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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PUERTO RICO / Virgin Islands

The 2009 draft class was an outstanding one for Puerto Rico, possibly the best since the island nation joined the draft process in 1989. Outfielder Reymond Fuentes was selected in the first round by the Boston Red Sox and was joined by nine other Puerto Rican youngsters in the top 10 rounds. All told, 24 drafted players from the island were eventually signed.
This year’s class will not feature that kind of depth, but it still has the potential to be a quality group if things fall the right way. It’s interesting to note, though, that the first draft to include Puerto Ricans produced 59 selections. A year ago, that number was just 33.
The most talented player, and also the biggest wild card, is a name not unfamiliar to baseball fans, Dickie Thon Jr. He is the son of former big leaguer Dickie Thon, whose career was tragically marred by a severe beaning when he was a 23-year-old shortstop with the Houston Astros on the cusp of stardom in 1984. Thon still managed a 15-year career in the major leagues, but there has always been the “what if” cloud that hangs around players (Herb Score, Tony Conigliaro) who suffered such a fate.
If anything, the younger Thon is a better athlete than his father. He is the reigning Puerto Rican high-school champion in the 200 meters in track, and also has played with the Puerto Rican national youth volleyball team. His lack of significant baseball experience is noteworthy for the son of a former big leaguer, but adds to his status as a wild card in this year’s draft.
The other part of Thon’s uncertain status is his signability. There are significant questions whether he is signable for any amount of money. His father has reportedly chosen not to provide scouts with much guidance and feedback on that question. Thon is an excellent student with a scholarship to Rice, and his father still maintains a house in Houston, where he played for seven years. That has also given rise to speculation that the Astros could be very high on the list of teams that Thon could end up with.
The remainder of Puerto Rico’s top prospects fall into the familiar pattern of premium position prospects and polished hitters. There are no elite-level pitching prospects. 
Outfielder Eddie Rosario could be the most advanced hitter coming off the island in years, and has been compared to veteran big league outfielder Bob Abreu, both for his swing and polished, patient hitting approach. Rosario could be joined in the top three rounds by two other outfielders.
Omar Cotto is even faster than Thon, at least at baseball distances, as he was timed in 6.2 seconds in the 60 at a Major League Scouting Bureau workout, and 6.3 at Perfect Game’s World Showcase in Florida in January. A switch-hitter, Cotto could be a surprise pick in the top three rounds for the right team, although rounds 4-5 seem a better bet. A more likely top-3 round candidate is Henry Ramos, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound athletic outfielder with huge power potential. Like Thon, Ramos has relatively limited baseball experience as he starred at the youth level in soccer, rather than baseball.
No Puerto Rican draft would be complete without a top-flight defensive catcher, and the most-obvious 2010 candidate is Roberto Pena, a converted shortstop with one of the strongest throwing arms of any prospect in the entire draft. Scouts say that Pena’s defensive ceiling is at least equal to the three Molina brothers, who have gone on to become big-league catchers, although it will take a while to develop his hitting skills.
Of the 24 players from Puerto Rico signed through the draft last year, only six were pitchers, not an unusual theme and one that is likely to be repeated this year. Six-foot-3, 160-pound lefthander Alexander Claudio has the best chance among Puerto Rican pitchers to go within the top 10 rounds. He throws only in the mid-80s at present, but is very projectable.
There have been an increasing number of players from the Virgin Islands whose names have circulated among scouts in the last couple of years. About 20 participated in a Major League Scouting Bureau workout earlier this year, but none is likely to be picked in conventional signable rounds.
The best players from the Virgin Islands remain outfielder Jabari Blash, an outfielder at Miami-Dade JC, and righthander Jamaine Cotton, who attends Western Oklahoma State JC. Both were drafted in 2009 – Blash in the ninth round by the Texas Rangers, Cotton in the 28
th round by the San Francisco Giants – but elected not to sign, and are eligible again. The top Virgin Islands prospect in many years, righthander Deshorn Lakes, is attending high school in Virginia and is a potential top-3 round pick in 2011.
STRENGTH: Premium position talent, athletes.
WEAKNESS: Pitchers, especially polished righthanders.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 4.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Omar Cotto, of, Bonneville School: Blazing 6.2 speed, high-level athleticism positively shade his raw hitting skills.
PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Luis Benitez, 3b-rhp, Level America Academy: Top-10 round talent as pitcher, but doesn’t want to give up hitting yet without assurance of big bonus.
WILD CARD: Dickie Thon Jr., ss, Perpetuo Socorro HS. Unquestionably a top prospect, major signability questions scare away scouts.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands Connection: Jabari Blash, of, Miami-Dade CC (Attended high school in Charlotte Amalie, V.I.).
TOP 2011 PROSPECT: Gabriel Rosa, ss, Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS, Ceiba.
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Thomas Nido, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Draft History: Ramon Castro, c, Rivera HS, Vega Baja (1994, Astros/1st round/17th pick).
2006 Draft: Hector Correa, rhp, Lorenzo Coballes Gandia HS, Hatillo (Marlins/4th round).
2007 Draft: Reynaldo Navarro, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Diamondbacks/3rd round).
2008 Draft: Javier Rodriguez, of, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Mets/2nd round).
2009 Draft: Reymond Fuentes, of, Fernando Callejo HS, Manati (Red Sox/1st round, 28th pick).
Best Hitter: Eddie Rosario, of, Rafael Lopez Landron HS.
Best Power: Henry Ramos, of, Alfonso Casto Martinez HS.
Best Speed: Omar Cotto, of, Bonneville School.
Best Defender: Roberto Pena, c, Eloisa Pascual HS.
Best Velocity: Luis Benitez, 3b-rhp, Level American Academy.
Best Breaking Stuff: Alexander Claudio, lhp Isabel Flores HS.
Full scouting reports available on players ranked on national Top 250 list (click on National Top 300)
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. DICKIE THON JR., ss, Perpetuo Socorro HS, San Juan                                  National Top 250 (Rank 103)
Excellent athlete, top 200 M runner in PR, projects to either SS or CF, big-league bloodlines, high ceiling.
2. EDDIE ROSARIO, of, Rafael Lopez Landron HS, Guayama                              National Top 250 (Rank 123)
Bob Abreu comp as polished lefthanded hitter, could have special bat, other tools playable to corner OF.
3. HENRY RAMOS, of, Alfonso Casto Martinez HS, Maunabo                             National Top 250 (Rank 153)
6-3, 190, high level soccer player, very athletic, shows big power in BP, baseball skills still raw at present.
GROUP TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)
4. ROBERTO PENA, c, Eloisa Pascual HS, Caguas                                               National Top 500 (Rank 189)
Converted SS, plus/plus arm strength, outstanding defensive catcher, bat has long way to come still.
5. YADIEL RIVERA, ss,  Manuel Toro HS, Caguas
Tall, rangy shortstop, smooth hands and actions, good arm strength, needs strength to handle the bat.
6. OMAR COTTO, of, Bonneville School, San Juan  
Outstanding runner, 6.2 at MLSB camp, switch-hitter with strength right side, CF tools, could surprise.
7. ALEXANDER CLAUDIO, lhp, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos
Very projectable 6-3, 170-pounder, loose left arm, 84-87 mph now but CU/CHG are quality pitches.
8. IVAN DeJESUS, of, Cupeyville HS, San Juan
Quality athlete, solid CF tools/instincts, needs to get stronger, not related to ex-big league/same name.
GROUP THREE (Projected MID-Round Draft / Rounds 11-25)
9. JOSUE MONTANEZ, lhp, Ramon Villa Mayo HS, San Juan
Strong, mature build, good raw arm strength, tops at 90 mph, lets up to throw strikes, raw mechanics.
10. LUIS BENITEZ, 3b-rhp, Level American Academy, Luquillo
Big, athletic frame, future on the mound, 90-91 mph fastball, scouts say he doesn’t want to pitch now.
11. RICHARD MENDOZA, rhp, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos
Projectable frame, solid average 89-91 mph fastball, off-speed stuff still developing.
12. BRYAN RIVERA, lhp, Caguas Military Academy, Cidra
Polished arm, mid 80s fastball, slender, projectable frame, good command, signed to Bethune-Cookman.
13. CESAR OGANDO, lhp-of, Carmen del Sol HS, Toa Baja
Limited pitching experience, power hitting OF/1B, strong arm, tops at 88 with more to come, good athlete.
14. ALLAN SANCHEZ, rhp, Coligio Nuestra Del Carmen, Trujillo Alta
Big 6-5, 210 power pitcher’s build, 90-91 last fall, lost velo this spring with delivery issues, has potential.
15. CESAR RIVERA, of-c, Caguas Military Academy, Gurabo
Very good athlete, plays all over the field, high-average hitter, good speed, hustling, plus-makeup player.
16. KEITHROY CHARLES, ss, Charlotte Amalie HS, St. Thomas, V.I.
Versatile, athletic SS playing in Great South League this summer, to join Morris at Connors State in fall.
17. AKEEL MORRIS, rhp, Charlotte Amalie HS, St. Thomas, V.I.
Topped at 91 in bureau workout in January; 6-0 righty, won’t be 18 til November, headed to Connors State
18. ANGEL GOMEZ, of, Cruz Buitrago HS, San Lorenzo
Advanced hitter, especially from right side, projects power, arm strength limits him to LF/1B in future.
19. JORDAN MORALES, rhp, Padre Anibal Reyes HS, Hatillo
Late riser, 89-91 mph at Excellence Games, first look for many scouts, slender build, younger prospect.
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