The John Report ….. five season’s later …. Part One
With Season 21 in the books it’s time to look back on the Season 17 Draft and International Free Agent signings. Who’s on track to being a star and who’s star has tarnished ? Who’s the real DITR and who went in the SHITR. In Part One of our look back we will focus on the International signings. Those bonus baby IFA’s that scouts told us were worth a King’s ransom, and the ones that teams took a flyer on.
In season 17 121 IFA’s were signed. 57 were pitchers and 64 were position players. Surprisingly, (by today’s standards) only four players signed contracts of 10 million or more. Certainly not exorbitant when you consider some of the cash spread around in season 21 where bonuses reached as high as $40M+. There are obviously a number of players we could have highlighted in this report. And not every player signed could be evaluated in the time we had. So we chose to look at the top 4 signings in terms of Bonus money extended. And also some solid cheaper acquisitions and a few players who may have questions marks in their future.
Headlining the season 17 group were pitchers Eswalin Chavez ($24.5 M) and Fu-Te Johjima ($21M). LF Jhonny Tavarez ($15.8M) and 2B Al Ordonez ($14.1M) were the other $10 million dollar men. Johjima and Ordonez remain with their original teams. Atlanta traded Chavez to Vancouver in the Benny Marcum deal on February 4th 2014. Taverez moved from Mexico City to New York in Season 20 as part of the Scooter Lee deal.
All four of these players have either reached AAA or the Majors for their respective teams. And while the jury may be out on AAA players Chavez and Ordonez, they both appear to be ready to make the move to the ML squad next season. Chavez had a brief ML stop in season 20 that was less than stellar but his minor league numbers (2.49 ERA and 1.08 WHIP) are too good to ignore. Chavez is a legit three pitch hurler and in season 21 he worked hard to improve his slider and change. He has good stamina, Control both splits and his three main pitches are solid. The thinking around the league is that his first exposure to the majors helped him refocus and he should return to the Bigs for good in season 22. He is expected to be a mainstay on the Atlanta roster for many seasons.
Concerns over Ordonez’s susceptibility to injury surfaced this season as he landed on the DL twice. But, he still managed to hit .366 and has a career minor league average of .358. He won’t hit for power but he should flourish in Detroit where small ball is the name of the game. He has solid numbers across the board in Contact, Eye and Splits. He doesn't have the speed of a leadoff hitter but he will make a solid number 2 hitter. Defensively, the experiment in Right Field produced less than stellar results with serious questions about his arm being raised. Look for him to either move back to 2B or LF during spring ball. He is expected to make a move to the big roster next season after the 20 day FA window closes.
Johjima made his ML debut in season 19. It was brief, but laid the foundation for his first full season in 20. In season 20 he was 13-8 with an ERA of 2.85. Opponents only hit .228 and his WHIP was 1.19. Last season was shortened by nerve irritation and the Colonels quickly shut him down to protect his arm. Even still, he managed numbers similar to season 20. His recovery appears to be on track and this 22 year old is expected to continue his growth over the next 4 or 5 seasons. Johjima is another player with three solid pitches. Scouts rave about his right hand split. But he also has strong numbers from the left side, as well as serious major league stamina and control. He is in a contract year and the current status of the Louisville franchise may impact him. Johjima appears to be everything scouts projected him to be and if he stays relatively injury free he will anchor the pitching staff for years to come.
Jhonny Taverez is our other ML regular. Taverez made his ML debut in season 20. After a quick minor league career, Taverez seems to be struggling with ML pitching. A sore shoulder suffered in season 17 seems to be in the rear view mirror, but questions remain as to whether or not that injury impacted his growth. The New York media has been ruthless in their criticism of Jhonny’s hitting numbers. With his high power rankings, and the short 314 foot porch in New York, the expectation was for him to be a solid force in the middle of the lineup. Without large homerun numbers, his .256 ML career average became an issue for the media. In response, Jhonny spent some time in Venezuela winter ball where he improved his right hand split. The good news is that league scouts say that he is not done improving his hitting skills. But they also raise questions about his defensive skills. One GM pointed out that he was a league low .955 among LF last season. Could a move to 1B be in his future ? Not with Pete Benson also on the roster. Jhonny Taverez seems to be at a crossroads in his career. Season 22 may be a make or break one for him in New York.
That’s where we stand with the Big Four of season 17. But what about the other IFA’s ? There will still 117 other signings and several of those still raked in a hefty pay day. How are they doing ?
Monterrey’s Yunel Rios was signed for a reasonable $6.0M in season 17. He was claimed off waivers later that same season. Since that time he has made a steady march through the minors and last season he was called up for good. Before signing, Rios was projected to have some high hitting numbers. So far, he seems to be on track. With additional growth seasons ahead of him, he seems to be in line to hit the projections. His .363 AVG and OBP of .414 in his first full ML season forced the EXPRESS to give him time behind the plate. Although his coaches would like to see improvement in his pitch calling, his defensive skills are good enough to keep him there. There’s no question that the waiver acquisition by Monterrey was a wise one.
When DC signed Wascar Herrera for $270K midway through the season. It barely created a ripple within league offices. To be perfectly honest, Herrera was overlooked by 31 other teams. Under the watchful eye of DC’s Latin Scout Enrique Campos, Herrera was given a private workout in Pozo Hondo. Originally a Left Fielder, DC moved him to first base and started him in the Rookie league that same year. Although he lacks the traditional power numbers of a 1B, his contact and batting eye caught the attention of the DC staff. Since season 17, Wascar has moved steadily through the minors and is looking to start season 22 in AA. Along the way his splits have improved as have his range and glove numbers. After hitting .357 and making the all-star team, bigger things are certainly expected. The jury is still out on whether or not Wascar can crack the Major league roster. But he is continuing to grow. And for a few bucks, DC got a steal.
Being Watched Closely
While the jury may still be out on these players, the early returns have been a little spotty. Is this the year that these players make their ML debut ?
Ricardo Ramirez was signed for $8.0M to be one of the bullpen mainstays in KC. He may be knocking on the door having spent his last two seasons in AAA. Season 21 was far better than season 20. With a 3.44 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, he is beginning to show signs that he is ready for the challenge of the Bigs. No one can argue with his first pitch. And his control has been great, registering nearly a strikeout per inning and a little over 2 walks per 9 innings. The question is, can he duplicate this in the majors. There are still some concerns over his right hand split. He will also need a reliable second pitch to make the impact KC is hoping for.
Angel Rodriguez may also be at the crossroads of his career. His growth appears to have slowed significantly and his defensive numbers put him slightly below the ML average. Signed for a reasonable $5.2M, the investment in Rodriguez has been minimal. Atlanta added Rodriguez in a season 20 as part of the trade for Al McAnaney with Iowa City. Rodriguez just completed his third season in AAA where he hit a respectable .277. This spring, Atlanta will probably be evaluating Rodriguez’ future with the team. A fourth season at AAA may weigh heavily on his psyche.
Another player under his team’s watchful eye will be CF Ruben Canseco. Canseco was another reasonable acquisition. He was signed for $4.8M by Dover. He was signed in the second half of the season, sent to the Arizona instructional league, and didn't see any significant playing time until season 18. Since then he has moved up the minor league food chain, and was at AAA last season. He excels as a base runner with not only great speed on the base paths but also game savvy. As you would imagine, his range is good as well. But, he will need to improve his glove, arm and throwing accuracy. All three are critical for a CF. But he is still progressing. Dover is hoping that improvement this spring may signal that he is ready for the Big League squad in season 21 or 22. Offensively he has to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his batting eye. He registered nearly 200 strikeouts in 1000 at bats over the last two seasons. And his OPB is .244. He may possess the speed and high enough contact to bat leadoff. But without an improved batting eye and more plate patience he won’t be given the chance.
C Pedro Moreno was signed for $4.1M. In his first ML season with the Jaxx, he split time with Juan Hernandez. Hernandez possess the better defensive skills and Moreno the better bat. Moreno has been a pleasant surprise for the Jaxx, making it to the ML squad in his fifth season. He has good hitting ratings particularly against right handed pitchers. He should be more difficult to strike out because of his batting eye, but he needs to improve his patience at the plate. Defensively his arm is lethal for runners trying to steal. But he will need to improve his range and pitch calling to win the starting job full time. Long term, Moreno should be a mainstay in Jacksonville. And he should play a valuable role as a backup Catcher and DH.
In Part two we will look back on the Season 17 draft. As always, there were winners and there were losers. There were gambles that paid off, and some that didn't.