Back in 2012, we saw the Rays be uber-aggressive on the international free agent market. While it is yet to be seen if that strategy will truly pay off, it appears they have at least three intriguing players from that class in Jose Mujica, Jose Castillo, and David Rodriguez. The Rays were unable to sign players for more than 250k in 2013 because they exceeded spending limits in 2012. This year, it appears that they will repeat their 2012 all-out spending strategy. That is all likely to start with a big bonus for top international shortstop Adrian Rondon, who the Rays are “strong favorites” to sign (according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler).
Just 15-years old, 16 on July 7th, Rondon already receives comparisons to Hanley Ramirez and Starlin Castro. As such, the Dominican product is considered one of the top, if not THE top, position player on the international prospect scene this year. Offensively, Rondon features potential to hit for both average and power, but he also has some polish in his bat that is rare for a player his age. He has a nice approach at the plate, and unlike most players on the international market, he isn’t pull-happy, but rather does a good job of using the whole field. He has also shown some present ability to hit for power, and at 6’2”, 180 pounds there is room to add muscle in his frame. As with most players just in their mid-teens, Rondon has plenty of work to do with his overall package at the plate. But, he has projection to dream about and present maturity at the plate, and that’s what makes him one of the best international hitters this year.
Unlike many international short shortstops that have power projection, Rondon has a good chance of sticking at the position. His speed is realistically going to be a tick above-average, and his arm should be around the same level. Those two tools don’t jump out at you like his bat, but he also adds many of the intangibles needed to be a successful shortstop. He has soft hands as well as good instincts and great reactions, though he needs to work on his footwork. Rondon is never going to be the type of flashy shortstop that wins Gold Gloves. But, he makes the routine play with few mistakes, and he will make some rangy plays from time to time. Especially given his bat, the Rays will take that any day.
As far as his bonus, Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel reported in February that the Rays and Rondon appeared to have a handshake agreement for $3.5 million, and Badler similarly notes that his expected bonus is around $3 million. If the Rays indeed sign Rondon when he becomes eligible on July 7th, his bonus seems almost guaranteed to exceed their $1,988,100 bonus pool allotment. This easily surpasses the 15% pool overage that means the Rays won’t be able to sign a player for more than 250k in 2015. They could actually go acquire up to around $1 million in additional pool money from other teams, but they are likely to sign numerous players other than Rondon, and the result would likely be the same.
The Tampa Bay Rays player development has been disappointing the last few years, but they are doing their best to make up for it. The 2013 and 2014 draft classes both provide reasons to be excited, and so does the 2012 international signing class. This year’s group of international players could do the same, and it seems like exciting Dominican SS Adrian Rondon will lead the way for the 2014 class.