Rays announce 26 international signings

January 16th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have seen their work in the international market lead to some great results in the Majors recently, and they were active Saturday as this year’s international signing period began.

Tampa Bay announced 26 signings, a deep group headlined by Cuban outfielder José Lazaro Contreras, on Day 1 of the signing period.

“I really like the class,” Rays international scouting director Steve Miller said. “I thought it was a really well-rounded class. I think we had some guys that we would consider first-round-type talent.”

Contreras agreed to join the Rays for a $1.05 million signing bonus. The 16-year-old outfielder, who has been training in the Dominican Republic, possesses a rare mix of power and speed with a strong, athletic build at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. Contreras has been clocked at 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash while making 91-92 mph throws from the outfield, and scouts who have seen him say he has present-day bat speed and strength.

Contreras came on the prospect scene relatively late, but Rays scouting supervisor Danny Santana -- who played a huge part in signing Wander Franco in 2017 -- was among the first to see him. Contreras has only improved over time, displaying what Miller called “outstanding makeup” and showing that he has the potential to be a complete player.

“He proved to us that he wasn’t power over bat, and he wasn’t tools over skills. He actually just had a combination of all of them,” Miller said. “He worked counts. He understood the strike zone. He didn’t chase pitches. He had a plan at the plate. He took quality at-bats. And the bat speed and power showed up, with the other tools along with it.”

Additionally, Tampa Bay is expected to sign highly touted Dominican shortstop Miguel Tamares. The club did not finalize a deal with the 17-year-old on Saturday, but he is scheduled to join their signing class in the coming days. Tamares’ speed stands out, as he ran a 6.3-second 60-yard dash, and he projects as a threat to steal 30 bases per season. The athletic switch-hitter has a contact-oriented bat and some gap power, and he could develop into a legitimate plus defender at shortstop.

The Rays entered the signing period with a bonus pool of $5,721,500, and they can continue signing prospects until Dec. 15. This is the second straight year that the international signing period began in January, as opposed to the standard July timeframe, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, teams are not allowed to trade international bonus slots.

Tampa Bay has not signed anyone listed among MLB Pipeline's Top 50 International Prospects list, but not every successful big leaguer comes with the prospect hype of someone like Franco. Highly regarded Rays prospect Vidal Bruján, for instance, received a bonus of only $15,000 when he signed out of the Dominican Republic in October 2014. When signing teenagers, scouts must rely on their ability to project talent years down the road.

“There were some really good players that were available, some guys that were under the radar that we were able to latch onto, and I think that they’re going to end up being really good players,” Miller said. “Some of them have the tools to be as good as anyone in the class; they’re just not necessarily able to get to those tools yet, so there’s some projection left and a little bit of guesswork.”

The Rays announced they signed the following players in the Dominican Republic on Saturday: shortstop Nicandro Aybar, shortstop Felix Cotes, left-hander Yeison Garcia, right-hander Cristhofer Gonzalez, right-hander Danny Hilario, right-hander Ismael Laureano, outfielder Angel Mateo, center fielder Jordan Oliver, shortstop Juanfel Peguero, infielder Narciso Polanco, left-hander Guedis Ramos, shortstop Roosbert Tapia, left-hander Jesus Ullola and outfielder Neifi Vasquez.

Tampa Bay also signed the following players in Venezuela on Saturday: catcher Enderson Delgado, left-hander Alvaro Gamez, shortstop Ricardo Gonzalez, right-hander Maikel Hernandez, right-hander Anthony Manriquez, catcher Larry Martinez, right-hander Moises Palma, catcher Johnny Perez, right-hander Yorman Primera, shortstop Rodrigo Romero and outfielder Jose Sanabria.

Sanabria, who agreed to sign for $480,000, is a particularly intriguing addition to the Rays’ deep Minor League system. He has some similarities to Contreras, as he was also clocked at 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash. The 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder could stick in center field while growing into solid-to-average power at the plate, and the Rays are excited about his potential as a hitter based on the way he moves his bat through the strike zone.

“He also has a chance to be a five-tool guy,” Miller said. “He’s really well-rounded and may even be a little bit more well-rounded because of his defensive value.”

Here are the prospects inked by the Rays during the international signing period:

Jose Contreras, OF, Cuba -- $1,000,050
Felix Cotes, IF, Dominican Republic -- $730,000
Jose Sanabria, OF, Venezuela -- $480,000
Nicandro Aybar, IF, Dominican Republic -- $450,000
Rodrigo Romero, IF, Venezuela -- $300,000
Angel Mateo, OF, Dominican Republic -- $200,000
Roosbert Tapia, IF, Dominican Republic -- $200,000
Juanfel Peguero, IF, Dominican Republic -- $180,000
Narciso Polanco, IF, Dominican Republic -- $150,000
Larry Martinez, IF, Venezuela -- $130,000
Ismael Laureano, RHS, Dominican Republic -- $100,000
Jordany Oliver, IF, Dominican Republic -- $75,000
Jesus Ullola, LHS, Dominican Republic -- $70,000
Cristhofer Gonzalez, RHS, Dominican Republic -- $55,000
Danny Hilario, RHS, Dominican Republic -- $53,500
Yeison Garcia, LHS, Dominican Republic -- $45,000
Geudis Ramos, LHS, Dominican Republic -- $40,000
Neifi Vasquez, OF, Dominican Republic -- $40,000
Alvaro Gamez, LHS, Venezuela -- $25,000
Maikel Hernandez, RHS, Venezuela -- $25,000
Moises Palma, RHS, Venezuela -- $15,000
Jorman Primera, RHS, Venezuela -- $10,000
Ricardo Gonzalez, SS, Venezuela -- $10,000
Enderson Delgado, C, Venezuela -- $10,000
Jhonny Perez, C, Venezuela -- $10,000
Anthony Manriquez, RHS, Venezuela -- $10,000