CHICAGO -- A year ago, the Chicago White Sox implemented a new and more aggressive process for exploring and attracting talent in Latin America. The goal is to pinpoint the most promising figures among the constant crop of ballplayers produced by Caribbean countries.
On Tuesday, that approach shed some light on the club's plans for the future.
On the first day of the international signing period, the White Sox reeled in the Dominican-born Micker Adolfo Zapata, the No. 2-ranked player on MLB.com's list of the Top 30 International Prospects. Zapata will receive a $1.6 million signing bonus, the largest the club has invested in an international prospect.
"[Adolfo Zapata] was the player we wanted from the very beginning," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "Marco [Paddy, special assistant to the GM, international operations] saw [Adolfo Zapata] at one of the workouts held at the beginning of the year and told us he was the player we needed for the future."
Adolfo Zapata, 16, is an outfielder with an impressive skill set. At the plate, he has power and a quick swing. Defensively, Adolfo Zapata's strong arm makes him a standout. To those skills, he adds the speed of young legs.
"This is only the beginning," said Adolfo Zapata. "I have to work harder now to get to the big leagues and be one of the best players there; that's what I want. I know that, God willing, all of that will be possible."
Hahn explained the team's fascination with Adolfo Zapata and its motivation for giving him one of the highest signing bonuses awarded to an international player this year.
"The first reason was the enthusiasm shown by Marco Paddy, who is one of the best scouts in baseball," said Hahn. "From the moment [Paddy] saw this kid, he told us we had to sign him and that he was one of the best prospects [Paddy] had seen in his career. The other reason was Zapata, who is a special player on and off the field."
Paddy did not hold back when enumerating Adolfo Zapata's virtues. Paddy got to know Adolfo Zapata over a period of six months, during which he monitored the youngster's progress and development and his family background.
"When you are out looking for a player to sign, obviously you look for who has the best athletic ability. But when you find a player whose mental approach is also above average, that's when you know you know he is a special player, and Micker is one of those," said Paddy. "He is a special kid. In my 21-year career, I had never seen in a player what I've seen in Micker, and that is due to the mental approach that makes him special. He has an understanding of what he is doing, what he needs to improve and how to go about it."
Paddy's enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on Hahn, who traveled to the Dominican Republic to meet Adolfo Zapata and his family. Hahn was impressed with what he saw.
"He's the kind of ballplayer we want for our club, a player we are sure will have a tremendous impact," Hahn said. "When I met him and his family, I realized that he has been brought up well and has the tools to make a splash in our organization.
"This is a kid whose skills we would love to hone, because there is much to develop."
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Zapata comes from a baseball family. His father, Carlos Adolfo, was a professional ballplayer and spent six years in the Montreal Expos system, where he made it to Triple-A and played alongside Vladimir Guerrero.
"From the time I was very little, my dad showed me how to play baseball, practiced with me and taught me the basics. He was my favorite player, but I also admired Vladimir Guerrero for the way he approached the game and for bringing prestige to the Dominican Republic," said Adolfo Zapata.
And Guerrero is the perfect model of the kind of player Adolfo Zapata has the ability to become.
"When you come across a player like him, you don't want to set a limit, because he doesn't have one," said Paddy. "But you make comparisons to explain more or less what type of player he can become. Micker can be a Vladimir Guerrero, an Alfonso Soriano. Micker's tools are not only projected, but palpable; you can see them right now. They are something he already has."
The White Sox now hope to sign a couple more prospects with the remaining $2.2 million of the limit imposed by Major League Baseball for international signing bonuses.
"We have some money left to find two or three other additional prospects to continue moving forward," Paddy said.
For Paddy, the Adolfo Zapata signing is merely the engine that will drive the team's new discoveries and investments to reap talent in the region.
"Our plan has always been to maximize the talent of Latin American players, who have always benefited us and made great contributions," said Hahn. "In the last few years, we have tried to exploit this area with our academy in the Dominican Republic and by rebuilding our scouting department with the addition of Marco. We have also focused on developing a successful evaluation system. We all want to improve our investments in Latin America players, because it is no secret that they have an enormous talent."
By signing Adolfo Zapata, the White Sox have made it clear that they are serious.
Billy Russo is a contributor to MLB.com.