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Draft  | State Preview  | 5/10/2011

State Preview: Puerto Rico

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Ryan Young
 In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.  These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Puerto Rico State-by-State List (link)
Puerto Rico / Virgin Islands Overview:
Player Exodus Leaves Islands Shy of High-End Talent
The overriding story in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for this year’s draft is who could have been drafted from the two U.S. Caribbean-island territories, not who will be drafted.
Shortstops Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, who were born and raised in Puerto Rico, are strong candidates to be drafted in the first round out of Florida high schools, while Virgin Islands native Deshorn Lake, a righthander, is a potential top-3 round pick from his Virginia high school.
All three prospects are established talents on the U.S. mainland and were 2010 Aflac All-Americans.
Lindor and Baez have very similar backgrounds. Lindor was raised in Caguas in the east-central part of Puerto Rico, before moving to Toa Baja on the northern coast in 2003. Baez grew up in Toa Baja and the two eventually played in the same youth organization in 2004, though in different age groups.
A former coach in that league says he is certain that the two future top prospects played a game or two against each other. Baez subsequently moved to Jacksonville in 2005, while Lindor relocated to the Orlando area a year later.
Lake had already put himself on the prospect map as a 16-year-old in the Virgin Islands, when he was already touching 94 mph. He moved to Newport News, Va., in 2009 to play baseball in a more structured high-school environment and has excelled for Menchville High as both a junior and senior.
That exodus of those players, in particular, leaves a void in the 2011 Puerto Rican draft class, and only one player, righthander Jorge Lopez, is projected to be drafted in the top three rounds.
Lopez, who has been compared by scouts on the island to veteran major-league righthander Javier Vazquez, is the most unusual of Puerto Rican prospects as he is a very projectable pitcher, and yet already has a low-90s fastball and feel for spinning a breaking ball. He could become the highest-drafted pitcher from Puerto Rico since righthander Luis Atilano was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 35th overall selection in 2003.
Lopez is from a region of the island that is best-known for producing positional talent, and not surprisingly the 6-foot-4 righthander is a converted shortstop. He moved to the mound two years ago, when he started concentrating on baseball full-time. Prior to that, he excelled in track and field, volleyball and basketball, in addition to baseball.
After Lopez, there are perhaps a half-dozen solid position prospects with the potential to go in the first 10 rounds. However, there may end up being no more players drafted overall this year from Puerto Rico than were a year ago, when only 15 players were selected, 11 of whom signed.
That low total points to what has been a steady, downward trend concerning Puerto Rico and the draft. In both 2004 and 2006, 35 players were drafted that were products of Puerto Rican high schools. Two years ago, in what was considered a banner draft on the island, 33 players were selected. When Puerto Rico first entered the draft in 1989, there were 59 selections that year.
Part of the reason for the decline in interest in Puerto Rican talent can be attributed to the change in draft rules in 2007 that eliminated the old “draft-and-follow” rule, which provided an opportunity for major-league teams to draft players and retain their signing rights until a week before the next draft, provided that they did not attend four-year schools. That has discouraged teams from taking mid- or late-round fliers on young, undeveloped Puerto Ricans and monitoring their growth and improvement.
The annual Excellence Games, perhaps the biggest scouting attraction for Puerto Rican players each year, were held May 4-7. It provided the best opportunity for most clubs to see the premier Puerto Rican talent for this year’s draft assembled in one location.
Possibly the biggest surprise of all at that event was lefthander Cesar Ogando, who was draft-eligible last year but passed over. He has been attending a junior college in Puerto Rico since then, but has not played organized baseball of any significance as there are no college baseball programs there. Ogando, who is still 18 years old, flashed a fastball up to 94 mph. While his command and secondary pitches were inconsistent, he showcased the necessary arm strength to be drafted in the first 5-7 rounds.
The Major League Scouting Bureau holds one of its annual workouts in Puerto Rican just prior to the Excellence Games, and the main attraction for cross-checkers this year was Virgin Islands righthander Richard White. While White didn’t pitch at 92-93 mph as he did for scouts earlier in the spring, he nonetheless had a loose arm and projectable frame, and is also a candidate for the first 10 rounds.
One thing that almost certainly won’t happen this year is a player from the island receiving a signing bonus to match the one Dickie Lee Thon received from the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth-round pick a year ago as an inducement to pass up a scholarship offer to Rice. He signed for $1.5 million, nearly $400,000 more than the bonus given Puerto Rican outfielder Reymond Fuentes, a first-round pick a year earlier.
Thon’s bonus, the equivalent of a mid-first round slot, was driven not only by his high-ceiling talent but by his academic credentials and big-league bloodlines as he is the son of former major-league all-star shortstop Dickie Thon.
While this year’s crop is considered modest by Puerto Rican standards, scouts should have plenty to look forward to in 2012. Shortstop Carlos Correa from the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound, five-tool package and may be the best prospect to come from Puerto Rico in at least a decade.
Puerto Rico / Virgin Islands in a Nutshell:
STRENGTH: Premium Position Prospects.
WEAKNESS: Pitching Depth.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 3.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Cesar Ogando, lhp, Caribbean College. One scout compared the 6-foot-3 Ogando to a “shorter C.C. Sabathia,” for his body type. His fastball jumped from the upper-80s early in the spring to 91-94 mph in early May.
PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Gabriel Rosa, ss, Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS, Rio Grande. Rosa didn’t perform well at the Excellence Games, potentially costing himself a spot in the top three rounds, according to scouts.
WILD CARD: Michael Perez, c, Francisco Oller HS, Catano. Perez has fought injuries in the past, but a lefthanded-hitting catcher with power and arm strength always tempts scouts.
BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands Connection: Francisco Lindor, ss, Montverde Academy, Clermont, Fla. (raised in Caguas, P.R., and Toa Baja, P.R., before moving to Florida in 2006).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Carlos Correa, ss, 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).
2010 Draft: Eddie Rosario, of, Rafael Lopez Landon HS, Guayama (Twins/4th round).
Best Hitter: Jean Delgado, ss, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos.
Best Power: Gabriel Rosa, ss, Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS, Rio Grande.
Best Speed: Ismael Salgado, of, International Baseball Academy, Toa Alta.
Best Defender: Christian Otero, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Vega Baja.
Best Velocity: Cesar Ogando, lhp, Caribbean College.
Best Breaking Stuff: Jorge Lopez, rhp, Acadamia la Milagrosa, Cayey.
GROUP ONE (Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. JORGE LOPEZ – rhp, Academia la Milagrosa, Cayey
Very athletic 6-4/180, new to pitching, 89-92 mph FB, good feel for CU, sound delivery, high-ceiling talent.
GROUP TWO (Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)
2. GABRIEL ROSA – ss, Colegio Hector Urdaneta HS, Rio Grande
Long 6-4/180 build, future 3B/OF, 6.7 runner, big power potential, present strength, solid arm strength.
3. MICHAEL PEREZ – c, Francisco Oller HS, Catano
Solid 5-11/175, pull hitter with plus power, quick bat, plus throwing arm, receiving skills still a bit raw.
4. CESAR OGANDO – lhp, Caribbean College
Big bodied 6-3 build, local JC student but still 18, FB to 94 mph, flashes quality to CU/CH, Big velo jump.
5. JEAN DELGADO – ss, Isabel Flores HS, Juncos
Slender 6-0/150, polished player, whippy bat speed with gap power, quick feet, soft hands, 6.6. runner.
6. RICHARD WHITE – rhp, St. Croix Eductional HS, St. Thomas, V.I.
Wiry 6-1/175 frame, long loose arm action, high three-quarters release, FB up to 93 mph, off speed coming.
7. VIMEAL MACHIN – ss/c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Caguas
LH hitter with power, good balanced approach, + arm strength, SS now but BA speed projects him as a C.
8. NEFTALI ROSARIO – c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo
Mature 5-11/195, top catch/throw defender in P.R., polished, some bat speed, still developing as a hitter.
9. CRISITIAN OTERO – ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Vega Baja
Best defensive SS in P.R., + range/actions, slick glove, strong arm, lacks present strength at plate.
10. ISMAEL SALGADO – of, International Baseball Academy, Toa Alta
Excellent speed, good outfield instincts, beginnings of some bat speed, 6-1/155 frame, needs to get stronger.