Tampa Bay Rays: Appreciating the 2014 International Free Agents
By Robbie Knopf
The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off their worst season since 2007, but with that came two clear benefits: an earlier draft pick and a higher bonus pool for international free agents. Both of those are true, but in the second case, the amount of money that the Rays have will only tell part of the story. Baseball America reports that the Rays will have a bonus pool of $2,609,200, 13th-highest in baseball, but they won’t be able to sign any individual player for more than $300,000.
The Rays incurred penalties for the coming international free agent signing period because of their actions last year. Even though they acquired three bonus pool slots from the Miami Marlins in exchange for right-hander Matt Ramsey, their spending far outpaced their total allowed amount of $2.982 million. Their penalty for that was a 100% tax on the overage and the inability to sign any player for more than that aforementioned $300,000 figure for the next two signing periods.
That penalty is quite severe, prompting an obvious question: was the Rays’ spending spree on international talent worthwhile? To help us answer that question, Baseball America just released their review of the Rays’ signings, reminding us of the players we knew about and adding several names that had not made the news previously.
The jewel of the class is shortstop Adrian Rondon, who was arguably the best prospect in the entire IFA class. Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames are safer bets to be the Rays’ shortstop of the future, but the fact that scouts have discussed a scenario where Rondon is the Rays’ starting shortstop in three or four years is extremely exciting. He is extremely advanced for a player yet to turn 17, and he has upside in all facets of the game.
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Rondon is the guy we have heard a lot about, and we have also mentioned lefty Francisco Sanchez and outfielder Jesus Sanchez before. The southpaw can reach the mid-90’s with his fastball to go along with a promising curveball while the outfielder is another talented bat with power potential, albeit one who may be limited left field. They will be two more players to watch, but it would have been questionable if the Rays had incurred penalties for just three standout players. Now we can confirm that they are not alone.
Last year, I noted that the Rays were zoning in on righty throwers and hitters because the bonuses for lefties would be excessive. With that in mind, it is no surprise that other than Resly Linares, a projectable 6’2″ left-hander with a promising breaking ball, their other eight signings that were noted by Baseball America are all right-handed.
Miguel Lara is a 5’11” righty, which is typically a red flag, but then again, he has already hit 95 MPH with his fastball. Angel Rodriguez is the opposite at 6’5″, 230, but we can make the same comment–it doesn’t matter much if he has shown promise on the mound. Lugo, meanwhile, is another projectable arm while Caba and Gonzalez have good size, can already hit the mid-90’s, and have promising curveballs.
On the position player side, Ronaldo Hernandez, an infielder in Columbia, will be converted to catcher, which his solid bat makes him into an interesting prospect. Luis Pimentel, meanwhile, is a strong defender at shortstop who will hope to refine his approach at the plate. The good news for him is that he has already flashed impressive bat speed, so he won’t be starting from square one.
The Tampa Bay Rays spent around $5.5 million total on this year’s international free agent class. It certainly isn’t the case that they only exceeded their bonus pool by a small amount, as some speculated a few months ago, and they came up with a potential superstar shortstop in Adrian Rondon and 10 other high-upside players. That is quite a haul.
It will take time for these players for develop, but Rondon is already among the Rays’ top prospects and the others could soon join him. It also isn’t as though they can’t sign anyone next signing period–they will simply spread their bonuses out more and sign many solid talents as opposed to spending a lot on a big fish like Rondon. The Rays looked at this group and decided that the penalties they would face were nothing that should stop them.