On July 2nd, the signing period for international amateur free agents began, an exciting time for teams hoping to court some of the Caribbean’s top prospects to play in their organization. For the Rays, though, their enthusiasm trailed far behind the crowd. After exceeding their international spending limit last season as they signed highly regarded prospects like left-hander Jose Castillo, right-hander Jose Mujica, and catcher David Rodriguez, the Rays are not allowed to sign a single player for a bonus exceeding $250,000 this year. But that doesn’t mean the Rays won’t be active in signing players. In the last few days, the Rays agreed to terms with a trio of prospects, and in doing so they have provided us with insight as to what their plan will be regarding international free agents in the coming months.
Rafelin Lorenzo, 16, is a 6’1″, 195 catcher signed for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic who stands out most for his defensive promise. Lorenzo is athletic for a catcher and shows above-average arm strength with a quick release, impressive for a 16 year old. His actions behind the plate and especially his receiving need plenty of work and we’ll have to see what happens with that in the coming years. With the bat, Lorenzo shows good bat speed but it comes from an unorthodox swing with a big leg kick, something that gives him inconsistent timing and disrupts his balance at times. He does show flashes of power when everything is right. After finding success with catchers Oscar Hernandez and Rodriguez in the early goings, the Rays hope that Lorenzo could be their next IFA catcher to emerge as a significant prospect.
Juan Santos, also 16, signed out of the Dominican for $240,000 and is a 6’3″, 170 shortstop who may end up at third base. The good news is that he has the tools to profile there. Santos shows flashes of big power from the right-handed sign of the plate that should become more present as he fills out his lanky frame. His bat speed isn’t great and he has to be careful to not sell out for power and let his swing get longer. Santos may be a player who strikes out, but if his power comes through the way the Rays hope, that will be just fine. Defensively, Santos shows very good arm strength, but inconsistent actions will likely make him end up at third, where he should be a good defender. The Rays found a couple impressive tools in Santos’ power and arm strength, and they hope that everything else will come together in the coming years.
And finally, the Rays signed another 16 year old, shortstop Carlos Guzman, who is 6’1″, 155 and attracted attention for his glove. Unlike Santos, Guzman seems like a good bet to stick at shortstop thanks to soft hands in addition to a strong arm. Guzman isn’t as good of a runner as you would expect for a shortstop prospect, but he shows good instincts for such a young player and uses a quick first step to compensate. On the offensive side, Guzman may never hit for much power but shows bat speed and can smack line drives to all fields. It was a treat for the Rays to find a player with the ability to stick at shortstop and some offensive potential for such a low price (his exact bonus wasn’t announced, but it had to be below $250,000). While toolsy may not be the right adjective to describe him, Guzman fits the up-the-middle-profile the Rays love and they had to feel great getting him signed.
What do we see with Lorenzo, Santos, and Guzman? We see players with potential, all of whom have their flaws but also a couple of standout talents. Obviously the Rays would love to find elite prospects, but that’s not available with their bonus limit. But the thing about the Rays’ bonus limit is that it’s only for individual bonuses–they still have an overall bonus pool of $1,976,500. Instead of putting all their eggs in one or two baskets, they’ll be able to sign 8 or 9 players who may not be the top-of-the-top prospects but have their abilities, and the more players you have, the more likely someone will put it all together. They’re finding players with something to work with–catcher defense, power, actions at shortstop–and hoping they can hone everything else once they arrive in the organization. The Rays probably will not end up with a player who will dominate from the moment he signs on his way to quick stardom in the major leagues. But with any luck, their 2013 international signing group will turn out much stronger than you would expect based on their bonus limitations alone.