Prior July 2nd Content
This is how I rank the top five players in this class based on my in-person evaluations and input from scouts, not my prediction of who will get the highest bonus. As covered in the July 2nd Basics, players aren't eligible to sign until they turn 16, which for two of the below players isn't until August. Look out for a July 2nd notebook coming soon to expound on why I ranked some of the players the way I did, what I think of the class as a whole and coverage of a number of team-based story lines. For an explanation the new bonus pools, see July 2nd Basics and to see the amounts each team has to spend click here
I should add that for almost every player listed below, I'll reference negotiations or deals done months ago, all of which are technically illegal by MLB rules. This is treated the same as college/high school players having agents--technically illegal but as long as you don't flaunt the rules, no one gets punished as MLB has outlawed an essential part of the process.
The tool grades below are on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 45 is below average, 50 is average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 70 is plus-plus and 80 is all-time great. They are written in a present/future notation and the present hit tool is a peer grade, measuring how well they hit currently in games amongst age/talent similar players.
1. Gleyber Torres, SS, Venezuela
5'11/185, R/R, July 2 Age: 16.55, Trainer/Agent: Ciro Barrios
Tool Breakdown: Hit: 60/60, Power: 45/50, Run: 50/50, Field: 50/55, Throw: 55/55
Scouting Report: Torres isn't the prototypical July 2nd shortstop, with a maxed-out frame and just average speed. That said, he's got a lot of present skills and has trains with Ciro Barrios, the most prolific talent producer in Venezuela. Torres has an above average arm and very good hands and actions, but his average foot speed limits his lateral quickness, which is why some scouts think he could fit better at second base long-term, with third base another possibility. That said, he'll go out as a shortstop after signing and I wouldn't underestimate Torres' ability to overachieve, with great instincts and feel for the game.
He also has a bat that stands out now, with a high leg kick for timing but a simple, direct, loose swing that lashes line drives to the gaps. Torres has some lift to his swing and you can project average raw power, or 15-18 homers annually in the big leagues at maturity. He hit well in the games I saw (despite being out front in both game swings in the above video) and scouts seem sold on his ability to hit with gap power and stick up the middle, but Torres' upside isn't the same as many previous top July 2nd prospects. If you'd like to know their names, many have already been released and the certainty Torres offers along with everyday player upside at a premium position is plenty. Since he doesn't have the highest upside in the class and clubs differ so greatly on 15/16 year old talent, Torres won't be getting the highest bonus in this class.
Torres' swing has some similarities to Derek Jeter and Torres is also comparable to the player that got one of the highest bonuses last year, another Venezuelan infielder, Blue Jays prospect Franklin Barreto. Barreto signed for $1.45 million and has similar skills and superior speed but also likely moves to second base and is only 5'9 (see my full Barreto report) One scout said Torres seemed less interested and was already "shutting it down" early in showcase season and speculates he had a deal done as early as last November. The Cubs have been mentioned as his most likely landing spot for awhile and they have over $4.5 million to spend, so this marriage seems natural.
Predicted Team/Bonus: Chicago Cubs, $1.8 million
Actual Team/Bonus: Chicago Cubs, $1.7 million
2. Rafael Devers, 3B, Dominican Republic
6'1/205, L/R, July 2 Age: 16.69, Trainer/Agent: Rudy Santin
Tool Breakdown: Hit: 55/55, Power: 45/50, Run: 45/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50/50
Scouting Report: I reported in March that Devers was a top target of the Red Sox and rumors are that he already had a deal in the $1.0-1.5 million range. This came on the heels of Devers showing well in a Perfect Game showcase in Ft. Myers (Boston's spring training home) in early January, then again in later January at the heavily scouted MLB Showcase in the Dominican Republic (video of this event included above). I wrote up a long-form report of Devers at the link above and I'll update and condense it below.
Devers is a confident left-handed bat most notable for his exaggerated leg kick as a timing mechanism. Most trainers wouldn't teach that to prospects as it's a turn off for teams when raw hitters that are still developing have higher maintenance swings but Devers is much closer to a finished product at the plate than any of his peers. He loads his hands in a good place to create power and bat speed without sacrificing contact. Devers has a wide base and loose handsy swing, showing bat control in game situations. Devers power is fringy right now but he can hit the ball with authority to all fields and his power already shows up in game situations. This type of power ages well and while he doesn't have physical projection, Devers is young enough that he'll add some good weight and drop some bad weight. Higher contact, all-fields power that comes at a young age can play up in game situations so solid average power can be expected, which translates to 15-20 bombs annually.
Devers ran a 7.08 in the 60 yard in the Dominican and a 7.00 at PG World, both in the average to slightly below range. He may clean up his body some but should be a 40 or 45 runner at maturity. Devers has a solid-average arm that's fine for third and his feet are quicker rather than fast, allowing him to play the hot corner with below average timed speed. He's got solid instincts and will need to work to keep flexible and lean enough to play third but has a good chance to figure that out. Devers is a little different than most top July 2nd prospects in that he lacks projection and has now hitting ability. Devers upside is as a solid everyday third baseman and there's risk with most of his value coming from the bat as a 15 year old but that's mitigated by his present ability. A .270-.280 batting average with 15-20 homers and average defense is what the team that signs him will be counting on.
Predicted Team/Bonus: Boston Red Sox, $1.4 million
Actual Team/Bonus: Unsigned and for unclear reasons since it was widely believed a deal with the Red Sox was done months ago.
3. Eloy Jimenez, RF, Dominican Republic
6'4/205, R/R, July 2 Age: 16.60, Trainer/Agent: Amauris Nina
Tool Breakdown: Hit: 45/50, Power: 50/55, Run: 50/45, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50/50
Scouting Report: Jimenez will likely get the biggest bonus of the class as the prototypical toosly, high-upside, long-limbed corner outfield with present power and athleticism. The reason I have him third is that this class of player is often overrated on July 2nd and ends up producing huge strikeout numbers in the low minors. When 15/16 year old players have limited current tools, the long-levered present power guys with physical projection seem to rise to the top as it's hard to ignore balls flying over the fence.
All that said, Jimenez is still a fine prospect. He ran a 6.72 in the 60 in January which is an above average to plus time but players in Latin countries are coached on how to post fast times and generally get the most out of the showcase culture. Jimenez's speed plays more to average during games, likely losing a step as he fills out. He's fine defensively and his arm is often average but, at this age, arm strength can vary event-to-event and some have put a 55 on his arm.
While Jimenez hasn't hit in games like many scouts hoped he would or his tools would suggest, he isn't a wild-hacking all-power guy. He actually has a bat path that's in the zone a long time with power created by bat speed and strength rather than a steep angle that sacrifices contact. Some clubs buy into his hit-ability due to private looks they get when Jimenez camps at the academies of interested teams. Jimenez's agent has represented multiple million dollar players in the past, including a very similar player two years ago, Royals prospect Elier Hernandez, who got a $3.0 million bonus. Nina has done a good job marketing Jimenez to the clubs that matter (read: have the money to afford him). Jimenez's power is a present 50 for me, with obvious projection to 55 or even 60.
There are some small mechanical things I'd change about the swing, but Jimenez has good looseness and feel to his swing in BP, so some maturity and small adjustments could unlock his potential. The Astros were mentioned early on Jimenez as scouts were likely assuming Houston would use their bonus pool muscle to get the consensus top player. It turns out that's what the Cubs, with the 2nd biggest pool appear to be doing, heavily tied to Jimenez for months, likely for the top bonus in the class.
Predicted Team/Bonus: Chicago Cubs, $2.8 million
Actual Team/Bonus: Unsigned, but rumors of $2.8 million deal with the Chicago Cubs are swirling and it seem inevitable
4. Micker Zapata, RF, Dominican Republic
6'3/225, R/R, July 2 Age: 16.81, Trainer/Agent: Abel Guerra
See this episode of my podcast to hear me interview Zapata in person after the showcase shown in the above video.
Tool Breakdown: Hit: 40/50, Power: 55/55, Run: 55/50, Field: 45/50, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: Zapata was born in St. Thomas, which is subject to the draft, but he moved to the Dominican Republic a few years ago to train for July 2nd. Zapata speaks perfect English, as you can hear in the above interview I had with him. He had the loudest batting practice of any player at the MLB Showcase, as you can hear from the applause in the video, launching many balls far out of the park to left field. In the second part of the video, he's taking BP in a private workout where a club specifically directed him to hit the ball to the opposite field, which he surprised the club with his ability to do. Zapata swung and missed a lot in games at the MLB Showcase and some clubs have issues with his ability to hit in games, common with July 2nd BP standouts.
Zapata has explosive hands and hips, outstanding all-around tools and shows some ability to make adjustments. He has a plus arm, above average foot speed and bat speed and you can project plus raw power, plenty to get him into seven figure consideration. Rumor is $1 million is the offer the Phillies made early in the process when scouting legend Pat Gillick came in to see Zapata. Zapata's price has risen since then, as he's made some adjustments to his swing, which gets uphill at times but is fluid and athletic, though more geared for power than Eloy Jimenez's swing. Jimenez is a little more of a pure hitter and has more projection while Zapata is more explosive but has more concerns about his ability to hit. Many teams were in the bidding for Zapata, with word the White Sox have locked him up, despite a late charge from the Indians.
Predicted Team/Bonus: Chicago White Sox, $1.6 million
Actual Team/Bonus: Chicago White Sox, $1.6 million
5. Leonardo Molina, CF, Dominican Republic
6'2/175, R/R, July 2 Age: 15.92 (Eligible to sign August 1st), Trainer/Agent: Decarte Corporan
Tool Breakdown: Hit: 55/55, Power: 45/45, Run: 65/65, Field: 50/55, Throw: 50/50
Scouting Report: Molina was more of a solid prospect when I scouted him in the Dominican in January but he's taken a step forward in the spring as he's grown more into his frame and skills. Molina was an average to above average runner when I saw him but, as it often happens with July 2nd players, he gained a step or two as his body has matured. He already had solid 45 gap-to-gap raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale in January with some projection left in his frame. That said, Molina has a direct bat path and more of a contact-type approach, so he won't be a huge home run hitter in games. Scouts rave about his performance in game situations this spring and the Yankees are the club that appears to have been following him most closely, with rumors a deal is already done. The video I took above was from a Dominican Prospect League showcase at the Yankees Dominican Academy in Boca Chica. Molina's speed, feel and improved arm give him a chance to be a solid defender in center and he profiles as a potential above average everyday player. As referenced above, he won't be eligible to sign until he turns 16 on August 1st.
Predicted Team/Bonus: New York Yankees, $1.5 million
Actual Team/Bonus: Unsigned, Eligible To Sign August 1st