For the first time in three years, the Los Angeles Dodgers were free to spend like any other team in the international free agent marketplace. After blowing past their bonus pool in historic fashion during the 2015-16 international signing period, the Dodgers were not able to sign any player for more than $300,000 during both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 periods.
In November 2015, the Dodgers hired Ismael Cruz to be their new vice president of international scouting, after firing Bob Engle and his understudy Patrick Guerrero, in addition to letting go of other employees who were closely associated with the pair.
Rumors have circulated about the Dodgers’ potential illegal dealings in Latin America with Cuban players, and one might read between the lines and think Engle and Guerrero may have been involved. Regardless, Cruz comes with a highly touted reputation after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays, where he signed Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in his last class before leaving for L.A.
With many of the top prospects committing to sign contracts two to three years before they’re actually eligible, the 2018-19 period would be Cruz’s first chance to grab top-of-the-class players for the Dodgers, and he delivered with one of the top prospects in the class, along with some other well regarded prospects.
Diego Cartaya: He was a consensus top three prospect across the three major sites that rank international free agents (Baseball America, FanGraphs, MLB.com), and for good reason. Cartaya a physically mature and technically advanced catcher with solid all around tools.
He’s above average in every facet of the game defensively, and he’s received good marks on his receiving ability, important both in the game today and to the Dodgers specifically. Offensively, he’s displayed plus contact skills and a great approach at the plate, and he has the frame to add more power to his swing.
Cartaya has already bypassed the Dominican Summer League, and has started playing in the Arizona League in his first professional season, a feat reserved only for the most touted of international prospects. Cartaya adds to an already impressive stock catching of prospects for the Dodgers, one that is head and shoulders above any other team.
Jerming Rosario: Although he wasn’t as highly touted as Cartaya, Rosario was ranked among the top thirty international prospects by all three major sites, and received the second biggest bonus given out by the team, at $650,000.
Rosario’s stock rose as July second neared, and he’s displayed starter traits in a frame that’s projectable but not huge (6’1, 175 lbs.). His fastball has topped out at 93 mph, and he’s shown good feel for a changeup, which is the better of his two off-speed pitches, though his curveball could develop well down the line.
Rosario pitched well so far in the DSL, and could even see a promotion to the AZL later in the year, but will almost certainly be stateside in 2020 if not. Rosario is also younger than many of the other players in his class, as he turned 16 just two months before last July 2, and is eight months younger than Cartaya.
Alex De Jesus: The third of the big prospects the Dodgers signed last July, has broken out in a huge way already this year. When he was signed, most scouts believed he’d head straight to third base and remain there on his way up the Minor League ladder.
But instead, De Jesus has gotten more athletic, and he’s played mostly shortstop and second base so far as a pro, and he’s looked good enough that he might have a shot at sticking at one of those positions in the future.
Which, combined with his bat and power projection, makes him a guy to keep a hard eye on going forward. Like Cartaya, De Jesus has already played his way out of the Dominican and into the AZL, though unlike Cartaya, he wasn’t expected to be stateside this quickly. De Jesus, like Rosario, is also young for his class, as he just turned 17 in March.
Osvanni Gutierrez: He wasn’t signed on July 2, but the Cuban righty’s $600,000 signing bonus was the third biggest one the Dodgers gave out during the period. Gutierrez is the same height as Rosario at 6’1, and has also been up to 93 mph with his fastball.
Also similar to Rosario, Gutierrez’s best off-speed pitch is his changeup, though per Baseball America’s Ben Badler, he reportedly throws “an array” of them. Gutierrez is a little older, as he just turned 18, and he should see some time in Arizona either at the end of this season or start there in 2020.
Jorge Gonzalez: The Dodgers have had some success with converted position players, and they hope to do the same with Gonzalez, who signed for $390,000. He is already a gigantic 6’5, 205 lbs., and doesn’t even turn 17 until the end of August.
He’s already touched 95 mph with his fastball, but with secondary stuff largely undeveloped, he’ll be a nice project for the Dodgers’ development team to work with in the coming years. Gonzalez is currently in the DSL and may be there for the next year or two.
Hyun-il Choi: The Dodgers ventured into the Asian market a couple times during the last signing period, with their most expensive signing being the Korean righty. Choi, a 19-year-old, started this season in the AZL and has looked impressive in two of his three starts thus far.
He’s got some size at 6’2, 200 lbs., and has topped out at 94 mph with his fastball. He’s also got a nice changeup, which is his best off-speed pitch right now. Choi was reportedly a candidate to go first overall in the Korean League’s draft, which he bypassed to sign directly with the Dodgers. The Dodgers signed him for $300,000.
Joel Ibarra: Many believed he had more promise on the mound, but the Dodgers preferred Ibarra as a hitter, and signed him out of Mexico as a shortstop for $300,000 last winter.
Given his pitching ability, Ibarra has a strong arm from shortstop and is good overall defensively. Offensively, he takes solid at-bats, but is more of a contact over power profile right now.
If hitting doesn’t work out, he still could try to make it work on the mound, as he touched 92 mph as just a 16 year old. Ibarra is currently in the DSL, where he should stay the whole year, and will turn 17 in July.
Huei-Sheng Lin: The Dodgers went to the Asian market again by signing Lin out of Taiwan for a bonus that was rumored to be somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000. Lin, at 6’2 and 198 lbs., is similar in stature to Choi, and has been up to 95 mph with his fastball.
He also features a forkball, slider and curveball as part of his repertoire. The 20 year old Lin has already made a couple appearances in the AZL, and looks to stay there for the rest of this season.
Jose Ramos: He was only signed for $30,000 but that figure may prove to be a bargain in the future. The Panamanian outfielder isn’t big at just 5’11, but is pretty toolsy and plays a really good centerfield.
Scouts like Ramos’ bat-to-ball ability, and he’s performed well in a small sample size in the DSL so far. Ramos is a little older than most of the top Latin American free agents, as he turned 18 in January, so he might get to Arizona quicker than more touted guys like Ibarra or Gonzalez.
Miguel Droz: The Venezuelan shortstop didn’t have a bonus figure reported, but received good marks on his defensive ability. He is in the Dominican but has yet to play a game, and turns 18 in October.
Marlon Cairo: He has been raking in the DSL, but the Cuban outfielder is 23, so it’d be a bad sign if he didn’t. There’ve been scarce reports on him, but he’s someone to keep an eye on if and when he makes it to Arizona.
Yujo Kitagata: A former Japanese first-round pick who can touch 99 mph but major control issues had him pitching in Japanese independent ball at age 25 before the Dodgers signed him in May. Kitagata hasn’t yet been assigned to an affiliate, and his bonus has not been reported.
Ender Avendano: Awiry, 5’8 shortstop, and has done well so far in the DSL in a small sample size, with more walks than strikeouts. Avendano turned 17 in March and was one of the first players the Dodgers signed on last July. Though, because he is Venezuelan, his signing bonus was not reported.
Heisell Baro: He the youngest Cuban player the Dodgers signed, as he turned 17 in February. Baro is 6’1, 185 lbs., and comes from the Pinar del Rio province in Cuba, which is known for producing talented pitching. His signing bonus was also not reported.
Cheng Hao-Chun: Lastly, it’s been recently reported the Dodgers are signing another Taiwanese pitcher, for $200,000, but the deal was not made official before this signing period closed, so it’s possible he will be signing in the 2019-20 period. Cheng is 6’2, 196 lbs., has reportedly topped out at 95 mph and shows solid feel to spin a breaking ball.
In the first international free agent class where Cruz had no restraints, he delivered a huge infusion of talent into the Dodgers’ system, with some of that talent already reaching the United States.
The early reviews on Cartaya have him as good as advertised, and De Jesus looks like a potential steal, even at $500,000. The Dodgers are also set up well for the 2019-20 international signing period that begins Tuesday, July 2.
They’re expected to sign outfielder Luis Rodriguez, considered one of the five best players in the class, as well as Kristian Cardozo, one of the best pitchers in the class, and Yeiner Fernandez, one of the top catchers in the class.
All three are from Venezuela, where Cruz has clearly made inroads after signing Cartaya out of the country last year. They’re also expected to sign slick fielding shortstop Darol Garcia out of the Dominican Republic.
Until there’s an international draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cruz keep delivering classes like last year’s. Additionally, the Dodgers have already started venturing into Asia, a marketplace where amateurs have not typically been scouting or recruited as heavily as Latin America, though that is beginning to change.
The Dodgers are well known in Asia due to the many high profile Asian players who’ve played for the team, and this surely can’t hurt either.
Overall, it’s hard to not look at this first class for Cruz and not be impressed. As is the case in many areas of the game today, the rich have gotten richer, and it doesn’t look likely to change soon.