The Blue Jays and International Free Agents

The Blue Jays have been extroardinarily active in the international free agent market.  Here’s a little more about international free agents and the players the Blue jays have been involved in.

There has been a feeling of disappointment among Jays fans over the club’s recent failure to sign their #1 pick from the 2011 Rule 4 Draft, Tyler Beede.  However, this year (as in years past) the Blue Jays have made a big splash in the international free agent market.  With approximately 40 percent of the players in organized baseball having been born outside the United States, the international free agent signing period can be considered just as important as the first-year player draft.

How does the international free agent system work and how does it differ from the first-year player draft? 

From Baseball America:

The first-year player draft forces teams to add prospects. Compensation picks juggle things around a bit, but in general, draft picks are distributed evenly, with almost every team getting a first-round pick and the opportunity to pick one player in each round. Some teams are more aggressive going after players who fall for signability reasons, but the majority of the impact is in the first round; nearly half of this year’s Top 100 Prospects who came through the draft were first-rounders, and 75 percent went in the first three rounds. 

In the international market, a team can spend as much or as little as it wants. Money doesn’t always equal talent, especially for international signings.

“Money doesn’t always equal talent” is an important truism in regards to the international market.  Future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera cost $3000 to sign.  National League ERA-leader Johnny Cueto cost $3500.  Superstar Jose Reyes signed for $15,000.  On the other side of the spectrum lies Joel Guzman (he of 24 career MLB games), who signed for $2.1 million.  The disappointing Wily Mo Peña was bestowed a $2.44 million signing bonus.  The record for an international signee? Before this season it was (surprisingly) Oakland who set the mark, handing Dominican pitcher Michael Ynoa a $4.25 million bonus in 2008.  This season, Texas eclipsed that mark by signing Nomar Mazara for a record $5 million.  We’ll look at how those players and other big-money bonus babies are doing later on in this post.

The stakes are higher in the international game because these players are eligible to sign once they turn 16.  It is much more difficult to project a 15 or 16 year old player in Latin America than it is an 18-21 year old player in the United States:

The U.S. has a more organized infrastructure to identify talent with high school showcases, summer leagues, major college programs that play 70-80 games per year and statistics available to analyze. Teams still see Latin American players in games and moreso than in the past, but not to the same degree, and the views are often private information in their own academies. There are 16-year-olds who signed for more than $1 million last July who teams admit they hadn’t seen since March, and that’s not uncommon. Yet it’s hard to imagine a team would allow an area scout to not see a potential first-rounder for months before the draft. – Baseball America

Because of this uncertainty, teams across baseball value the international market differently.  Some teams focus on Caribbean and Latin American talent. In 2010, the Mariners, Yankees, Athletics, Braves and Cubs all spent more on acquiring international amateurs than they did in the Rule 4 draft. In contrast, the Nationals, Angels, White Sox and Dodgers spent at least ten times more on the Rule 4 draft than they did on international free agents.

The Blue Jays themselves have had a fluctuating relationship over the years.  The Jays were, in fact, one of the first teams to invest heavily in scouting the Dominican Republic.  Under Pat Gillick’s direction, the Jays mined such gems as George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Alfredo Griffin, Damaso Garcia and Juan Guzman from the dusty Dominican ball diamonds.  Under Jays GM JP Ricciardi, international signings all but dried up.  Says ESPN’s Keith Law:

To be fair to JP (for once), his modus operandi was to cut team expenditures, and as a result, the international budget had to go.  That said, JP is responsible for 3 of the Blue Jays’ top international prospects:  Henderson Alvarez, Moises Sierra and Nestor Molina.  Under GM Alex Anthopoulos, the international free agent paradigm has shifted 180 degrees.  In 2010, the Blue Jays spent a total of $4.18 million on international free agents, consisting mostly of the combined $3.5 million allotted to the Venezuelan duo of Adonys Cardona and Gabriel Cenas.  That number doesn’t include the $10 million they spent on a 4-year deal for Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.  Cubans present unique challenges on their own – I’ll address them later in the post.

This year the Jays made sure to make it rain dinero in the international free agent market.  After losing out to the Pittsburgh Pirates on prized Mexican pitcher Luis Heredia in 2010 (who signed for $2.6 million), the Blue Jays wanted to be sure they signed their top player – Roberto Osuna – this year.  And they did.  From the Globe & Mail:

When Toronto Blue Jays scouts first saw Roberto Osuna pitch, they new the team had to have him.

Blue Jays director of Latin America operations Marco Paddy saw Osuna for the first time almost two years ago at a competition for the Mexican national team.

“When you see him at 16 years of age and his ability to pitch competively now — obviously he had to be a great attraction to a lot of other clubs,” Paddy said on a conference call Tuesday. “But I would say he was the one guy that the minute we saw, that he was a guy that we had to go after.”

Also agreeing to terms with Toronto were Venezuelan outfielders Wuilmer Becerra and Jesus Gonzalez, along with Venezuelan righty Manuel Cordova.

Right-handers Alberto Tirado and Yeyfry Del Rosario and left-hander Jairo Labourt, all of the Dominican Republic, were also signed.  Add in the signing of Dominican shortstop prospect Dawel Lugo for $1.3 million and you’ve got a substantial investment in the international market for the Toronto Blue Jays:

Roberto Osuna – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for an estimated $3,000,000+
Osman Gutierrez – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $210,000+
Jesus Gonzalez- Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $1,400,000+
Dawel Lugo – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $1,300,000+
Wilmer Becerra – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for:$1,300,000+
Manuel Cordova – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $TBD+
Jairo Labourt – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $TBD+
Alberto Tirado – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $TBD+
Yeyfry Del Rosario – Signed to Toronto Blue Jays for: $TBD+

From a Blue Jay fan’s perspective, these signings are exciting, but that excitement must be tempered with uncertainty.  What are the odds these guys pan out?  What is the track record of international free agent success?  While no one knows what the future holds for these young players, we can have a look at how they’re playing right now and make some comparisons to players in other organizations to see if the Jays missed out or lucked out.

Jairo Labourt

The 17-year old Jairo Labourt dove headfirst into this season’s Dominican Summer League after signing with the Blue Jays in January for $350,000.  From Baseball America:

Labour, who is 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, became eligible to sign when the 2010 international signing period opened on July 2, but he developed into a better prospect later and has run his fastball up to 92 mph. Labour, who is from Azua, is a good athlete with a solid delivery and feel for spinning a breaking ball.

Labourt pitched primarily in relief, going 2-3 innings per outing.  Although inconsistent, when one looks at his overall numbers in the context of a 17 year old player, they are quite impressive.

Update 9/16/2011 – Labourt was just named Blue Jay minor league MVP for the Dominican Summer League.

Dawel Lugo

As you can see, Dawel Lugo has not been too active.  Lugo, 16, is a right-handed hitting shortstop from Bani, Dominican Republic. The 6-1, 180 lb. shortstop will begin his professional playing career for the Blue Jays in the Dominican Summer League next season, apparently.  One of the top hitters from the Dominican Prospect League; solid swing, good bat speed, and plus power eventually. Because of his size, many scouts believe Lugo will end up at third base.  His father, Ursino Leonardo Lugo, played professionally in the Cleveland Indians organization.

Gabriel Cenas

Small sample size alert! Signed for $700,000 in 2010, Cenas was assigned to the rookie-level Dominican Summer League and struggled with the stick (but walked like it was his job) in only 53 at-bats.  Still, he’s only 17 so it’s not time to worry – yet.  The fact that he hasn’t had many at-bats leads me to believe that he is being held out of games for developmental purposes.  Not only for instruction, but to feed Cenas plenty of plantains and chivo to pack some lbs. on his 155 lb. frame.

Adonys Cardona

Cardona, who signed for a $2.8 million bonus in 2010, played in extended spring training before being assigned to the Blue Jays’ Gulf Coast affilliate. In extended spring training, Cardona pitched 13.1 innings, with a 1.80 WHIP and 5.40 ERA.  He also had a miserable K:BB ration, walking 10 while striking out 12.  Still… he’s 17 years old.

In the Gulf Coast League he’s improved on those numbers substantially; really tightening up his control.  Not a bad foundation to build from as a 17 year old rookie.

Balbino Fuenmayor

Balbino Fuenmayor, affectionately referred to as “Balbi” by his teammates, was signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for a $1.15 million signing bonus.  The 21-year old Fuenmayor has played in the Jays’ minor league system for the past 5 seasons and has had an OPS over .700 only once.  When he signed, Baseball Prospectus said this:

Outstanding pure hitting skills with an uncanny knack for contact and impressive hand-eye coordination. Solid defensive skills with plus range to both side and above-average arm strength.

Is this still the case?  I’m not so sure.  That said, he’s 22.  But the clock is ticking on the big Balbino.

Moises Sierra

For more on Moises Sierra, make sure to check out our bio on him here.  An international “six figure” signing under the JP Ricciardi Regime, Sierra has tailed off due to minor nagging injuries.  He was an all-star this year and will be gaining valuable playoff experience with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this fall.  He still figures to be a part of the big club’s plans as he remains on the 40-man roster.

Nestor Molina

Nestor Molina is another JP Ricciardi signing, Molina is a low-risk high-reward prospect.  I can’t find any data on what his signing bonus was, but knowing JP Ricciardi as I do, I can assume it was a pittance.  Simply put, Nestor Molina has been lights out.

Despite being absolutely dominant this year,  JJ Cooper from Baseball America says: “He’s done a lot to improve his stock this year, but he’s more of a 3/4 at best. Not a lot of front end of the rotation RHPs sit at 89-92 mph.”

Cooper’s colleague, Jim Callis, says this: “It’s all solid: fastball, slider, changeup, occasional curveball. Not sure you’d call any of his offerings a plus pitch, but he mixes them well and moves the ball around the strike zone. Not the sexiest scouting report, but that’s the type of guy who winds up in the big leagues.”

Well done, JP.

To complete the trifecta of JP Ricciardi international signings, I present to you Henderson Alvarez.

Henderson Alvarez

A strong candidate to be a member of the 2012 Blue Jays starting rotation,  Henderson Alvarez was signed by the Jays as an international free agent in 2006 when he was 16. He had a breakout season in 2009 when he went 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA with the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest single-A League. 

Possessing a fastball that ranges from 96-101mph, Alvarez throws a plus changeup to go with a work-in-progress slider.  Despite having an electric fastball, Alvarez is not a strikeout pitcher.  He pitches to contact, using the heavy sink on his fastball to induce groundballs.

According to Pat Tabler, Baltimore Orioles’ player Mark Reynolds remarked that Alvarez was the toughest right hander he’d faced all season.

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Adeiny Hechavarria

Look at that smug smirk; that Cuban swagger.  Would you just look at that?  Hechavarria has Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Chad Mottola to thank for that.

In April of 2010, Hechavarria signed a 4-year $10 million dollar deal with the Blue Jays.  It was the year of the Cuban Free Agent:  Jose Julio Ruiz, Leslie Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Yuniesky Maya and Aroldis Chapman all signed with MLB teams.  As a Cuban, Hechavarria had an air of mystery to him.  Cuban players are the most difficult players to assess due to the fact that American scouts are unable to travel to Cuba to scout the players in the Cuban League.  Furthermore, the Cuban League is somewhat nebulous due to the fact that the talent level is so varied.  Teams will have players as talented as a Major League All-Star as well as players who are comparable to single-A talent on the same roster.

That said, Alex Anthopoulos and his team were confident enough in Hechavarria’s abilities to sign him to a big-money deal.  The scouting report on Hechavarria was that he was a stellar defender with a bat that was a work in progress. 

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This proved to be true as Hechavarria began to play professional ball, as he posted a combined .605 OPS over 2 levels after being promoted aggressively.  He stayed at the same level in double-A New Hampshire this year before being promoted to triple-A Las Vegas, where he met former Blue Jay and 51s hitting coach Chad Mottola.

From John Lott:

After signing with Toronto for US$10-million early last year, Hechavarria has dazzled on defence. A right-handed batter, he has also struggled at the plate, especially against right-handed pitching. So some found it surprising when he was promoted to Triple-A on Aug. 12.

The Jays sent Danny Solano, his personal coach and interpreter, along too. When they reported for the 51s’ game in Nashville, they met with Mottola, who made a quick diagnosis of Hechavarria’s swing.

Mottola saw that Hechavarria was tense at the plate. Instead of using his hands to set up, or “load,” his swing, he was using his entire body.

“We just did some top-hand drills to relax his back elbow so he could load with his hands instead of his whole body. He took to it right away,” Mottola said in a telephone interview Friday before the 51s played in Memphis.

Hechavarria reeled off six straight multi-hit games. Mottola knows that pace cannot continue, but given Hechavarria’s athleticism, he is confident the highly touted Cuban defector can become a good hitter.

“It’s just something I kind of saw right away, and Danny said, ‘Go ahead. Talk to him about it.’ So we talked to Hech, and we did drills with one hand on a shorter bat to help him get to feel it, and he really took to it quickly,” Mottola said.

He hastens to add that he is no miracle worker. Sometimes coaching advice clicks quickly. Often, change takes weeks or months.

But the light went on immediately for Hechavarria.

“There was a lot of tension in his body, and when that happens you tend to be all one piece and you commit to swinging too early,” Mottola said. “You’ve got to take some tension out of your swing, and that way you’re freed up and you can hit more pitches and be more consistent.

“He’s staying balanced on all pitches much better. He says he’s seeing balls much better and getting in a good position to hit more consistently.”

In his tiny Triple-A sample size, Hechavarria still hits left-handers better (four for six). But he is no slouch against the righties (14 for 28).

Mottola said Hechavarria’s tense approach made him more vulnerable to off-speed pitches from right-handers. The adjustment has helped him react more effectively to pitches of different speeds.

“It has only been [eight] games, but it was nice to see some immediate results, just for his sake,” Mottola said. “I don’t want to say now that I did all this stuff, or that he’s a .500 hitter and everything’s fixed. But he’s so talented, I don’t see why it can’t continue.”

This is not Mottola’s department, but he happily volunteers an assessment of Hechavarria’s glove work.

“He’s unbelievable on defence. It’s just a treat to watch him. Every night there are three or four plays that just kind of open your eyes and you say, ‘Wow, how easy he made that play look.’

Hechavarria was to be called up with the Blue Jays this September but red tape quickly nixed those plans:

Shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria was a virtual lock for a September call-up until his agent called Anthopoulos a few weeks ago. Hechavarria, a Cuban defector, is roughly a month short of meeting his residency requirements for United States citizenship and a visit to Canada would have forced him to start the clock again. “If we played on the road the entire [month of September], he’d have been up,” Anthopoulos said. A defensive whiz, Hechavarria hit just .235 while playing at Double-A New Hampshire, but hit .389 in 25 games under the guidance of hitting coach Chad Mottola after an August promotion to Las Vegas. After playing in the Arizona Fall League, he will likely spend next season at Triple-A, Anthopoulos said. Mottola, his coach, also gets September call-up as “a reward for the great year he’s had,” the GM added.

Hechavarria will be joined by fellow Blue Jays prospects Evan Crawford, Aaron Loup, Yan Gomes, and Anthony Gose in the Arizona Fall League.

So what about the big-money free agents that the Blue Jays missed out on?  First, let’s start with Mexican pitcher Luis Heredia – a young stud who the Pittsburgh Pirates signed after winning a bidding war with the Blue Jays.

Pirates landed Heredia in August of 2010 as an international free agent for a franchise-record $2.6 million bonus.  Feeling that he would find little competition at their Dominican Summer League affiliate, Heredia was assigned to the Gulf Coast League in Florida. 

Heredia threw six different pitches in Mexico, but the Pirates have him focusing on the fastball, curveball and changeup. Fastball command, as with all young prospects in the system, is the top priority.  As expected, the Pirates babied the 16 year old Heredia’s arm and judging from his stats, his fastball command is still a work in progress.

Miguel Angel Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2009 for $3.15 million.  The bonus was the largest for a Latin American player from outside of Cuba in 2009, and the second highest bonus ever for a Dominican amateur – second only to the $4.25 million the Oakland Athletics paid lefthanded pitcher Michael Ynoa in 2008.  Judging from Sano’s progress, it was money well spent.  From Sports Illustrated in 2009:

Sano is an unusual talent, as many international scouting directors say they have never seen a 16-year-old player who is built like Sano or who can hit like him. Sano, who is from San Pedro de Macoris, has an athletic, projectable body with broad shoulders and a strong lower half. He stands out at the plate with a right-handed stroke that he’s able to repeat in games, showing good bat speed and the ability to hit for power to all fields. Some scouts have said he’s better in batting practice than in games, while others say he has dominated against live pitching. He can get caught out front against good breaking balls, but he doesn’t have a long swing and scouts have seen him drive off-speed pitches for home runs. Sano’s current position is shortstop, but scouts are nearly universal that he’ll end up at either third base or in right field. Sano has shown above-average speed in the 60-yard dash for some teams, but his range is already questionable at shortstop and he’s expected to slow down as he adds another 20 to 30 pounds to his frame. Though he doesn’t have a particularly quick release, Sano’s arm is a 65 or a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Scouts expect Sano to sign with a team that doesn’t typically sign players for big money in Latin America, with the Pirates believed to be the leaders.

Sano heated up at the end of the season at Rookie-level Elizabethtown of the Appalachian League: 23 of  his 34 August hits have gone for extra bases; .292/.352/.637 overall.  He might be the lone bright spot in the dark days ahead for the Minnesota Twins franchise.

The $4.25 million bonus baby Michael Ynoa tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with Oakland in 2010.  He’s almost a year removed from the surgery and is trying to get the touch and feel back for his pitches.

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We’ll know more about him next year.

And what of the year of the Cuban Free Agent?  Have they panned out?  Let’s first start with the enigma known as Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis Chapman first showed up on MLB’s “radar” in the 2009 World Baseball Classic while playing for team Cuba.  Teams and fans alike were capitvated by how the lanky Cuban would routinely hit 100mph on the gun with his fastball.  In 2009, Chapman defected from Cuba during an international tournament in Rotterdam, Holland.  He established residency in the country of Andorra and was declared a free agent.  There was a bidding war between teams and Chapman narrowed his list to the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.  In the end, the Reds won out, signing Chapman to a 6-year $30.25 million contract. 

One of Alex Anthopoulos’ regrets from his first two years as Blue Jay general manager was level of preparedness during the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes.  Said Anthopoulos:

“I guess my one regret is I wish it was a greater comfort level on our part,” said Anthopoulos in assessing his first year as GM last winter.

“We weren’t as familiar with the player as we needed to be. We saw him throw two bullpens and we certainly liked the player. It was just a matter of at what point did it make sense financially. You have to put a value and at some point you have to say this is our value and you walk away.

“(Jays president)Paul (Beeston) says this all the time. It’s easy to spend money. It’s hard to spend money wisely. And that’s what it comes down to for us.”

Since signing with the Reds, Chapman has shown flashes of brilliance, such as setting the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown at 106mph:

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Chapman has also struggled to find consistency.  From being shuffled from the minors to the majors, from the role of starter to reliever, the Reds have not done Chapman any favours and may have stunted his development in the process.  Reds fans may take solace in the fact that he is tentatively pencilled in to be a starter in 2012:

“With all the question marks on who’s going to be with us going into next season, it’s hard to say for sure,” Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said on Wednesday. “I would be very confident in saying that he will absolutely get a chance to start, maybe as early as next season.”

“Certainly, we felt going into this season that our need was in the bullpen with Chappy,” Price said. “The other part was not stockpiling a ton of innings on him early in his career.

 “There are a lot of benefits to him starting. No. 1, I think his growth as a pitcher will increase at a faster pace when he gets more time, more innings, more bullpen time to really focus and work on his delivery and his pitches and situational baseball.”

Although it is far too soon to say whether or not Chapman has been a bust, so far the Reds have not received much of a return on their investment.  Though it’s possible the Jays might have had a better result with the way they would have handled Chapman, I doubt Alex Anthopoulos is losing much sleep on this missed opportunity.

Like his compañero Aroldis Chapman, Leslie Anderson is another player who was first noticed at the World Baseball Classic.

From Morgan Campbell:

Anderson hit .320 over a career in Cuba’s National Series that spanned more than eight seasons, and batted .381 in 2008-2009, his final season on the island. A longtime member of Cuba’s national team, he played in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.

The 27-year-old is one of more than 20 players to defect from Cuba’s storied baseball program in 2009, boarding a boat for Mexico instead of playing in the World Championship last fall. A month ago he held a private workout in Cancun for roughly a dozen major league teams and Thursday morning he signed with the Rays

Anderson was signed to a 4-year $3,75 million deal.  Although not a great deal of money for most teams, it is surprising that the cost-conscious Tampa Bay Rays would have made an investment in an unproven commodity such as Anderson.

Although Anderson sometimes exhibits some pop (he took current MLB pitcher Brandon Beachy yard) he’s basically a replacement level player.  At this point he’s basically a sunk cost for a Tampa Bay Rays team that can’t afford them.

Adeiny Hechavarria’s best friend, Jose Iglesias, is the definition of an all-glove no-bat infielder. 

A natural shortstop, Iglesias moved to second to make room for Hechavarria on the national team, but he didn’t complain. Instead, he embraced the opportunity to turn double plays with his best friend.

“It was something really beautiful,” Iglesias says, with as much nostalgia as a 20-year-old can summon. “(We have) a lot of energy, and defensively we’re really strong. It was a lot of fun . . . together we would try to steal the show, always.”

Iglesias signed with the Boston Red Sox for a 4-year $8.25 million deal 7 months before Hechavarria signed with the Blue Jays.  Having played in a handful of games in the big leagues this year, Iglesias wowed me with his defensive prowess.  He is sleek and fluid; a real pleasure to watch.

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He can pick it!

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At 21 years of age, Iglesias has plenty of time to develop his bat.  Right now, however, it doesn’t look good.  To me, he projects as being a John McDonald defensive specialist-type utility player if he hopes to have a career in the big leagues.

Jose Ruiz is a player that the Blue Jays passed on due to concerns about his makeup (read: lazy).  If the Blue Jays – of all teams – take a pass on a player due to makeup concerns, you know the player has a problem.  Again, it was the Tampa Bay Rays who took a chance on him, signing him to a creative contract in June that included a clause where they had to decide by mid-November whether to give him a four-year, $4 million deal or let him go.  They chose to let him go.

The internationally-active Texas Rangers picked him up on a minor league deal and he posted a .783 OPS across 2 levels as a 26 year old.  His best tool is his power tool, and he’s able to have an eye at the plate.   Will it translate at the big league level? I’m not so sure.  To me, like Leslie Anderson, Jose Ruiz projects to be a replacement-level major leaguer, nothing more. 

Maya lit up the World Baseball Classic in a small sample size! of 7.1 innings pitched. Pitching for the Pinar Del Rio club, Maya led the National Series with a 1.61 ERA in 2004-05.  In the 2008-2009  season, Maya finished with a 13-4 record with 7 complete games.  Maya  finished second in the league in ERA with a mark of 2.22. He was also second in strikeouts with 119, behind Aroldis Chapman who had 130.  For his career, Maya went 48-29 with a 2.51 ERA. 

Based on these achievements, the Washington Nationals signed Maya to a 4-year $6 million deal and pushed him aggressively through the minors (he made all of 5 starts in the minors, including two at the AAA level).

Having been mentored by Orlando Hernandez in the minors (though, not for very long) and Livan Hernandez at the big league level, you will see the similarities between the pitchers. Like both Hernandez pitchers he has a breaking ball that hovers in the upper 60s and relies on control and command to get hitters out.  Maya’s fastball tops out at 89mph.

Maya is an extreme flyball pitcher as you will see from the video below.  His stuff will only play in a large ballpark and in the NL.

In 12 career MLB games, Maya has a 5.93 ERA with a 23:21 K:BB ratio.  He strikes out 3.5/9IP.  Not good.  I doubt that Maya has any sort of significant career in MLB.  He should take that $6 million, buy a yacht, and sail off into the sunset while drinking Daiquiris and Mojitos.



The Texas Rangers raised a lot of eyebrows this spring when they gave free agent Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin $15 million, a number that either puts him on par with No. 1 overall draft picks.  Martin has three above-average tools but there are legitimate questions about the bat.

Martin’s an above-average runner, though not a burner, and shows easy range in center field with a cannon of an arm.

Said Keith Law:

He’s just now coming up to the majors and could debut in the next few games for the Rangers. The executive summary is that he can play the heck out of center but it’s hard to project him to hit or hit for power with his current swing, even with the work Texas has done to clean it up. His .263/.316/.314 line in a small sample (40 games) in Triple-A isn’t encouraging.

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Viciedo signed a 4-year $8 million contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2008.  He’s legit, as he’s been a stud every level he’s played.  Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein on Viciedo: “I think he’ll hit for power, I think he’ll hit around .270 and I think his LF defense is best defined as ‘playable.’, so you know, good job.

Here’s Viciedo hitting a home run in the minors with a little pimp-job thrown in:
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Viciedo played for the Villa Clara Orangemen in the Cuban National Series.  He was the youngest player to ever play in an all-star game at the age of 16 and drew comparisons to Cuban great Omar Linares.  An infielder for the duration of his Cuban career, the White Sox had Viciedo learning the nuances of outfield play in the minors the past 2 seasons.

Dayan Viciedo is very quiet at the plate  and his already strong power tool is progressing.

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With the continued futility exhibited by White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, Sox fans are calling for Viciedo to take over and for Rios to be relegated to the pine.  And who can blame them, really?  Viciedo has had nothing but success at the major league level and is a very exciting player.  Chalk this one up as a rare prudent signing by Sox GM Kenny Williams.

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After looking at all of the Jays signings and the ones they missed out on, I can safely say “so far, so good”  for the Blue Jays.  The players they signed are doing well for the most part and they avoided some potential pitfalls in the free agents they missed out on or passed up.  This list is solid evidence that mo’ money doesn’t always make for the best player.  After all, perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera was signed for only $1.9 million.  It will be fun to watch the Blue Jays farm system with the influx of international talent moving forward.  Perhaps in a few seasons the composition of the Blue Jays will be reminiscent of teams of Blue Jays past: lots of latin flavour.

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Images courtesy of and the Associated Press.

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