Just because Toribio is a little more polished than a usual international prospect doesn’t mean his chances of making the major leagues are very high. But combining his talent with his ability to maximize his abilities on the diamond gives him a better chance than most. Toribio will head to America for the first time in 2013, and although he still has much to prove, his all-around game has caught the Rays attention, and they believe that he could turn out to be quite a good player someday.