During the summer of 2014 the New York Yankees upended the market for international baseball free agents. Their bonus pool was $2,190,000. Instead of sticking to the limits, they spent more than $17,000,000 on international bonuses, with a final cost including overage taxes of over $30,000,000 plus bonus restrictions in 2015 and 2016.
What did they get for their money? Well let's take a look.
Keep in mind that rookie ball and Latin American summer league performances are not especially predictive. Playing well is better than playing poorly of course, but players this young can improve dramatically and quickly. There are many examples of players who struggle at the lowest level initially but who eventually develop the baseball skills to make their physical tools meaningful on the field.
Jonathan Amundaray, OF Venezuela: Signed for $1,500,000, has broad set of physical tools but was considered quite raw as a hitter. He played 13 games in the Dominican Summer League before going down with an injury, hitting .111/.346/.167 with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts in 36 at-bats. Tiny sample..
Antonio Arias, OF, Venezuela: Signed for $800,000, very fast outfielder with plus/plus running speed, when signed his baseball skills were said to be below-average even for a player his age. Played 39 games in the DSL, hitting .235/.316/.316 with a 14/24 K/BB in 136 at-bats, stealing five bases in five attempts. Needs to get stronger.
Lisandro Blanco, OF, Dominican Republic: Signed for $550,000. Another broad tool base with above-average power and speed potential but (of course) a raw approach. Hit .277/.391/.355 with 25 walks, 46 strikeouts in 141 at-bats. K-rate is high but he drew some walks, needs to use his speed better (just 2-for-5 in steals) but in general did not look as raw as Arias.
Leobaldo Cabrera, OF, Venezuela: Signed for $250,000. Hit .298/.367/.382 with 24 walks, 46 strikeouts in 228 at-bats. Solid-average physical tools but was said when signed to be more refined than other players in the Yankees class, an assessment which the early numbers support.
Diego Castillo, SS, Venezuela: Signed for $750,000. Hit .331/.373/.444 with 16 walks, 29 strikeouts in 239 at-bats in the DSL. Like Cabrera, Castillo is not as toolsy as some of the others but was considered to have better-than-average baseball skills for his age. He played very well in the DSL, supporting that notion, and could advance quickly.
Frederick Cuevas, OF, Dominican Republic: Signed for $300,000: Hit .256/.376/.365 with 37 walks, 44 strikeouts in 203 at-bats, stole 15 bases in 18 attempts. Cuevas was supposed to have below-average speed and mediocre-to-average tools overall but a good feel for hitting. He showed strong strike zone judgment in pro ball, lending credence to last summer's reports about his bat, but also showed an unexpected knack for stealing bases. More power may come.
Juan De Leon, OF, Dominican Republic: Signed for $2,000,000. Stood out in the market for big power potential, hit .226/.344/.366 with 25 walks, 66 strikeouts in 186 at-bats. Whiff rate quite high, scouts last summer almost unanimously liked his bat even while harboring some concerns about contact in the short run. That still seems a fair assessment.
Brayan Emery, OF, Colombia: Signed for $500,000. Another toolshed with power potential although scouts noted rawness in his approach and a lack of game experience. Not surprisingly he had problems in the DSL, hitting .192/.330/.308 with 40 walks, 81 strikeouts in 224 at-bats. Good-faith effort to work counts but serious contact issues hold him back at this stage.
Miguel Flames, C, Venezuela: Signed for $1,100,000. Hit .317/.398/.454 with 22 walks, 44 strikeouts in 205 at-bats. Defense needs a lot of work and he spent much of the summer playing first base, but the bat looks excellent so far. He was expected to hit for both power and average and he did exactly that.
Griffin Garabito, SS, Dominican Republic: Signed for $225,000. Was already 17 when signed, spent most of 2015 in the Gulf Coast League hitting .262/.324/.293 with 15 walks, 29 strikeouts in 164 at-bats. Glove raw, split season between third base (with poor results) and second base (with decent results). Contact hitter who lacks power at present but could get stronger.
Dermis Garcia, 3B, Dominican Republic: Signed for $3,000,000. Outstanding raw power potential, some experts thought he was the best home run hitter available in the 2014 class. Skipped the DSL and played 23 games in the GCL, hitting .159/.256/.188 with nine walks and 25 strikeouts in 69 at-bats. Small sample but obviously has work to do turning the potential into production.
Wilkerman Garcia, SS, Venezuela: Signed for $1,350,000. Held his own in the GCL, hitting .281/.396/.347 with 24 walks, 19 strikeouts in 121 at-bats. He was said to be a player with great instincts and solid-average tools and the early results back that up, particularly with his eye for the strike zone. Needs defensive polish and more power but that's normal for his age and overall this was a successful debut.
Nelson Gomez, 3B, Dominican Republic: Signed for $2,250,000. Hit .243/.350/.435 with 11 homers, 34 walks, 66 strikeouts in 230 at-bats in the DSL. The Yankees liked his power when they signed him and he showed a lot of said power in the DSL while demonstrating some patience. Contact could be troublesome at higher levels and the glove is rough, but the power will buy him lots of development time.
Jason Lopez, C, Venezuela: Signed for $100,000. Rated as strong defensive catcher and threw out 45% of runners while hitting .240/.337/.301 with 22 walks, 28 strikeouts in 146 at-bats. A former infielder, he's athletic and also stole 11 bases. Not sure how the bat will play at higher levels but the glove is interesting.
Erick Mendez, OF, Dominican Republic: Signed for $200,000. Hit a strong .281/.381/.465 with 25 walks, 53 strikeouts in 185 at-bats. This was quite good however he is already 19 years old, not young as DSL players go, so we need to see what happens when he comes to the United States. Tools are well-regarded.
Raymundo Moreno, OF, Venezuela: Signed for $600,000 Went 1-for-15 in the DSL, which obviously isn't enough to mean anything. Speed and defense are rated as his best attributes but with questions about the rest of his offensive game.
Pablo Olivares, OF, Venezuela: Signed for $400,000. Hit .267/.370/.359 with 11 walks, 17 strikeouts in 131 at-bats. Like Moreno, Olivares is seen as a speed/defense outfielder who may or may not hit at higher levels, the need for more pop being the main doubt. He didn't play badly enough or well enough to change that view.
Danienger Perez, SS-2b, Venezuela: Signed for $300,000. Older than the others at age 18, hit .219/.294/.329 with 18 walks, 37 strikeouts in 155 at-bats in the GCL. Defensive-oriented player looks like he can handle both up-the-middle positions, not much of a hitter at this point, lacking both OBP and power abilities.
Hyo Joon Park, SS, South Korea: Signed for $1,000,000. Age 19, played for Pulaski in the Appalachian League, hitting .239/.351/.383 with 34 walks, 50 strikeouts in 222 at-bats, also stole 12 bases. Yankees liked his across-the-board tools and refined skills when signed, seeing him as a player who could offer speed, power, on-base ability, and at least decent defense. Had some growing pains in the Appy but the early results can still fit into that narrative and he has breakthrough potential.