I spent last week at a 4-day showcase in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for July 2nd eligible players from the Dominican Prospect League, then went to a 5-day tournament in Jupiter, FL for the top high school travel teams, which included many top draft prospects. I’ll cover the Jupiter tournament and players rising/falling on draft boards later this week. That said, this year’s tournament didn’t have the out-of-nowhere pop-up prospect or mid-round player jumping into the first round that we’ve had in past years, so my rankings from last month are still pretty close to what I have right now.
The DPL showcase was my first time seeing many of the top 2015 July 2nd prospects. I was last in the Dominican in January for a week of showcases for 2014 prospects and the DPL and rival International Prospect League (IPL) both briefly showcased their top 2015 prospects when many of them were 14 years old. So, I’d seen some of these players before, but we’re in the part of their development where big physical changes can come in a few months, so every new look will shuffle any scout’s rankings. If you’re looking for the next July 2nd super prospect, I wrote about a kid in the 2016 class, Venezuelan switch-hitting shortstop Kevin Maitan, last month and some video of him popped up since then.
As I talked about in more depth last year, the biggest effect that the new international bonus pools had on July 2nd signings is teams agreeing to verbal deals with players far earlier than they had in the past. Essentially, MLB put a soft cap on spending that at least 25 teams stay under each year, so the best way to make the most of a fixed budget is to get discounts by locking up targeted players as early as possible. MLB didn’t like this and some associated things that came with this shift in the industry and is basically trying to create, via recent rule changes, a “July 2nd season” that starts in January , though nearly everyone from players to agents to scouts to executives think the recent rule change causes more problems than it solves (more on the details of this situation from Ben Badler).
I give you that background to set the stage for this July 2nd with an international draft looming somewhere in the future (educated guesses have it at 2-5 years away, with many executives thinking it may never work, but will definitely be tried). Clubs that went over their pools last year (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Brewers) can’t spend over $300,000 on any player this year and next year while some clubs coming off of the penalties from recent spending sprees (Cubs, Rangers) have a chance to reenter the top end of the market after a year off.
International bonus pools for 2015 haven’t been released yet, but they generally range from $2 million to $5 million in reverse order of the standings, very similar to draft picks. The penalty for going more than 15% over your bonus pool changed last year from a one-year ban on signings over $250,000 to a two-year ban on signings over $300,000, as an adjustment to multiple clubs taking the penalty in the first few years of the new rules.
I was told a few players with the DPL didn’t make this stateside trip and likely won’t be working out for scouts anymore because they’re believed to already have verbal deals worked out. The best prospect of this bunch not making the trip has a name you’ll recognize: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. I won’t mention the team that every scout I talked to said Guerrero has a deal with, but the rumored price tag is $3.2 million. Here’s a video from the only time I scouted him, in January 2014 in the DPL underclass showcase.
As you can see, it’s a mature body and I’m told he’s gotten even bigger since then, but his bat speed and raw power have also further developed to possibly both be best in the class. He doesn’t have the ridiculous arm strength of his father and may eventually have to move to first base from the outfield. It’s mostly bat here and some scouts think the rumored price is too steep, but every scout I talked to agrees that he’s one of the best, if not the best bat in the class. In fairness, it’s not hard to find a rival scout that thinks any top-of-the-market bonus is too much for that player’s talent.
Here’s some quick reports and video on the top players that did make the trip to Ft. Lauderdale. I have video of all the players mentioned and I’ll post them over time, but for time purposes (I’m now at the Arizona Fall League) and also context for July 2nd (I’ll see almost all of these players again in January when they may be different players altogether), I won’t be putting up the dozens of videos I could be posting. I’m told there’s some good players in the IPL, there’s obviously other Dominican prospects that don’t play in either league and then there’s Venezuela and other Latin countries that all aren’t included in this article; I should be seeing the best of these players in January. For these reasons and others, I can’t say with any certainty at this point if this class is much better or worse than past classes and most scouts aren’t inclined to call it significantly better or worse than previous classes, either.
I should also note that these kids are 15 or 16 and most won’t even play organized ball in America until they’re 17 or 18, so it’s very early to be drawing conclusions and things can still change drastically, but we have some solid indicators to judge from so far. I also only mention a team with one of the players below because it’s still really early for clubs to be making final decisions; this is the time when clubs are narrowing down a long list of potential seven figure targets to a couple players, so they’re particularly cagey about which team is on which player right now.
CF Starling Heredia may be the top prospect in this class and his price tag is rumored to be around $3.5 million, with multiple scouts mentioning the Cubs as the most interested team, though that isn’t a done deal by any means. Heredia hit some balls out to center field in BP and ran a 6.62 time in the 60, both plus tools to go with his plus bat speed. His speed plays down a bit in games right now, but it’s common for kids like this to get a little faster in the next few years.
He’s advanced at the plate for his age because, despite a leg kick some coaches would want to immediately tone down, Heredia does a good job staying balanced, keeping his head very still and tucking his hands in to get around on the inside pitch. His swing still breaks down in a couple game swings above, but some teenage toolsheds never show that level of feel for a swing, especially with that Manny Ramirez-style swing that’s so common on the island.
Heredia’s arm is solid average and he made a lot of contact in the games with an advanced approach compared to his peers in the same showcase. His body is close to maxed-out and he may lose a step, but Heredia has more than enough tools to profile as an everyday guy in a corner if that’s where he ends up.
I should note before the predictable flood of comments saying, “there’s no way this kid is that big and fast and 15-years-old” (probably with more spelling errors) that there is a very similar player to Heredia in the states by the name of Ronald Washington. Washington is the top prep prospect (if you can even say that) for the 2017 MLB Draft and has nearly the same mature frame and above average tools of Heredia. Their birthdays are less than a month apart, but no one is asking these questions about Washington, so you shouldn’t ask them about Heredia.
SS Wander Javier looks to be sure to get a seven figure bonus, but the scouts that like him think he may get over $2 million. He ran a 6.76 (55 timed speed), and while I never got a good time in the game, he looks to be more of an average runner in-game, though as mentioned with Heredia, at this age kids still get faster and get quicker first steps. Javier makes the most of solid but not spectacular defensive tools, giving him a chance to stay at the position long term.
He projects for at least average raw power and he has solid feel to hit in games, but you can see above that his swing can get a little out of sorts in game situations. At this showcase, his body lean/lunge caused his bat to lag behind his body and his lead arm to bar out. Javier has a higher maintenance swing with a longer stride, higher leg kick, more head movement and more variation than Heredia. Javier will have to tone this down soon but, even with borderline bad mechanics at times, Javier rarely swung and missed and showed good feel for the bat head with surprising pop for his size/age/strength.
These swing issues are usually fixable and often work themselves out with maturity; this toolset isn’t easy to find. Javier is a prospect where how much you’re willing to pay will be determined by how coachable he is in your private workouts, how big his parents are (as a proxy for how much weight/strength he’ll add) and other broad indicators, because the ability is here and he plays the right position, but a lot of work is needed so you need to know how likely he is to make the adjustments.
RF Franklin Reyes is easy to appreciate as a big kid (listed at 6’4/190) with plus bat speed and raw power I project to be a 65. He takes healthy cuts in games and BP but shows an ability to adjust his swing to make contact, though he still needs to tone it down another notch or two in pro ball.
Reyes has an obvious power approach to his swing, with the deep load and broad base to maximize his leverage and power. He has a longer stride than you like to see at this age, but is more like Heredia than Javier in that he still balances himself well and Reyes’ plus bat speed helps him catch up when his timing is off. It’s a longer bat path, but long limbs is part of the reason Reyes has all this power, so it only makes sense to leverage that ability; he’s still making consistent contact and adjustments come once that stops being the case.
His head stays still once he gets into a squat, but in some of the above swings, Reyes overstrides, lunges and has his body lead his hands. Reyes makes this work by not barring his front arm then launching at the pitch; he is impressively coordinated at mechanically pulling off a max effort swing for his age. Reyes would be better off in pro ball toning this down a bit and letting the ball travel deeper because as the pitchers start throwing harder, there’s less room for some of this mechanical noise.
There’s some similarities to Cubs prospect and 2013 July 2nd signee RF Eloy Jimenez, who signed for $2.8 million, but Reyes ran a 7.21 time in the 60 and is a below average runner that isn’t quite as gifted athletically or with the smoother contact swing like Jimenez. Reyes’ above average arm means he profiles in right field like Jimenez but he’ll probably get a lower bonus; at this point, it looks like he’ll be in the $2 million area.
While Reyes seems easier to get excited about than Javier, the track record of July 2nd prospects who can’t even play an up-the-middle position at age 14 or 15 isn’t encouraging. Scouts tend to opt for the up-the-middle player with a broader base of tools at this stage of development, but there’s still plenty of time that Reyes and Javier (or even Jimenez) could flip and it only takes one team to hand out bonuses that disagree with the industry consensus.
The best of a so-so group of pitchers that made the trip was RHP Luis Medina. He sat 89-91 and hit 94 mph in a short outing but one scout told me he saw Medina a few weeks before and he sat 93-95, hitting 96 mph. It obviously isn’t a super clean or polished delivery, but the frame has some projection, the arm works, he has some feel to spin an average or better curveball and the arm speed is elite. There predictably isn’t much of a changeup at this stage either, but Medina looks like a sure seven figure guy right now and there’s time for him to develop some starter traits before signing.
Other prospects in a deep DPL group that are in contention for a seven figure bonus: RF Juan Soto (smooth lefty cut and projectable frame with above average power potential), RF Robert Barreras (big kid at 6’3/190 with plus bat speed, raw power and arm strength to go with above average speed, but some work to do making contact), SS Onil Cruz (long lanky kid reminds me of Nick Gordon at the same age), C Daniel Santos (good athlete with chance to stick behind the plate, a plus arm, some feel to hit and a little pop), CF Jefry Ramos (above average bat speed and power potential to go with plus-plus timed speed, but still rough around the edges), 3B Welin Liriano (above average bat speed and raw power with a chance to be solid defensively at third) and SS Jeison Guzman (advanced defensive shortstop with average-ish tools but good contact ability and polish).
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.