If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet in my years covering prospects, it’s that people are irrationally interested in the next big thing. A well-known former first rounder close to the big leagues moves the needle for fans, but the completely unknown flame-thrower that hits 100 mph in rookie ball gets almost the same amount of attention for some reason.
Part of this is the proliferation of ridiculously deep dynasty fantasy leagues, but I think, at a deeper level, humans like the “new shiny thing” aspect of learning something completely new. I think this explains why trade rumors often get more attention than breakdowns of actual trades.
I’m often asked way before July 2nd if that year’s international signing class of Latin 16-year-olds has a franchise type, once-a-decade player—Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, Felix Hernandez, etc.—which is the question I often find myself asking scouts to open a discussion about the top players in the class. In short, there isn’t that player (yet) for next July 2nd, though I’ll get another look at many of the top players in the class next month. There are already rumors of a player in the upcoming class having a deal for $3 million, but multiple players get about that much every year, even with the new international pools in place, so that doesn’t automatically make him that super elite prospect.
However, there is a player for the 2016 July 2nd period, 22 months from now, that is drawing that kind of scouting attention. He’s 14 years old and he’s a Venezuelan shortstop named Kevin Maitan.
I won’t waste time breaking down the tools for a 14-year-old, though I should admit I have scouted Latin kids this young when trainers want to show me their best players for future July 2nd periods after I watch a workout for their best players in that year’s class. International scouts start paying real attention to prospects as early as 12 or 13. There are some things that aren’t natural for domestic scouts that you do when projecting kids that are this young, like projecting speed to improve as the kid physically matures, but the broad scouting indicators are often surprisingly accurate for projecting years into the future. Player like Bryce Harper, Eric Hosmer and Justin Upton were all noticed as early as 14 or 15 to be elite draft prospects and in a country where the kid is training for and scouts are scouting for his age-18 season.
You hear almost every star player from a Latin country eventually used as a comparison for a raw teenager, but international scouts generally don’t invoke Miguel Cabrera. That’s the Bo Jackson-type talent you don’t use to compare to teenagers. Even Vladimir Guerrero gets comp’d sometimes, though with Vlady’s son being in this year’s July 2nd crop and having similar mannerisms, that at least makes some sense.
Maitan has been compared to Cabrera by most of the scouts I’ve asked about him. He’s unusually physically mature for his age and flashes all the tools you want to see to throw that Cabrera comp around: he can play shortstop pretty well now, he’s got more raw power than most kids a few years older than him, he has smooth actions in defense and at the plate and so on.
Obviously, it’s still ridiculously early in the process to anoint a 14-year-old the next big thing, but scouts have already starting doing it, with rumors Maitan has already been offered seven figures by multiple clubs. I won’t name the clubs that have been tied to him for a few reasons, but it’s still unclear if that matters, because MLB could still be aiming to institute an international draft for 2016. If that happens, it would add another big benefit to having the worst record in the 2015 season.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.