By Jon Weisman
Spending big dollars on teenagers from the international market — as in today’s nine international signings — involves no small amount of risk, but the Dodgers are clearly bullish on their new prospects, as Dodger senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes indicated in a conference call with reporters this afternoon.
Byrnes began by talking about 19-year-old Yadier Alvarez, the top-rated pitching prospect in the international market and a rare talent.
“He’s one of the more talented teenage right-handed pitchers who a lot of us who have been doing this a long time have seen,” said Byrnes, who added that Alvarez throws 97 mph, “occasionally touching 99-100, with very little effort and some pretty good feel for secondary pitches.”
While Byrnes cautioned the obvious — that Alvarez has a long way to go (and probably won’t even leave the Dodgers’ Campo Las Palmas facility in the Dominican Republic until next year) — “his foundation (and) his ingredients for this age are pretty rare, so we’re excited to have him.”
Though only 16, Starling Heredia — the No. 5 international prospect available, according to MLB.com — has a distinctive 6-foot-1, 220-pound build.
“That is rare,” Byrnes said. “I don’t think it’s fair to comp him, but at least the physique (compares) to Kirby Puckett. Fireplug body, nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ down there, and a real strength-speed combination. Very strong body, but even with that build, he can really run. In any arena, finding a good combination of strength and speed is really rare.”
Heredia is one of six players the Dodgers signed who are 16 years old (four of them born in 1999), meaning that the Dodgers are placing bets on players who have tons of development yet to go and some blanks that scouting does its best to fill in.
We are seriously less than a year away from an MLB team signing someone born in the year 2000.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) July 2, 2015
“A lot of times, it’s first and foremost the tools, but also getting to know the player as a person, then seeing him as much as we can in game situations,” Byrnes said. “At the end of the day, it requires some imagination (and) some experience, because at 16, there’s not quite as much information as we’d have drafting a college junior.”
Two other 16-year-olds, Ronny Brito and Oneal Cruz, are listed at shortstop, but the latter — already 6-foot-4 — is more likely to end up in the outfield, Byrnes said. (As for May signee Pablo Fernandez, the 25-year-old righty has been dealing with some shoulder stiffness but was back throwing live batting practice in Arizona — to Carl Crawford, among others — and is nearing a minor-league assignment.)
All in all, it was a heady day for the Dodgers, whose investment in the international market — will include not only the bonuses guaranteed today, but a 100-percent tax for every dollar spent above their allocated bonus pool limit. (Not to mention the endless hours devoted by the scouts to evaluating the prospects.)
“Whether it’s this arena, the draft (or) trades,” Byrnes said, “since I’ve walked in, from Stan Kasten and ownership on down, we’re going to do everything we can to build our own talent flow through our own system. We all know the benefits of that, so any place we can be aggressive, scout and find players, we’ve tried to take that approach.”
By breaking their limit this time around, the Dodgers will be capped in their ability to offer high bonuses to international players over the next two signing periods, but they are prepared for the consequences.
“You’re never satisfied — you always want more players,” Byrnes said, “with the end result that you want impact players, guys that are real difference makers, and you also want depth, and that requires a little bit of a balancing act. I think we’ve inherited a system in very good shape, and we’re constantly going to try to improve it.
“It’s sometimes hard to foresee what the next wave of talent is going to look like, so we saw enough from this group that we decided to act on it.”