Almaraz profiles international signings

Johnny Almaraz, the Braves' Director of Latin American Operations, gives an update on the international signings since July.

The buzz has already started. Scouts have now seen Braves' 16-year-old prospect Julio Teheran and came away impressed. His stint in the Florida Instructional League was one of the main storylines for the Braves this fall.

Teheran signed with the Braves back in July when teams were able to sign international players. The Columbian right-hander is 6'2" ½, 175 pounds and his stuff is tremendous. Teheran features a fastball in the 91-94 mph range and his changeup is an above-average pitch.

And in Fall Instructs, the stuff looked even better.

"The day I saw him he was 91-95," said Johnny Almaraz, the Braves' Director of Latin American Operations, who signed Teheran in July. "He touched it (95). He threw a couple of pitches at 95 and then settled in at 92-93. He's exciting."

Scouts from other teams also saw Teheran. One told Baseball America's Bill Ballew that Teheran was the most impressive pitcher in the Braves' camp. It's no surprise to Almaraz, who knew he had a special talent when Teheran signed in July.

"He's something you very rarely see with the quality of pitches, the poise, and his makeup," Almaraz explained. "These type pitchers are just few and far between. When he takes the stage and has that confidence, it's a pleasure to see."

There are a few things that set this young man apart from just any other pitching prospect at this age. Scouts rave about his poise for a 16-year-old. But it's his changeup that is getting a lot of attention.

"He's got a great changeup," Almaraz said. "Julio will be in the states next year."

But is this a kid that could even skip the Gulf Coast League and go straight to Danville in the Appalachian League? He is already drawing comparisons to Mariners' right-hander Felix Hernandez, who was so advanced as a 17-year-old in 2003 that he skipped the rookie level in Seattle's farm system and went to the short-season A club in Everett, Washington.

Hernandez is obviously a great young pitcher, and it looks like the Braves may have one themselves in Julio Teheran. Of course, with any young pitcher who is only 16, you have to wait and see a bit. But the early returns are very promising.

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Here's a look at the other international prospects signed by Almaraz since July 2nd:

Victor Cadette – SS – Dominican Republic – 6'0", 180 – 16 years old

Almaraz is really excited about Cadette, a kid he projects will probably be at 6'1", 190 when he finishes filling out. Cadette is a very good defensive player, but he can also hit. He's got a really good swing and he's very strong.

"We wanted to go after position players that could hit," Almaraz said. "There are so many kids that can field the ball. But I wanted to look at the other end of it and pursue guys that will have a chance to hit."


Felix Marte – SS/3B – Dominican Republic – 6'2", 175 – 16 years old

Marte is a little bit bigger than Cadette, which may force a move to third base in the future. Almaraz can see Marte getting to be 6'3" or even a bit taller. Plus, he's got a bit more power than Cadette at this point.

"He's got a chance to be a (Edgar) Renteria-type player with more power," Almaraz explained. "Both Marte and Cadette have a chance to hit for some type of power. But Marte is an above-average runner and he's got good offensive potential."

"We're focusing on kids who have a good combination of tools," Almaraz continued. "We don't want to say, ‘if he hits.' We want them to also be able to swing the bat."


Luis Contreras – OF – Venezuela – 6'0, 170 – 16 years old

This young kid is described by Almaraz as having ‘some polish to him.' Contreras has an average arm and is an average runner. Right now he's got gap-type power. Contreras is a very good defensive player, a true centerfielder. He's in the mold of being a potential Johnny Damon-type player, having a better arm in the outfield.


Erick Epifano – SS – Venezuela – 6'1", 155 – 17 years old

Defensively Epifano is very good right now, with good arm and a good reactions at short. He may grow into a 6'3" kid that could move to third base in a few years after he gets bigger physically. Right now Epifano has a good swing with gap power, but after the Braves get him into the weight room a bit he might develop even more power with his size.


Luis Guzman – C – Mexico – 6'2", 180 – 17 years old

A good defensive catcher with gap-type pop in his bat right now. The Braves will work with him to develop his offense. He's just a defensive catcher at this point.


Luis Martinez – LHP – Mexico – 6'2", 165 – 16 years old

The Braves are going to put some weight on Martinez, who has a really loose arm. Martinez has good secondary pitches, a curve and changeup. His fastball is in the 84-86 mph range right now but should get much better as he matures.

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Almaraz is already working on the players that will be available to sign next July. His first group signed was extremely talented, which helped new General Manager Frank Wren make the easy call of signing Almaraz to a two-year contract extension through the 2009 season.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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