Draft : : State Preview
Thursday, May 31, 2012

State Preview: Puerto Rico

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect Game

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 scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players as ranked in Perfect Game's state-by-state scouting lists.


Contributing: Allan Simpson

Puerto Rico State-by-State List
2011 Puerto Rico Overview

Puerto Rico Overview:
History-Making Year in Works for Puerto Rico

This should be a historic draft year for Puerto Rico as it will likely result in the highest-ever pick from the island in shortstop Carlos Correa, and the highest-ever pitcher drafted in either righthander Jose Orlando Berrios or Edwin Diaz.

The supremely-talented Correa is assured of going in the top 6-7 picks, and is even a candidate to go first overall as has worked out for the Houston Astros, who hold the top pick. Few would be surprised if that development were to occur, just as few would be surprised if as many as four Puerto Ricans are selected on the first day of the draft (encompassing the first 60 picks), with shortstop Jesmuel Valentin Diaz the logical player added to the afore-mentioned trio.

The talent inflow from Puerto Rico this year hardly ends with those four as there are at least four more players that have realistic chances of being picked within the top 5-6 rounds. In 2011, three Puerto Ricans were selected in the top five rounds.

The dramatic spike in Puerto Rican talent comes at an ironic time in the evolution of the draft, especially with new draft rules in place this year that may have far-reaching implications for international players.

Puerto Ricans have never been particularly happy that Major League Baseball took the step in 1990 to include the Commonwealth with the rest of the United States (and Canada in 1991) in having its players be part of a restrictive draft process, instead of having the freedom to sign on the open market as international free agents, like other Caribbean nations, as had previously been the case.

Some Puerto Ricans who have remained close to the baseball scene have even cited the draft as one of the causes in what is perceived as a decline in the popularity of the sport on the island, especially from its heyday in the ‘60s to ‘80s.

With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that has numerous draft implications, however, it seems inevitable that there will be some sort of universal international draft in place by as soon as 2014 that would incorporate players from other Caribbean hotbeds such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. There has been much discussion that Puerto Rico’s young prospects would be included in that draft, rather than the current domestic draft, a concept influential baseball officials in Puerto Rico seem amenable to.

A sidebar of note relative to the current Puerto Rican crop has been the emergence of a strong second option for those players who may not have the physical tools to move immediately to professional baseball in the U.S., but could develop those tools with more work and time. At least five Puerto Ricans in this draft class have signed college commitments with Alabama State, and all seem to be the type of player who would strongly benefit from three or four years of college baseball, an option that has been all too infrequently unavailable to Puerto Rican players in the past.

Alabama State is coached by Mervyl Melendez, a Puerto Rican native who established strong ties to Puerto Rico while coaching for 12 years at Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College, but has apparently become even more aggressive in his pursuit of talent from the island, in his second year at his new school.

Puerto Rico in a nutshell:

STRENGTH:
Premium front-line talent.
WEAKNESS: Lefthanded pitching.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 5.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Eduardo Rivera, of, Adolfina de Puig HS, Toa Baja.
Rivera was a virtual unknown, even among Puerto Rican scouts, at the beginning of the spring season, and there have even been whispers that one big-league team may have been hiding him out with the goal of slipping him through to the draft sight unseen at major scouting events. That won’t happen now as word of Rivera’s blinding speed leaked out and he was included among other elite Puerto Rican prospects in the Excellence Games in early May. Rivera ran the 60 in a lightning-fast 6.3 seconds at that event and comparisons were immediately made to another former Puerto Rican speedster, Reymond Fuentes, a 2009 first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox. The attending Major League Scouting Bureau immediately slapped an OFP grade of 56 (on a scale of 20 to 80) on Rivera, the second-highest ranking of any player in the 2012 Puerto Rican draft class behind star shortstop Carlos Correa (58). While Rivera’s skills are raw and his resume too short to be drafted where that grade might normally imply, Rivera generated enough interest to have a strong chance of going inside the first five rounds.

WILD CARD: Jorge Fernandez, of, Colegio Hector Urdaneta, Ceiba.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Fernandez has shown so much improvement this spring, and has such a diverse set of tools and skills, that it is difficult to pin down exactly where he should line up in this draft class. A former catcher who was converted full-time to the outfield only this spring, Fernandez shows flashes that he can handle center field in the long term, but may be pushed to right field at some point as he gets stronger. Fernandez, a switch-hitter, is also just on the cusp of developing the kind of power, especially from the left side, that would enable him to profile well in right field but would make him an even more-coveted prospect as a center fielder. There is enough mixed opinion among scouts on Fernandez’ worth that he could range from being the third Puerto Rican position player off the board, just behind shortstop Jesmuel Valentin Diaz, or could go as low as the fifth such player drafted.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Puerto Rico Connection:
Bryan De la Rosa, c, Olympic Heights HS, Boca Raton, Fla./Bucky Dent Baseball Academy (Grew up/lives in Toa Alta).
Top 2013 Prospect: Yan Hernandez, ss, Carlos Beltran Academy, San Lorenzo.
Top 2014 Prospect: No established prospect.

HIGHEST DRAFT PICKS

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).
2011 Draft: Jorge Lopez, rhp, Academia de Milagrosa, Cayey (Twins/2nd round).

2011 DRAFT OVERVIEW

College Players Drafted/Signed:
0/0.
Junior College Players Drafted/Signed: 1/1.
High School Players Drafted/Signed: 13/9.

BEST TOOLS

Best Athlete:
Carlos Correa, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Best Hitter: Jesmuel Valentin Diaz, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Best Power: Carlos Correa, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Best Speed: Eduardo Rivera, of, Adolfina de Puig HS, Toa Baja.
Best Defender: Carlos Correa, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
Best Velocity: Edwin Diaz, rhp, Naguabo HS.
Best Breaking Stuff: Jose Orlando Berrios, rhp, Papa Juan 23 HS, Bayamon.
Best Command: Jose Orlando Berrios, rhp, Papa Juan 23 HS, Bayamon.

TOP PROSPECTS, GROUPS ONE and TWO

GROUP ONE
(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. CARLOS CORREA, ss, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Santa Isabel
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Correa has received so much exposure over the last 18 months that he has practically been assured of breaking the existing record for the highest drafted Puerto Rican on record. That mark is currently held by catcher Ramon Castro, the 17th overall pick in 1994, and the gifted Correa should not only blow past that mark but he remained on the short list of candidates to be the first pick overall on the eve of the draft. After being named the first Perfect Game All-American from Puerto Rico last summer, leading to his participation in the prestigious PG All-American Classic in San Diego, and receiving the award for the top defensive player in the 2012 class that coincides with that event, Correa has only improved his game even further this spring, especially with the bat, which now grades out as advanced a tool as any player in the current high-school class. The biggest talking point among scouts concerning Correa’s overall game is the speculation on whether he will remain at shortstop over the long haul, given his extreme arm strength and athleticism, especially as his frame fills out. Though he ran the 60 in 6.69 seconds at the recent Excellence Games in Puerto Rico, there is ongoing concern that he may eventually slow down and be forced to move over to third base. The potential of Correa’s power playing in the middle of the field, though, makes him the highest-ceiling player in the draft and will likely prompt the team that drafts him to keep him at shortstop for as long as possible. A point less discussed is that Correa, a University of Miami recruit, is a 4.0 student who speaks English fluently. He is also well-traveled and comfortable in the United States, something that will benefit him immediately when he enters professional baseball.

2. JOSE ORLANDO BERRIOS, rhp, Papa Juan 23 HS, Bayamon
Only two pitchers from Puerto Rico have ever been drafted in the top two rounds—righthander Jorge Lopez, a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers last year, and righthander Luis Atilano, a supplemental first-round selection of the Atlanta Braves in 2003. That number could easily double this year alone as Berrios and a second righthander, Edwin Diaz, are earmarked for the top two rounds. Of the two, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Berrios will likely be the first off the board. His stuff has been so good this spring that it obviously has caused teams to look past his short stature to hold him in such high standing. Berrios’ fastball generally has sat in the 92-94 mph range but has bumped as high as 97 at times. He generates that velocity from an easy, low-effort delivery and high-three-quarters release point that creates good angle to the plate. He also has very good feel for a curve ball that he will work up and down the velocity scale, sometimes throwing it up to 79 mph with a hard, biting shape, and other times as low as 70 mph, with a slow, changeup effect. His basic changeup is also a quality pitch with very good life. Berrios has emerged as a top pitching prospect, even as he used to play shortstop and second base on the same team as top Puerto Rican prospect Carlos Correa. He was shifted full-time to the mound two years ago and blossomed into a top prospect by adding 15-20 pounds of strength over the course of the last year.

3. EDWIN DIAZ, rhp, Naguabo HS
Diaz is a classic projection pitcher, with very long arms and legs on his slight 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, and loose, easy actions. The catch is that Diaz has gained 3-4 mph of velocity this spring and is already throwing up to 97 mph, making the idea of projecting him further a very exciting proposition for scouts. One high-level scout with extensive international experience has called Diaz a dead ringer for Texas Rangers string-bean righthander Neftali Feliz at the same age, both in terms of stuff and physique. Diaz ranks behind fellow Puerto Rican righthander Jose Orlando Berrios as a prospect, due mainly to the other parts of his package. His delivery can be inconsistent, especially in his front-side mechanics, but he generates hard spin on his mid- to upper-70s curve. His changeup might be his most-consistent offering, although he doesn’t throw it very often at this point. Diaz is a strong candidate for the sandwich round, although there are teams at the back end of the first round who have included him in their discussions.

4. JESMUEL VALENTIN DIAZ, ss/2b, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Manati
Valentin Diaz is the son of former 16-year major-league infielder Jose Valentin, now a minor-league manager in the San Diego Padres system at low Class A Fort Wayne of Midwest League. Because he has been so exposed to the game at the professional level through the years, Valentin Diaz has probably improved his draft stock the least over the last several months among the premium Puerto Rican draft prospects, although he still projects as a possible supplemental first-round/second-round type of pick. It’s unclear whether he will be drafted as a shortstop or second baseman, but Valentin Diaz has been so insistent on wanting to play shortstop that he left the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, where he often played alongside top Puerto Rican prospect Carlos Correa, so that he could play shortstop exclusively. In the opinion of most scouts, he profiles as a second baseman, where his actions are more polished, and his very soft hands and quick exchange stand out. Meanwhile, Valentin Diaz’ stand out tool is his bat. He is a switch-hitter with near-equal ability from both sides of the plate, though his lefthanded swing sometimes looks a bit faster with better extension out front. He is an aggressive, polished hitter who hits hard line drives to all fields and has handled top-level pitching at major events with little problem.

GROUP TWO
(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

5. EDUARDO RIVERA, of, Adolfina de Puig HS, Toa Baja
Rivera was on virtually no one’s follow list before competing in the Excellence Games in early May, where he ripped off a startling 6.3-time in the 60. He prompted an immediate string of comparisons to Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round Rey Fuentes, a speed-based talent. While Rivera and Fuentes share the same type of raw speed, most scouts are quick to realize that Rivera’s overall skills are too raw at this point to hold up that comparison, perhaps as a result of the very limited exposure he has had against high-level competition. Rivera is a lefthanded hitter with a short, quick swing that is pretty fundamentally sound, although he is unlikely to develop anything more than gap-type power in the future. His blazing speed will no doubt provide him with exceptional range once he improves his routes and jumps on fly balls in centerfield. There is some talk of Rivera being drafted as high as the third round, but the fifth round seems more appropriate, given his late emergence as a prospect.

6. WILFREDO RODRIGUEZ, c, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Carolina
At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Rodriguez has an exceptionally strong and compact build, but is also deceptively quick and agile for his size, and will run the 60 in the 6.8-second range. His best tool is his bat. He has a very aggressive approach from the right side with a short, compact stroke, and looks to drive balls hard with every swing. Rodriguez will put on one of the more-impressive batting practice displays you’ll see in a young hitter and has definite plus lift and pull power, although he’ll often shorten up his swing a bit in games. Defensively, Rodriguez sets up and receives the ball very comfortably, and his athleticism is evident in his shifting and blocking. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but it rates solid average in strength, and Rodriguez is an accurate and consistent thrower. The team that ends up drafting Rodriguez will be the one that believes that his swing approach and aggressiveness will translate to enough contact at the pro level so that his power will evolve naturally. Rodriguez is a very good student, with a scholarship to Seminole State (Fla.) JC amid offers from Division I programs, so there is a possibility he might choose the college route, depending on his projected draft status.

7. JORGE FERNANDEZ, of, Colegio Hector Urdaneta, Ceiba
Fernandez has spent much of his development time as a catcher, but was moved to center field this year as he continued to grow into his athletic 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame and it was determined that his speed and arm were better suited for the outfield. Those tools continued to develop, as hoped. Fernandez is a 6.7-6.8 runner in the 60 with easy, low-effort strides; he also has a long, loose throwing action and projects above-average arm strength once his footwork and throwing mechanics become more consistent. Some scouts believe that he should be able to continue to play center field, while others feel he has more of the classic right-field tools, especially as he continues to grow and fill out. Fernandez is a switch-hitter, but his swing mechanics and overall bat speed are much better from the left side, and his improvement hitting lefthanded has been one of the big reasons he has improved his draft stock this spring. The most intriguing aspect of his offensive improvement is that he has shown more lift and extension in his swing to project future power.

8. KRISTIAN BRITO, 1b, Ramon Quinonez Medina HS, Yabucoa
Brito is coincidentally both the youngest and most physically-imposing of all the top Puerto Rico prospects. He doesn’t turn 18 until November, and yet is already 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, and has that one, singular tool that gets scouts excited, regardless of what type of physical package they find it in: huge raw power. Brito played frequently in front of scouts last summer, and his power was rarely evident, but he made tremendous improvement between then and January, when he put on a power show at Perfect Game’s World Showcase in Florida that continued unchecked through the spring. His swing became both shorter and more-explosive, and while he still didn’t quite match Carlos Correa’s power display at the same event, it was still eye-opening. Brito will likely be limited to first base, where his hands are very playable and his arm strength a plus for that position.

3 PROSPECTS TO WATCH

JANLUIS CASTRO, 2b, Colegio Hector Urdaneta, Trujilo Alta
Castro is listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, but is probably actually closer to 5-8. He gets plenty of attention from scouts because he is one of the best hitters in Puerto Rico, and compares very favorably to Jesmuel Valentin Diaz (No. 4) as a switch-hitter, although he lacks Diaz’s power potential. Castro plays some shortstop now, in addition to second base, and even has a background catching, but will likely be moved permanently to second base at the next level. Castro is one of at least five Puerto Ricans in the 2012 class that has a scholarship offer from Alabama State.

MALCOM DIAZ, rhp, International Baseball Academy, Levittown
If anything, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Diaz has a looser, faster arm that righthander Edwin Diaz (No. 3), who is no relation. He throws from a full wind-up with a long, extended arm action and pitches at 89-91 mph with outstanding late sinking action on his fastball, and will occasionally hit 93 mph. Diaz repeats his delivery well and commands his fastball to both sides of the plate with some intent. While he throws both a mid-70s curveball and a changeup, the first job for a coach at the next level will be to help Diaz hone those pitches to give hitters a different look from his fastball.

ANGEL ORTEGA, ss, Colegio Hector Urdaneta, Guaynabo
The wiry 6-foot-2, 165-pound Ortega has outstanding actions at shortstop, with easy flowing movements, very soft and flashy hands, and excellence balance through release on his throws. He’s fun to watch play defense and has a nose for the spectacular play. While his glove grades out as well-above average, his raw arm strength is average, although it plays up due to his quick exchange and release. A switch-hitter, it is believed he could progress as a hitter as he continues to add strength to his frame. Like his Puerto Rican teammate Janluis Castro, Ortega has a scholarship to Alabama State and that would appear to be the more-prudent place for him to develop his talent.

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