July 2nd has come and gone and most of the top international players on the free agent market have landed with their new organizations. Here are some random thoughts on the topic.
***The Twins spent $4,000,000 on Dominican shortstop Wander Javier. This is their entire bonus pool (slightly exceeding it actually) and they'll need to trade for bonus money from other teams in order to sign any additional talent this year. By all accounts, Javier owns an outstanding set of tools and can remain at shortstop, but his bat is said to be behind his glove with questions standing out about his swing mechanics and ability to recognize breaking pitches.
He's just 16 of course. As with most international players opinion is divided: the Twins (obviously) and some other teams saw Javier as the best overall player on the international market and believe his hitting issues will be smoothed out. If true, the best player available would certainly be worth the money. However, others aren't so sure and see $4,000,000 as an overpay if Javier's hitting stays problematic. Obviously it will be a few years before we know either way.
With that in mind, I wonder if it would be wiser for the Twins to have split that money up between two or three separate prospects. You could certainly find some high-ceiling players for less than the Twins spent on Javier. Gregory Guerrero, for example, is a promising infielder with a more polished bat than Javier and no shortage of tools himself. He signed with the Mets for $1,500,000.
On paper a more diverse allocation make some sense, but if you're really convinced that Javier is THE guy in this class, then that's the guy you get, armchair scouting directors and portfolio theory be damned.
***Another good example of the split opinions common even with advanced international prospects: outfielder Gilberto Celestino from the Dominican Republic. Signed by the Astros for $2,500,000, Celestino had more exposure with scouts than many Latin players, having seen frequent action on the international tournament circuit as early as the age of 11.
Everybody loves his glove: he is a pure center fielder with excellent instincts to match his superior physical tools. His makeup and overall feel for the game also draw high praise.
As with Javier, the bat is where the split comes.
The Astros of course think he'll hit. Houston's Director of International Scouting Oz Ocampo: "Offensively, he is one of the best pure hitters in this class with a strong ability to hit for both average and power, and an abnormally long history of performing in games against top-level competition."
Celestino's performance over the years has certainly been strong. In 2010 he played for the Dominican Republic in the Serie International de Béisbol and was named MVP at age 11. At the age of 15 he played in the Pan-American Games against the Cuban National Team and collected two hits with a triple. He was named MVP again in the 2014 Prospect Wire Tournament in Tampa, then went 4-for-6 in a critical MLB Dominican Republic showcase game last summer.
This isn't a guy who has struggled against live pitching, but for all that not everyone is sold. Quoting Ben Badler in Baseball America:
Celestino has a track record of hitting well in organized games and manages his at-bats well with feel for the strike zone, but there were mixed reviews of his offensive upside. . .He takes a big leg kick and has some length and loop to the zone that concerned some scouts, but even those who had mechanical reservations generally felt Celestino had solid hitting instincts.
So are the swing mechanics a real problem, or is Celestino just being nitpicked because scouts have seen him so much? And if the swing IS a real problem, is it a small issue that can be easily corrected, or will he consistently struggle against better pitching? As with Javier, only time will tell.
Scouting 21-year-old college players is hard. Scouting 18-year-old high schoolers is harder. And scouting 16-year-olds from a Third World country playing highly-variable competition. . .well, that's something else entirely.