In two weeks, one of baseball’s most important and most overlooked days will pass. July 2 is the first day 16-year-old international players can sign, and with it comes a flood of deals with Latin American players, especially from the Dominican Republic.
The Nationals expect to add roughly 12 to 15 players to their minor league pipeline, Director of International Scouting Johnny DiPuglia said, aiming for quality through quantity rather than making a big splash with two or three highly regarded players.
“We’re active,” DiPuglia said. “We’re not going to be on the high-high-high dollar guys. We feel we have comparable talent to what these other clubs have even without spending a ton on one player.”
Last year, the Nationals gave a $900,000 signing bonus to outfielder Anderson Franco, a sign that they may begin targeting high-ceiling talent rather than building depth. DiPuglia said at the time that the Nationals may only sign one or two players this year, spending seven figures on both. But given their evaluation of the field of available players, the Nationals chose to target an array of players at smaller prices.
“We’ll spend all the money that we have allocated,” DiPuglia said. “We volume shopped this year.”
The Nationals have a bonus pool of $2.188 million to spend on international signing bonuses, and they can spend roughly $2.3 million without incurring a prohibitive fine. Some teams will break the bank and not worry about a fine – the Yankees could dish out more than $15 million. But the Nationals will stick to the pool assigned to them by MLB.
DiPuglia said the Nationals focused on three areas: left-handed pitchers with the potential for high velocity; speed in up-the-middle positions; and bats with raw power.
Last year, Franco’s bonus was the most the Nationals had spent on one Latin amateur since they gave Smiley Gonzalez $1.4 million in 2006. Gonzalez turned out to be Carlos Alvarez and four years older than he claimed. The scandal led to the resignation of GM Jim Bowden and the stagnation of the Nationals’ Latin American pipeline.
Under DiPuglia, now five years into the job, the Nationals have revamped their Latin American operations. DiPuglia senses a renewed trust from ownership, engendered by more and more Latin players growing into prospects. Catcher Pedro Severino, right-handed pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, left-hander Hector Silvestre, center fielder Rafael Bautista and second baseman Wilmer Difo, among others, have all established themselves as possible big leaguers. All were signed and developed by DiPuglia and his team, which includes the invaluable Sandy Martinez, the manager of the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League team.
“The first two years was trying to get over the hump from what’s happened here in the past,” DiPuglia said. Now, he’s more excited about their DSL team than any other since he’s been here. In two weeks, the Nationals hope to further build their Latin American talent base.