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June 30, 2015

Some Projection Left

The Top J2 Prospects

by Christopher Crawford

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Over the past few years, the international free agent market has become more and more popular, thanks in large part to a little known invention called the internet that’s given easier access to players who were thousands of miles away. It’s an imperfect process—all scouting is—but we’re getting more and more information, and it’s made the July 2nd process a lot more fun to follow.

And while there’s much more volatility in these classes than the MLB Draft offers, the talent is always intriguing, and the 2015 edition has a chance to go down as one of the more talented groups we’ve seen.

“It’s a good group,” an NL West international director told me. “There’s more quality bats in this year’s group than 2013 and 2014 had combined, and it’s especially loaded up the middle. The one issue I have is the lack of upper-echelon pitching, but we always find diamonds in the rough there. Hitting is much more difficult, and this could be a special group.

After watching some video and talking to some international scouts and advisors, here’s a look at the top 12 international prospects likely to sign during the J2 period—broken down by group—with some potential landing spots for those players as well.

Group One: Potential All-Stars

1. Eddy Martinez, CF, Cuba
Scouts are split as to whether Martinez or Yadier Alvarez belongs in this top spot, but as the only true “five-tool” player eligible to sign in this period, Martinez gets the nod.

At the plate, Martinez already shows solid to above-average power from the right side, and with a projectable body there’s a great chance that power develops into plus. He’s a smart hitter who has shown the ability to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field, and while you shouldn’t expect the right-handed hitter to compete for batting titles, there’s reason to believe he can be a .270 to .280 hitter who draws his share of walks as his approach improves. He’s a plus-plus runner and one who could steal 30 to 40 bases a year.

Martinez is impressive with the bat, but where he could become a star is with the glove. He needs to improve his routes—like most young outfielders who are relatively new to center—but that outstanding speed along with plus instincts and a 60 throwing arm give him a chance to be a plus defender, maybe even plus-plus.

It’s all very raw, but Martinez has star potential, with above-average starting center fielder a more realistic possibility.

Possible landing spots: Dodgers, Giants, Yankees

2. Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Cuba
Alvarez doesn’t offer the same kind of upside as his fellow countryman Martinez, but there’s plenty of ceiling here, and he might have a higher floor.

Alvarez’s arm strength is impressive, and the Matanzas native has already touched 98 mph with his fastball, sitting more comfortably in the 91-94 range. He’ also show two above-average secondary offerings in his change and slider, with the slider flashing plus with hard tilt and the change offering deception from arm speed and some late fade.

The issues right now with Alvarez are consistency—again, to be expected from a player that just turned 19 in March—and command. He repeats his delivery well though, and some added strength along with some shortening of the arm path from a high three-quarters arm slot should lead to a more consistent release point. The upside is a top-of-the rotation starter who will miss plenty of bats, with closer also a possibility if the command doesn’t take the necessary steps forward.

Possible landing spots: Dodgers

Group Two: Above-Average Regulars

3. Lucius Fox, SS, Bahamas
Fox is not just one of the most intriguing talents eligible to sign this July, but also one of the most interesting stories. Fox played high school baseball at American Heritage and was considered a late first-round talent for the 2015 draft before reclassifying as an international prospect this spring; and while the decision was a bit of a risk, it likely made the infielder a substantial raise in terms of bonus money.

At the plate, Fox’s swing is geared for contact from both sides of the plate, and his excellent hand-eye coordination and strong wrists give him the ability to shoot the ball to all parts of the field. His small frame and lack of leverage means he will never put up big power totals, but he’s strong enough to put the ball into the gaps, and his plus-plus speed makes everything hit into said gap a chance for a double or triple.

Where Fox really impresses however is with the glove, as Fox is as natural a shortstop as you’ll see for someone who turns 18 on July 2nd. The arm strength is above average, and it plays up because Fox has excellent footwork that allows him to get plenty of zip on his throws, and his athleticism allows him to make plays to his left and right. Assuming he doesn’t add significant weight, he’s a lock to stay up the middle, and shortstop is the most likely landing spot.

Possible landing spots: Dodgers, Giants, Padres

4. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr; OF, Dominican Republic
Yep, you’re old. Vlad, Jr. doesn’t have the same kind of talent that his dad—few do—but there’s certainly enough here to make him one of the best bats in this year’s group.

Guerrero’s carrying tool is his power, and the right-handed hitting outfielder has plenty of it thanks to plus bat speed, a strong lower half, and a swing that has plenty of natural loft. He has more patience than the senior Guerrero, but he also gets rave review for his “bad-ball” hitting skills, and he’ll use the entire field.

Where Vlad, Jr. differs from dad is the defensive profile. He’s a poor athlete, and the arm strength is below average, meaning he’ll have to play left field, and he won’t win any Fielding Bible Awards there, either. Still, the bat could play wherever, and if there’s anyone in this class who can hit .300 with 30 homers in a season, it’s Guerrero.

Possible landing spots: Blue Jays

Group Three: Potential Regulars

5. Seuly Matias, OF, Dominican Republic
If you’re a fan of teenage hitters with advanced skillsets who still offer projection, than Matias is your guy. The Dominican outfielder already shows above-average power from the right side, and possesses some of the strongest wrists you’ll see. The hit tool isn’t quite as advanced as the power tool as he’s still learning how to pick up spin, though the scouts I’ve spoken with say he’s improved there considerably, and an average hit tool isn’t out of the question. He’s a competent corner outfielder with an arm that flashes plus-plus, though he doesn’t have the speed to project as a center fielder. The ceiling doesn’t match the names above, but the floor is right there with Guerrero and Martinez, making him one of the more underrated prospects in the 2015 class.

Possible landing spots: Royals

6. Wander Javier, SS, Dominican Republic
Javier might be the most “controversial” prospect eligible to sign July 2nd, with more than one scout I spoke with believing he was the best all-around player in the class, and a few believing he didn’t belong in the top 10.

At the plate, Javier has plus bat speed and when he makes contact the ball explodes off of the bat, but there are serious balance issues here, and the length of his swing adds a good deal of swing-and-miss. He’s also less likely to stick at shortstop than Fox, though he does have a chance to stay there thanks to a strong throwing arm and above-average athleticism. There’s a lot of risk here, but there’s also a chance for three 60 tools when everything is said and done.

Possible landing spots: Twins

7. Starling Heredia, OF, Dominican Republic
Consistency is an issue for most teenagers, but Heredia’s inconsistency—particularly in-game—has driven scouts crazy for the past year.

When he’s at his best, Heredia will show plus power from the right side, and his plus bat speed along with good bat-to-barrel skills give him a chance to have two 60 tools offensively. Unfortunately, those same tools do not show up against live competition, as the 16-year-old Heredia gets extremely pull-happy and tries to yank every pitch out of the ballpark. He’s a hard worker with average speed and a plus arm, so there’s reason to believe he can be an above-average outfielder in right, and a team could try him at center.

Possible landing spots: Dodgers

8. Derian Cruz, SS/OF, Dominican Republic
All of the players listed here are extremely raw—expecting anyone but those top two names to contribute before the decade is over is asking too much—but Cruz has the most work to be done of any name we’ve listed. He’s a switch-hitter, but the swing from the left side is a bit of a mess, and there’s almost no leverage in his swing from either side of the plate. He also possesses a below-average throwing arm, so there’s a strong chance he’ll have to move off short.

What Cruz lacks in polish, he makes up for in athleticism. He’s already a plus-plus runner, and as he gets stronger there’s reason to believe he’ll possess 80 speed. That athleticism gives him a chance to be a leadoff hitter—especially once he starts receiving day-to-day instruction—but it’ll be years before we see him make his big-league debut.

Possible landing spot: Braves, Dodgers

9. Jhailyn Ortiz, OF/1B, Dominican Republic
Ortiz is the opposite of Cruz in nearly every way, other than the fact that they’re both baseball players and about to be given a lot of money to play a really fun game.

Ortiz is massive—listed at 260 pounds—and that frame, along with his ability to transfer that weight, gives him the ability to hit tape-measure shots to all parts of the field. The concerns come from whether or not he can hit for average, as Ortiz is extremely aggressive with a long enough swing to project high strikeout totals.

Despite his weight, Ortiz does have a chance to play in the outfield—and his throwing arm is plus—but the lack of speed makes first base more likely. The power plays there, but he’ll have to shorten the stroke to hit enough to play every day at the not-so-hot corner.

Possible landing spot: Phillies

Group Four: The 45 Player

10. Andres Gimenez, SS, Venezuela
More than one talent evaluator I spoke with compared Gimenez to Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, as the Venezuelan infielder isn’t without upside but sometimes gets underrated because of how easy he makes things look. The left-handed hitting shortstop has a smooth, balanced swing from the left side, and his advanced feel for hitting gives him a chance for a plus hit tool. He doesn’t have great speed, so a loss of athleticism could see him move to second base. Because he’s so “heady” and has such solid hands, he’s got a great chance to play shortstop for at least the medium term, and the bat might play at second base as a worst-case-scenario.

Possible landing spot: Mets

11. Yonathan Perlaza,SS, Venezuela
Perlaza is very similar in skillset to Gimenez, with slightly higher upside but not quite the floor of the name above. The switch-hitting shortstop has a line-drive swing with enough strength to project fringe-average power from both sides, though expecting more than 10-12 homers is a fool’s errand. He’s a better athlete than Gimenez with a stronger throwing arm, but he doesn’t have his hands or instincts; and because he’s so small (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) second base is a very realistic possibility. If he can stay at shortstop he’s a starter, but super utility infielder is a more realistic role.

Possible landing spot: Cubs

12. Gilberto Celestino, OF, Dominican Republic
Like the names above, Celestino gets rave reviews for his ability to play the game, but isn’t without upside, either. He’s one of the best tournament performers in the group, and despite being only a solid-average runner he has a chance to stick at center field because of his ability to track the ball and flair for the dramatic. There’s no plus tool here, but there’s a great chance for four 5s, with power the only tool that projects as below average at this point.

Possible landing spot: Astros

Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Internation Free Agency

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