Teams are starting to line up prospective target players now that the high level scouts have concluded their pre-professional season rounds. The spending pools make it even easier to know what you can and can't do along with your competition. While you can trade for a little more cap space, there won't be a last-ditch effort to convince your owner to go above the budget for a rare talent. So, with the top of the market clearer now than it was in January, some price tags and team-specific rumors are started to circulate. At this point every year there are a few deals already done (though that's technically illegal, like amateur players having agents or breaking the speed limit) and while I haven't heard anything that final, there are some players and connections to file away for July 2nd.
- The biggest news is related to Dominican SS Obispo Aybar. After the MLB showcase in January, I dubbed him the top player in the class, though it was atop a closely bunched group. I ranked him that high due to his precocious speed (6.53 in the 60: 65 or 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale), Andrelton Simmons comparisons and his age (February 26th, or nearly 6 months younger than most of the top players). Soon after I got back to America I heard rumors related to his age/identity but wasn't able to nail down anything official. This week, I got a little better idea of what's going on.
A source passes along that MLB is still investigating Aybar, so the clubs haven't gotten official notification either way. Regardless of the lack of official confirmation, clubs believe Aybar is 18 or 19 and have been receiving information to support this in the past few weeks. This obviously changes my evaluation of Aybar, as his age was not only an excuse for some rawness to his game (particularly his hitting mechanics), but was considered an advantage back in January. A common truism in international scouting is that 15 or 16 year old players simply aren't physically developed enough to run sub-6.5 or 6.6 60's and many teams won't sign a player on July 2nd claiming to be 16 if he runs such a time.
So, there had been some doubt about Aybar's age when he ran a 6.53 in January, but the time wasn't so elite that it was impossible his birthday was valid. Now he's being compared to American high school shortstops and still stacks up well. I'll put up some video and a full report on Aybar later this week for subscribers, but the thought amongst scouts is he should still fetch a big bonus, perhaps as high as $1 million.
- Another big-time prospect with some rumors swirling, but for very different reasons, is Dominican 3B Rafael Devers. Devers is well known in the scouting community after attending the Perfect Game World Showcase in Fort Myers where he faced high school seniors in early January before standing out at the MLB Showcase in mid-January in the Dominican Republic. While nothing is official or confirmed, rumors are swirling that the Red Sox have already zeroed in on Devers for a bonus over $1 million. Devers lacks projection but has an advanced lefty bat that scouts widely believe is the best in the class. He has some power to his pull side and looks like he'll be able to stick at third base. I'll post video and a full report on Devers shortly.
- St. Thomas born but Dominican trained for the past few years is the unusual path right fielder Micker Zapata took to the January showcase where he announced himself as one of the top players in the class. He put on a show in batting practice, hitting many balls out to left field and showed a 6'3, 225-pound muscular, projectable frame with above average speed and a plus arm. He had some trouble making contact in the game but that hasn't slowed down his marketability, as the Phillies are rumored to have offered him $1 million before the showcase with Seattle, Minnesota and Cleveland also very interested.
A report and video on Zapata will also go up this week but he will also be a guest on this week's July 2nd-centric podcast as he speaks perfect English from his upbringing in St. Thomas. He would've been eligible for the draft as a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands had he not moved to the Dominican when he did. Zapata will have an additional intangible marketing ability for the team that signs him as he'd have no problem running his own press conference after signing, which no other July 2nd player that I'm aware of has been able to do.
- Some of the wilder rumors have been tied to Dominican right fielder Eloy Jimenez. Jimenez showed some similar tools to Zapata with a long 6'4, 200 pound frame, plus speed, a right field arm and big raw power to his pull side but hit better in game situations than Zapata. Jimenez has been rumored to be in line for a bonus that would likely top the class, ranging from $2.5 million to $3.0 million, most often tied to Houston. Obviously only a few teams could even talk about offering that much and Jimenez seems to have captured the imagination of scouts as the embodiment of Houston's spending advantage.
- Venezuelan SS Gleyber Torres doesn't offer a ton of projection but has a lot of smoothness and now skills to propel him into the top group of talents in the class. The rumor circulating about Torres is to the Cubs for over $2 million.
- Yeltsin Gudino, another Venezuelan shortstop who is more of a now-feel guy with a lot of smoothness that could really come on as he adds some weight to his 6'0, 155-pound frame. Gudino is rumored to be in line for over $1 million with Oakland and Seattle mentioned most often.
- Dominican SS Franly Mallen has more present tools than Gudino and has caught the attention of a number of team with the rumor being that a couple teams have already offered him a bonus in the high six figures.
- Dominican righties Mayky Perez and Marcos Diplan are the top two arms this year but do it very differently. Perez is 6'5, 205 pounds and shows three average or better pitches with a physical, projectable frame but scouts worry about his athleticism to repeat his delivery. Diplan has some similarities to Juan Cruz with a skinny 6'0, 160-pound frame and a lively 90-94 fastball with an above average breaking ball but his command, projection and changeup have many scouts feeling his ultimate home is in the bullpen.