Cardinals Latin American Bonus Babies

A point-in-time review of the biggest names from the St. Louis Cardinals' Latin American signings since 2004. Eduardo Sanchez is the first to have reached the majors.

One of the first and most important challenges given to St. Louis Cardinals Vice President Jeff Luhnow by ownership when he was hired in the fall of 2004 was to expand the organization's initiatives to develop home-grown talent in Latin America.

Carlos Martinez received $1.5 million
Signing and developing teenagers takes time and patience – one reason organizations are allowed up to four summers of overseas play before requiring their signees to move to US-based leagues or become free agents.

This work that follows not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of the take from the Cardinals' international program, but instead a view of how the biggest signings in terms of money invested during that time have fared.

Seven players were to receive bonuses of at least $450,000 during this time. Two contracts were voided before bonuses were paid. The other five are still in the system, having received just over $4 million in total.

They are listed below in bonus amount order, with their home country, position, date signed, bonus, birth date, current age and Cardinals status noted.

Name Ctry Pos Sign Bonus DOB Age Status
Wagner Mateo DR OF Jul-09 $3.1M 3/30/1993 17 voided
Carlos Martinez DR P May-10 $1.5M 9/21/1991 19 active
Roberto De La Cruz DR 3B Jul-08 $1.1M 11/10/1991 19 active
Santo Franco DR P Jul-08 $570K 11/28/1991+ ? voided
Cesar Valera VZ SS Nov-08 $500K 3/8/1992 19 active
Ryde Rodriguez CU OF Jul-07 $460K 2/2/1988 23 active
Amauris Capellan DR OF Nov-09 $450K 9/30/1992 18 active
Five players total $4.01M active

To help put this into context, the organization committed approximately $6.7 million in signing bonuses for its entire 2010 June draft class, headed by Zack Cox and his $2 million up-front payment. Of course, these are initial costs only and do not include later development and contractual costs.

Even before the above seven international players were announced and bonus amounts began to appreciate across the game, the Cardinals added four players who have since progressed to the cusp of the majors.

In December 2004, the Cardinals signed Venezuelan second baseman Jose Martinez and the next month, inked Colombian shortstop Donovan Solano to his first professional contract.

Despite now being a six-year veteran of the system, Solano turned 23 years of age in December. He actually debuted in the Gulf Coast League, having never played regular-season ball overseas. Solano first reached Triple-A Memphis in 2009, and while he has a solid and versatile glove, his powerless bat may hold him back.

Martinez was number eight on our Cardinals top prospect list heading into the 2008 season, but dealt with a very difficult family tragedy and several serious injuries, losing almost all of the last two seasons in the process. Now 25, he was trying to restart his career with Double-A Springfield, but the Cardinals released Martinez last month.

Two prominent relievers were added during this time period. Eduardo Sanchez was signed out of Venezuela in December 2005 and Dominican Francisco Samuel committed to the Cardinals the next June.

Both finished with Memphis last season and Sanchez remained in major league camp until the final cut day this spring. With a strong MLB debut this past week, Sanchez looks to have a nice big league career ahead. Samuel is currently out for an extended period due to a lat injury and upon his return, needs to find consistency to progress.

Name Ctry Pos Sign Team
Jose Martinez VZ 2B Dec-04 Released 3/24
Donovan Solano CO SS Jan-05 Memphis
Eduardo Sanchez VZ P Dec-05 St. Louis
Francisco Samuel DR P Jun-06 Memphis DL

Ryde Rodriguez
Any player that leaves Cuba for freedom attracts considerable attention. Such was the case with powerfully-built Ryde Rodriguez, officially signed in July 2007. Older than the other big-bonused players, now 23, the outfielder has managed a career OPS of .701 and is still in A-ball. Rodriguez' hoped-for power has yet to develop.

Though the July 2nd signing of third baseman Roberto De La Cruz for what was then a record $1.1 million attracted all the ink in 2008, right-handed pitcher Santo Franco was set to receive $570,000 before his age was found to have been falsified. As far as I know, Franco did not re-sign after his mandatory one-year suspension.

De La Cruz was the co-leader in home runs in the Gulf Coast League in his second season there in 2010, but has yet to show any consistency with the bat. His defense is said to still need work as well.

Venezuelan shortstop Cesar Valera inked a deal with the Cardinals that November for half a million dollars. Like De La Cruz, he debuted in the USA, but in his second year, Valera was assigned to Johnson City. There, he struggled offensively.

Both he and De La Cruz need to learn more plate discipline as their respective strikeout to walk ratios indicate. There is time as each will play this season at 19 years of age.

Amauris Capellan
The record-breaking $3.1 million deal with Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo was announced in July 2009, but reversed less than 60 days later. The youngster was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition. Nine months later, Mateo signed with Arizona for one-sixth his voided Cardinals bonus amount.

In November, the Cardinals spent $450,000 on another outfielder from Mateo's country, Amauris Capellan. Playing at the age of 17 in his initial season in 2010, Capellan was assigned to the Dominican Summer League. The man compared physically to Raul Mondesi managed an anemic .148 average. Further, Capellan slugged just .170 last summer, though he showed the ability to draw a walk.

Not signed until May, Carlos Martinez, formerly known as Carlos Matias, was already 18. Though his skills were too advanced for the DSL, his US visa had not yet been approved due to identity questions that led to an earlier aborted signing with Boston and a one-year suspension.

Already our fifth-ranked prospect in the entire system despite having just reached the USA, it seems only a matter of time until Martinez advances past the other Latin American bonus babies on this list. He is currently is in Extended Spring Training to continue his acclimation to everything in the USA. The new six-man rotation with Class A Quad Cities remains a later possibility.

Career results for these players (through 2010)

Rodriguez PB 3 967 10 133 47 195 0.278 0.321 0.380
De La Cruz GCL 2 361 7 38 17 109 0.228 0.274 0.348
Valera JC 2 423 1 34 27 113 0.228 0.293 0.283
Capellan DSL 1 179 0 11 31 33 0.148 0.326 0.170
Name 2010 Yrs W L ERA IP BB K WHIP
Martinez DSL 1 3 2 0.76 59 14 78 0.712

Overall, it is still too early to pass judgment on this group as a whole, but Martinez alone could make it all worthwhile.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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