International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays
Top signing: 3B Joseph Reyes, Dominican Republic, $300,000.
Total players signed: 53.
To sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2015, the Blue Jays went over their 2015-16 bonus pool. Exceeding your bonus pool by more than 15 percent puts a team in the penalty box for two years of being unable to sign anyone subject to the pools for more than $300,000. However, Blue Jays went over their pool by a tick under 15 percent, putting them in the 10-15 percent pool overage range to trigger a one-year penalty instead of two. If Guerrero reaches his potential, that should be worth the penalty, as he’s already the organization’s best prospect and the No. 20 prospect in baseball. The penalty also didn’t prevent them from signing 23-year-old Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel, who was exempt from the bonus pools and got a seven-year, $22 million major league contract.
During their penalty year of being able to max out at $300,000 per player, the Blue Jays gave $300,000 to Joseph Reyes, a 6-foot-3 Dominican third baseman who also spent time living in New York. He’s a lefthanded hitter with a sweet swing that’s quick and fluid. He pairs it with good discipline, maintaining a patient approach to draw plenty of walks. He doesn’t consistently drive the ball in the air yet, showing mostly gap power in games right now but with the physicality to become a power hitter in the future. Reyes has a strong arm, but hitting comes more naturally to him than fielding. He’s at third base now and has a chance to stick there, though he could end up moving to the outfield. The Blue Jays also gave $300,000 on July 2 to 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Hugo Cardona.
A lean and wiry 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, Cardona is a toolsy, quick-twitch athlete with plus speed and a strong arm to stay at shortstop. He knows how to apply his speed on the basepaths and should be a high stolen base threat. Cardona is a solid contact hitter from the right side of the plate, with mostly singles and occasional doubles power now, so getting stronger will be key for his offensive development. Jeison Contreras is a 17-year-old Dominican righthander with a chance to have a huge fastball, with similarities to former Blue Jays signing Miguel Castro, now with the Rockies. Contreras, who signed with the Blue Jays for $175,000 in January, is tall and lean (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) with loose, long arm action and a fastball that’s 88-93 mph right now. Given his physical projection and relatively easy delivery, he could be reaching the upper-90s once he’s filled out. He shows feel for a changeup that’s further along than his breaking ball right now. Contreras trained with Christian Batista, known as “Niche.”
Jolbert Concepcion is an 18-year-old Dominican righthander the Blue Jays signed for $150,000 in August. He has a huge, physical frame (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and an 88-92 mph fastball, but his best pitch is his tight-spinning curveball. He’s athletic for his size and has good body control of his long levers, creating deception against hitters with a high front side. Another Dominican righthander with a large frame, Roither Hernandez, signed for $150,000 in July. Hernandez, 19, is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with great arm speed and a plus fastball, sitting at 90-95 mph and touching 96-97. As his velocity has increased, he’s still learning to corral his fastball in the strike zone. He threw a slower, slurvy slider in the high-70s when he’s signed, but he’s modified the way he’s thrown the pitch to become a power slider in the mid-to-upper 80s.
For $110,000, the Blue Jays in July signed Dominican shortstop Kenny Mauricio, whose best tool is his bat. Mauricio has a small, compact build (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) with a nice lefthanded stroke. He doesn’t swing and miss much, making a lot of contact with gap power. He has average speed and is a smart baserunner who knows how to pick his spots stealing bases. Mauricio is a solid fielder at shortstop, though his range and body type might eventually lead him to second base. Venezuelan lefthander Nicolas Medina signed for $100,000 on July 2 out of Carlos Guillen’s academy. He has a smaller frame (5-foot-10, 160 pounds), a good delivery and gets a surprisingly high rate of empty swings on his 84-88 mph fastball. He commands his fastball well and has plenty of deception, making it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Medina complements his fastball with a slow curveball that has good spin.
Rafael Lantigua, an 18-year-old Dominican shortstop, signed with the Blue Jays for $100,000 in August. He’s small (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) but has plus speed and is a gamer with a high baseball IQ. He’s a smart, instinctual player with good contact skills from the right side of the plate. If he doesn’t stay at shortstop, he could go to second base or with his speed could become a center fielder. Blue Jays international scouts have shown a knack for picking up quality arms at good prices out of Latin America, with a few candidates to watch potentially emerging from their high-volume class. One is 18-year-old Dominican righthander Elieser Medrano, who signed for $15,000 in July. He’s a lean, projectable 6-foot-2, 180 pounds with a loose arm and a fastball that jumped from 88-93 mph when he signed to touching 97 mph this summer. When he signed he threw a slurvy upper-70s slider that he has worked to modify into more of a true curveball with more depth and downer action.
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The 20-year-old righthander more than held his own against a lineup stacked with all-stars in spring training.
In December the Blue Jays signed 16-year-old Brayan Mejia for $75,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Mejia (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) had been showcasing for teams as an outfielder, but the Blue Jays were able to see him on the mound. He made a quick impression, throwing 90-93 mph and scraping 94 mph with good life to his fastball and not much effort in his delivery. He’s just now learning how to throw a curveball and a changeup, with the athleticism that should help him make adjustments on the mound. Venezuelan righthander Elixon Caballero, signed for $50,000 in July, struck out five of the eight batters he faced at the MLB international showcase in the Dominican Republic last February. At the time, Caballero was touching 90 mph, but this summer his velocity jumped and he reached 95 mph. He’s still 16 and only 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, but he has a chance to be a power arm with good spin on his breaking ball and an athletic delivery. He trained with Guillermo Quintero. Lefthander Naswell Paulino was another player training as an outfielder in the Dominican Republic who the Blue Jays signed to pitch. Paulino, a 16-year-old signed for $70,000 in July, is 5-foot-11, 160 pounds and threw 85-88 mph when he signed and more recently has hit 90 mph. He’s a bouncy athlete whose arm works well and has good fastball command for someone new to pitching.