The wait for international signings was worth it for the Tigers, who leveraged their league-high bonus pool into a deep and talented class, including a franchise-record deal and two of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 international prospects on the first day of signings Friday.
Heading up the class is Dominican shortstop Cristian Santana (No. 14 prospect) and Venezuelan shortstop Abel Bastidas (No. 27 prospect). Santana signed to a $2.975 million bonus, sources told MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, topping the team-record $2.85 million bonus the Tigers agreed to with slugging outfielder Roberto Campos (the club's No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline) in July 2019. Bastidas signed for $1.175 million, sources told Sanchez.
“It’s a deep group, a lot of talent,” said international operations director Tom Moore on Friday, “and certainly that’s a tribute to having some more resources available to sign those players. That was definitely a big help.”
According to the rules established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Draft -- like the Tigers -- have the most money to spend on international prospects, with a pool of $6,431,000.
According to Sanchez, Santana has five-tool potential with a chance to have plus tools across the board. The 6-foot, 17-year-old shows above-average bat speed and good balance in the box. He also shows some raw power, which has a chance to develop into a plus tool in the future. On defense, the teen shows an average arm, and while he’s not a flashy defender, he’s steady.
The Tigers had been following Santana for over 2 1/2 years, according to Moore. One scout who saw Santana work out called him a natural-born hitter, comparable to Campos. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report compared him to Jhonny Peralta, who spent four seasons in Detroit as part of a 15-year Major League career.
“He was certainly a priority for us,” Moore said of Santana, “a kid that has always shown the ability to hit, advanced approach at the plate for his age. … He brings some defensive skills to the table as well, very strong arm, quick hands, quick feet, so we’re confident that he’s going to go out and play shortstop.”
As for Bastidas, the 17-year-old switch-hitter trained by former Major League infielders and brothers Cesar and Maicer Izturis, he compares physically to a young Carlos Guillen, the 14-year big leaguer. In the batter’s box, he shows power from both sides of the plate and exhibits a smooth swing path with good balance. He projects to add power as he grows. He has a chance to be a plus defender because of his strong arm, quick feet and soft hands.
“He’s a lanky-built kid that’s grown a lot in the last year and a half or so, and certainly has developed his game,” Moore said. “He’s always been a kid with really good defensive actions. I mean, he looks like a ballerina out there, really smooth, light on his feet, real quick release, accurate arm. He’s got good arm strength, but he’s one of those guys that has a feel in the position to know when he needs to use his arm and when he doesn’t.
“He’s just an advanced defensive player, and ... also hitting from both sides of the plate. He has a real easy swing, and the ball just jumps off his bat.”
Here are the rest of the Tigers' international signings from Friday and Saturday, with scouting notes and observations from Moore:
Joel Baez, RHP: The 6-foot-4 Dominican is related to former Tigers pitcher Luis Marte. He uses his tall frame for a powerful fastball-slider combination. “We feel like he has a chance to have some high-end value as a bullpen guy,” Moore said. “He had some time in the States, so he’s got some exposure there, speaks English.”
Rayner Castillo, RHP: Another tall Dominican pitcher, the 6-foot-3 Castillo caught the Tigers’ attention pitching in the U.S. at a Perfect Game Showcase a couple years ago. “You can project him having a real good fastball in the future,” Moore said of the 16-year-old. “He has a feel to spin a breaking ball. At the Perfect Game Showcase that we saw him, he struck out some really good hitters with a curveball. He also has a good feel for a change, so he’s got three weapons with pitchability.”
Jensy De Leon, SS: Moore thinks the 16-year-old Dominican is a sleeper prospect with good bat speed and power. “You watch him take BP and he launches balls all over the place,” Moore said. “He’s got good balance at the plate, so we feel like he’s got a chance to hit. He’s going to be a kid that can play in the infield with offensive value.”
Yimmy Diaz, SS: The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Venezuelan has a compact frame but projects to get stronger, according to Moore. He’s a switch-hitter with good bat speed and balance at the plate and a line-drive approach with gap power. He’s an average runner and steady defender who shows a lot of energy and leadership on the field.
Carlos Pelegrin, OF: For the second straight year, the Tigers signed a Cuban outfielder, this time reportedly for a $550,000 bonus according to writer Francys Romero. At 20 years old, Pelegrin is older than Campos, and he had more time with the Cuban national team before defecting a year and a half ago. “He’s a little more advanced than the rest of the kids because he’s older,” Moore said, “but he’s got a real athletic body. He has some fast-twitch [muscles] in him, above-average runner. He’s got a quick bat. Power hasn’t really been much of his game in terms of performance, but he’s got raw power. … Certainly to the pull side, he can really launch a ball, so we’re intrigued by that.”
Elian Riera, OF: A smaller outfielder at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, the Venezuelan Riera is a left-handed hitter with instincts who can play in center. “He’s got arm strength, line-drive contact,” Moore said of the 16-year-old. “We project him to have gap power in the future, real athletic kid, a body that you can dream on getting stronger in the future.”
Justin Rodriguez, SS: The 5-foot-10 Venezuelan has the same body frame as Diaz but generates more power and hard contact from his right-handed swing with an aggressive approach. He’s a good athlete who runs well but has yet to translate it onto the basepaths. His athleticism and quick arm allows him to make the routine play in the field.
Keni Salgado, RHP: The 6-foot-2 hurler pounds the strike zone with a good arm angle and a fastball that moves. The Venezuelan has good spin to his slider and late movement on his changeup.