Here's why int'l prospect haul has Cubs pumped

July 12th, 2018

CHICAGO -- One was considered the best pitcher available among international prospects. Another dominated a Cuban team in a tournament in Colombia. And the three position players selected all are considered good baseball players who also are stellar athletes.

The Cubs signed right-hander Richard Gallardo, outfielder Jose Lopez, lefty Joel Machado, shortstop Rafael Morel and outfielder Yohendrick Pinango on July 2, international signing day. All are teenagers, though, so don't start penciling them into the Cubs' lineup yet.

Louis Eljaua, the Cubs' international scouting director, knows about potential. In 1999, he was a scout with the Marlins and called his boss, Al Avila, now the Tigers' general manager, raving about a 15-year-old who Eljaua saw in Venezuela. At the time, the Marlins had never spent more than $30,000 on an international teen. In July 1999, they signed to a $1.8 million contract.

The Cubs have done well in the past in the international market -- , , are examples -- and hope they have struck gold with these five prospects.

Richard Gallardo, right-handed pitcher, Venezuela

"This kid, in our opinion, was probably the best pitcher we saw on the market this year," Eljaua said of Gallardo, 16, ranked fifth among all international prospects by MLB Pipeline. "He's very polished for his age. He has a three-pitch mix that he commands very well -- fastball, curveball, change. The fastball is up to 94 [mph] and he sits 90, 92. That's really good for a 16-year old. We feel there's more in the tank. He could end up settling in and have a mid-90s fastball and very good movement."

What the Cubs liked was that hitters don't seem to pick up Gallardo's pitches very well.

"There's something in his delivery and hitters don't get good swings on any of his pitches, which is obviously a good attribute to have," Eljaua said. "He's one of those guys who has three pitches, but we've seen from him 70 percent fastballs in his outings. He doesn't need to use the other stuff at this point, and he picks and chooses when he throws the other stuff. He's very headsy, very advanced, knows how to set up hitters -- at least hitters his age."

Hopefully, Gallardo will learn how to balance his repertoire as he progresses through the Minor Leagues.

"For a kid his age, he's very polished, lots of know-how and we see the arrow pointing up," Eljaua said. "If it all develops how we hope it will, we hope we have a top-of-the-rotation type of guy."

Jose Lopez, outfielder, Dominican Republic

Ranked 17th by MLB Pipeline, Lopez received the largest signing bonus -- $1.5 million -- of the five players mentioned here.

"He's a kid we feel has a good chance to stay in center field -- a very good chance to hit, and not just for average but for some power -- and play above-average defense," Eljaua said. "He has some speed where we feel he has some basestealing attributes as well. He's almost like a kid who has all the tools and full package as far as what we look for and can stay up the middle and play center field."

Lopez, 16, is from the Santiago area and played with an RBI program there.

Joel Machado, left-handed pitcher, Venezuela

Eljaua saw Machado face a Cuban team during a 15-and-under championship game in a tournament in Colombia, and he said the left-hander dominated, striking out nine or 10 over seven innings. He has a good changeup and an above-average curveball. Machado was ranked 28th among international prospects by MLB Pipeline.

"With the fastball, he's somebody who can settle at 92, 93 [mph] and potentially top out in the mid-90s," Eljaua said of Machado, who also is still growing, gaining more than 15 pounds in the past six months.

Rafael Morel, shortstop, Dominican Republic

Morel is the younger brother of Christopher Morel, an infielder in the Cubs' organization. Their father was a professional basketball player in the Dominican Republic.

"[Rafael] is really athletic and is a kid who can end up in center field or shortstop or second," Eljaua said. "Like Lopez, he has speed and power."

Yohendrick Pinango, outfielder, Venezuela

A left-handed thrower and hitter, Pinango is quick -- although Eljaua said you might not think so if you judge by appearances.

"If he was in the ninth or 10th grade in the States, he'd probably be playing high school football as well," Eljaua said. "He's a very good athlete and can run real well. He's got a real nice swing from the left side and can drive the ball to all fields."

The Cubs are encouraged by the potential for Lopez, Morel and Pinango.

"All three of these guys are not just athletes who play baseball, or raw kids who we're hoping can develop baseball skills to go with their athleticism," Eljaua said. "These kids are baseball players who happen to be very good athletes as well. They've been around the game their whole lives."