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Indians make an International splash

July 5, 2011
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The Indians were surprisingly busy over the July 4th holiday weekend as they signed five players during the International Signing Period which kicked off on July 2nd.

All told the Indians signed five 16-year old Latin American free agents by inking Dominican Republic shortstop Dorssys Paulino and outfielder Francisco Miguel and Venezuelan left-handed pitcher Edgar Pineda, outfielder Omar Sanchez, and outfielder Anthony Santander.

Indians Director of Scouting John Mirabelli just returned to the states after spending over a week out in Latin America looking at players and helping get the deals completed.

“We actually did a little more on July 2nd than we have done in the past as we signed five 16-year olds,” Mirabelli said in a phone interview on Monday night. “With the way the market has shifted, the player values just happened to be guys we liked that were 16 years old and on July 2nd.”

With the signing of four position players and one pitcher, the Indians achieved their goal of picking up some upside bats.

“It was a combination of looking for some bats this year and in fact offense is what the strength of the Latin American market was this year so it kind of played into what we were looking for,” Mirabelli said. “Obviously the draft was very pitching heavy, so it was just a combination of things that broke with how we have gone more with the offensive side than the pitching so far.”

The Indians inked Paulino and Miguel on Saturday night at their new state-of-the-art facility in San Antonio de Guerra, Dominican Republic, which is 18 miles east of the capital city of Santo Domingo. The other players were all signed on Monday morning.

Paulino is considered the best talent the Indians landed as he was ranked by Baseball America as the 14th best prospect going into the signing period and ended up signing for a reported $1.1 million, which may be a record for the Indians in Latin America.

“What attracted us to him was the offensive upside with the bat,” Mirabelli said about Paulino. “For a 16-year old kid and in this market we felt he has some polish. He has some instincts with the bat, but he is also a pretty good athlete as he is a 6-7 runner for us and has a plus arm and plus athleticism. But the bat is probably the featured tool as he has some instincts to hit. He’s young and as with all of these guys it is about developmental time as they gain experience, games and instruction.”

Miguel is another interesting player that Mirabelli was happy to bring into the fold.

“He’s 6’4” and 190 pounds, which is a big kid for 16 years old,” Mirabelli said. “It is more power than it is hitting right now for him. He is a corner guy who can throw, and is a pretty good runner for his size as well. We are actually going to give him some time in center field but I think in the end he ends up in right field.”

The other three players Santander, Pineda and Sanchez are all interesting upside players from Venezuela. Santander is a switch-hitter with a nice combination of size, strength, and speed and has the most upside of the three. Sanchez is a switch-hitting outfielder who is a very good athlete with plus instincts and is a 6.6 runner. Pineda is lefty who has a fastball that sits 88-92 MPH with a power curveball and a good feel for pitching.

When it comes to scouting such raw talent in Latin America, it all comes down to the projection of tools. Speed, arm strength, and defensive tools are easier to project, but the bat is always the longest projection when evaluating these players. Contrary to what they have done in recent years they will probably not rush any of these players through the system and will instead let them play a significant amount of ball in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) to gain game experience before coming stateside.

“I think we are better off because they are so young to just let the natural development progress take place,” Mirabelli said. “We would like to get them over for Instructional League or extended spring training to get their feet wet, but I don’t think they will be rushed. The last couple of years we moved some guys quicker because of opportunities and where our system was and some of those guys were 17-18 years old. I think with these kids the process is important and they have not played a lot of games, if any.”

Due to the involved nature of the approval process and completing investigations and such, none of the signings will play in the DSL this year.

“None of those guys will play,” Mirabelli said. “There is no way they will get approved before the season is complete here in the next six weeks.”

It is no secret that in recent years the Indians have opted to stay out of the circus show that is the International Signing Period, especially at the start of it where the market has gone crazy and contract demands are ridiculously inflated. Recently they have chosen to spread their money around more on some of the guys they feel were undervalued by the market, such as players like right-handed pitcher Felix Sterling and outfielder Juan Romero who they signed in the spring of 2010.

Mirabelli claims that the Indians increased activity in the early stages of the International Signing Period is not a change in philosophy, but just that the value that they determined for these players happened to matchup with what those players were looking for.

“The philosophy with our organization is we determine the value of the player, whatever that is be it the draft or major league free agency,” Mirabelli said. “We kind of gauge the long term value of what the player is worth, and sometimes that lines up with their expectations and sometimes it doesn’t. In Latin America there are market factors that influence the value the player can have and what you need to sign them. We stuck to our value and we liked these players for what their ability and talent was.”

The cost of doing business on the Latin American front has escalated dramatically in recent years, so it also helped that ownership increased the budget that Mirabelli and his scouts have to work with on the International front.

“We didn’t change and decide to go out and spend a lot of money, the value has to be what our scouts see in terms with the ability and the talent,” Mirabelli said. “That stayed the same. One thing that did allow us [to make these signings] is we are fortunate that ownership made increases to our International signing budget, so we did have a little more resources to compete this year.”

Even with the higher profile International signings, it should not be viewed as a change in the way the Indians will operate going forward outside of the United States. They still plan to be efficient with their money and stick to their process.

“I don’t want you to think that we are all of a sudden going after high dollar guys,” Mirabelli said. ”That’s just kind of how the market is. You can’t give a huge percentage of your budget to one guy, but if there is common ground where we can get the player for what we think is good value within our finite budget we will. Even if I had $10 million, I still wouldn’t give guys $5 million.”

Now the attention on the scouting front starts to get back more to looking at players for potential trades to help the big league team. Also, scouts will continue to get a look at some players from the draft that are playing summer ball to see who the Indians should take the next step in negotiations with before the August 15th signing deadline.

In the meantime, out in Latin America the Indians will continue to sign some more players throughout the signing period and into the offseason. But it looks like their “spending spree” of sorts is over for this year.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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