For the third consecutive year, the Oakland A's handed out a significant bonus to an international amateur free agent on July 2nd. The A's announced three signings on July 2nd, including that of third-baseman Renato Nunez, who reportedly received a $2.2 million bonus. That bonus would be the second-largest ever handed out by the A's to international amateur free agent, following only that of Michael Ynoa ($4.25 million in 2008).
According to Oakland A's Coordinator of International Operations/Baseball Operations Analyst Dan Kantrovitz, who oversees the A's international scouting efforts, Nunez was the team's number one international target since the team started preparing for this year's July 2nd signing period.
"Needless to say, we are thrilled to be able to sign him," Kantrovitz said.
"Julio Franco and his team of scouts in Venezuela started the diligence process on him nearly three ago and since then, [A's Director of Player Personnel] Billy Owens and I have seen him multiple times."
The A's project Nunez, who was regarded by the team and by many around baseball as the top hitter in this year's international amateur class, as a middle of the order bat. Oakland had to fend off a number of other teams to sign Nunez. Kantrovitz credits the team's relationship with the 16-year-old as being the difference-maker in getting him to sign.
"We traveled to Venezuela early and often and got to know Renato and his family very well. In the end, I think our relationship with the family ended-up making the difference," Kantrovitz said.
Kantrovitz believes Mata could be a sleeper in the July 2nd class.
"It's not often that pitchability stands out in a young pitcher, but we have seen Anderson just carve-up hitters with fastball command, a 12-6 curveball that he can consistently throw for strikes and a change-up that bottoms out. He's got a repeatable delivery and good poise on the mound," Kantrovitz said.
In Torres, the A's see a pitcher who has a projectable frame who could profile as a starter down-the-road. His fastball already clocks in the high 80s and Kantrovitz says Torres has a "a body that suggests more development is still to come."
"This past year, he was also one of the top performers in his league in Caracas. We are optimistic on his projection," Kantrovitz said.
Past A's International Signees Starting To Make Impact
Since 2008, the A's have been increasingly more active in the international market, handing out numerous six- and seven-figure bonuses. Three of the team's recent international signings are starting to make their presence felt for the A's Dominican Summer League team.
The A's highest-profile July 2nd signing last season was shortstop Wilfredo Solano who signed for a seven-figure bonus. Solano is batting only .209 in 29 games, but he is showing remarkable patience for a 17-year-old in his first professional season. He has 25 walks and a .372 OBP. A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, who recently returned from a trip to the Dominican, says the walks are no fluke.
"Solano has a very good eye and plate discipline. We are trying to combine that with aggressiveness in his overall game," Lieppman said.
"[He's a] quick learner and [is] making good adjustments."
Lieppman said that Solano is a candidate to travel to the US for the A's Instructional League this fall.
Infielder Franklin Contreras signed with the team before the 2008 season, but he has struggled at the plate, hitting below .200 in 2008 and 2009 for the DSL A's. Contreras also battled injuries during that time. He has been a different hitter thus far this season. Over his first 10 games, Contreras is batting .333 with a homer, a double and five walks.
What makes this even more impressive is that Contreras is still not 100 percent. According to Lieppman, Contreras has been limited to hitting from the left-side only because of injury, but he is getting healthier. Contreras will spend the regular season in the Dominican, but Lieppman indicated that Contreras could also be invited to the US for the A's Instructional League camp.
First-baseman Michael Soto may also be on that US Instructional League invite list thanks to what is looking like a break-through season thus far. In 28 games for the DSL Athletics thus far, Soto has five homeruns in 28 games. According to Lieppman, Soto can play both corner infield positions and has a lot of raw power and soft hands defensively.