The San Diego Padres have been incredibly active during the new international signing period, signing 18 players (as of press time) since the new period started on July 2nd. Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon and Dominican shortstop Luis Almanzar have been the headliners of the new class but the Padres may have only just begun.
Ben Badler of Baseball America has worked tirelessly to scout these players and probably knows more about this class than anyone who isn’t a scout or general manager. He took a few minutes to chat with us about the Padres’ unprecedented international spending spree.
Before we start with the Padres, how did this international class compare to past groups?
Ben Badler: It’s kind of a tricky process to evaluate these players. Most of what you see with these guys is in private workouts. There is always a tendency to look ahead and try to project what these players will be. A lot of these kids can still get bigger and many haven’t played too much organized baseball. As a whole, there are definitely some players who could become legitimate players but evaluating these guys is much more difficult than evaluating high school players that enter the draft.
The Padres certainly lived up to expectations with the money they spent. What your thoughts on what they were able to accomplish?
Ben Badler: Their class was different than any other team. It was a pretty dramatic shift in philosophy for the club. They got a lot of quantity but also a lot of quality. They signed three of our Top-6 players and that was before the deal with Morejon became official. They are still looking at other players. It’s hard not to like what they have done initially.
There have been reports that most of the players have had agreements in place for months. How does that process work and do you ever see players sign with a different team in the 11th hour?
Ben Badler: Teams become very aggressive to reach oral agreements with players they like before July 2nd. They usually exchange numbers on what it will take to get a guy signed and then they just keep track of the player. Every so often a guy will fail a drug test or a physical. Sometimes another team swoops in and offers more money or the team backs out. Teams generally have a sense of who they want and try to strike quickly.
How would you rank the Padres signing class as a whole?
Ben Badler: The Padres ended up with a lot of quality as well as quantity. San Diego ended up with eight of Baseball America’s Top-50 players, including three of the top-six. They ended up with several guys who could be very good big leaguers and it was certainly something we have never seen San Diego too. I think they did a great job overall.
Luis Almanzar was the second-rated player in this class by Baseball America. What are your thoughts on him?
Ben Badler: Almanzar is an interesting guy. He is a bat-first player who actually played in the United States briefly. He enrolled in a high school in Florida called American Heritage High, which is one of the best high school programs in the country. He performed quite well there but moved back to the Dominican Republic after the season. He tracks pitches well and has good exit velocity off the bat. He doesn’t have the typical wiry frame of a guy who sticks at short but he getting quicker. He has a sharp eye and doesn’t swing and miss too much. I can see him developing power -- though he has a nice right-center approach. He has a build similar to Cubs shortstop Addison Russell and I can see him sticking at short.
Gabriel Arias is another talented shortstop the Padres signed. Is he a guy that can stick at the position?
Ben Badler: I believe he has the arm and the internal clock to stick at short. He’s 6’2 and could get bigger. I think he is most likely to slide over to third base. I have heard mixed notes from scouts -- a few absolutely believe he can play short, while others think he is better suited for third. He is not thickly built so I believe it’s possible.
Arias has really good swing mechanics and goes the other way to right-center with authority. I can see him developing hitting 15-20 home runs if everything comes together. His best tool is his plus arm that is strong and very accurate.
The Padres gave Adrian Morejon an $11 million bonus -- one of the largest ever for an amateur. Can he develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter?
Ben Badler: Morejon has an interesting profile. He dominated in the Cuban 15-and-under league. He threw a complete game in the 15U World Cup against the United States in the gold medal game. He has a clean, loose arm action. He was touching 91 mph with his fastball as a 15-year-old. He throws three pitches (fastball, curve, change) that all could be above-average. It’s hard to put a ceiling on a teenager but I could see him as a frontline starter.
Have you heard anything on when Jorge Ona might be cleared to sign and what can you tell us about him?
Ben Badler: I am not sure when he will be cleared but he is expected to sign with the Padres. He has a fairly traditional skill-set. I saw him in an 18-and-under tournament and he dominated. He is an average runner but has a compact, powerful swing. He has plus power and should be a guy who could hit 20 or more homers in a season. He’s 20, so he could start next season in High-A.
He projects a right fielder with good athleticism and a plus-arm. He has plus bat-speed as well. He is definitely an interesting player to watch.
When we go further down the list of guys the Padres signed, what other players impressed you the most?
Ben Badler: RHP Mitchell Miliano was ranked #48 on our list who signed with the Padres for $450,000. He has good arm action and a physical projection. He throws 92 mph at 16 and can really spin a breaking ball. I think he can definitely be a starter in the future.
Tirso Ornelas is a guy San Diego signed out of Mexico. He’s not going to stand out for his athleticism but he has always performed well in games. He has some length to his swing and doesn’t possess a lot of bat speed. He’s a guy that can go gap-to-gap but he will need to develop some pop because he will be limited defensively.
The Padres dipped into the Pacific Rim and signed Wen-Hua Sung, a pitcher from Taiwan. He is not a guy too many experts have talked about. What do you know about him?
Ben Badler: The signing of Sung is really a testament to the work that Padres general manager A.J. Preller and international scouting director Chris Kemp have done. Sung is 19 and has had some success pitching internationally. Every period there are only a few guys from the Pacific Rim and generally, clubs have to overpay to sign them.