In the first clip, he is stationary, standing on the infield dirt, his glove ready and his red socks pulled up to each knee. It then takes half a second — maybe less — for the grounder to travel into his glove, between his legs and to his right hand before he flicks the ball to a second baseman off-screen. And this is how we meet Armando Cruz, as some sort of teenage magician from the Dominican Republic. Shortstop is just where he does each trick.

“This kid’s got a knack for the flair, which obviously we’ll tone down when he comes to pro ball,” Johnny DiPuglia, the Washington Nationals’ assistant general manager for international operations, said Monday. The Nationals signed Cruz, 17, with a $3.9 million bonus at the end of last week.

“But we don’t want to take it away from him completely, because that’s an ability that God gave him, and it’s a special gift,” DiPuglia continued. “You may not want him throwing the ball between his legs and behind the back and stuff. Every once in a while, though, you have to let him express himself. Because that’s him.”

The next clip is from the same workout on the same field in Santo Domingo. Cruz drifts to his left, stabs a grounder and, after sending it to his hand in one motion, cocks the ball behind his right ear and throws to first. Next he picks up a grounder and, with a half-spin, lobs a toss behind his back toward second. Then, to finish the sequence, he does that between-the-legs thing on the run and makes it look like a rational way to play shortstop.

Sure, as DiPuglia noted, it may not be. But these were just parts of the videos that circulated in the months and weeks before the Nationals made Cruz the headliner of a 10-player international class. His signing bonus tied the highest Washington has given to a Latin American prospect. He was ranked fifth in’s international rankings for this class. He is a remarkably smooth defender. The Nationals believe he will outdo the expectations for his bat.

DiPuglia is usually averse to offering any MLB comps for such a young player. With Cruz, though, DiPuglia is reminded of when he scouted shortstop José Iglesias for the Boston Red Sox. Iglesias, 31, has played nine major league seasons and was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Angels in December.

“Some scout experts say he’s not going to hit, but I disagree,” DiPuglia said of Cruz. “I think he’s going to hit. I think he’s got really good balance, really good barrel awareness. He’s a risky hitter. He hits the ball to all fields. His hands play at the plate.”

The Nationals grew very interested in Cruz when they saw him in a tournament about 18 months ago. That’s when they put on the “full-court press,” as DiPuglia called it, and made Cruz their priority in this class. DiPuglia was most encouraged by Cruz improving at the plate each time he saw him. The longtime scout is used to it going the other way, teenagers regressing or showing inconsistency because, well, they’re teenagers.

But Cruz just kept pointing up. He is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, and DiPuglia expects him to stay on the smaller side. The Nationals are fine with that, hoping time and growth don’t stunt what Cruz does best.

Prospects in limbo

When it comes to the next steps for Cruz and the Nationals’ nine other signees, DiPuglia is worried about their development. The coronavirus pandemic led to a full cancellation of the minor league season in 2020. It is already threatening to shorten the schedule this year. And, for the Dominican players in particular, the Nationals’ academy in Boca Chica remains closed because of safety concerns.

From here, the Nationals will work on obtaining five-year work visas for each of the players they signed. After that, they are unsure whether the players will remain in their hometowns — a mix of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Aruba — or head to West Palm Beach, Fla., for minor league spring training. That is expected to start once the major leaguers depart for Washington. But every date on the calendar is a moving target.

The usual plan is for the Latin American teenagers to play in the Dominican Summer League, then maybe the Gulf Coast League in West Palm Beach, then hang in Florida for instruction at the team’s complex. DiPuglia feels that, while all young players are in limbo, Latin American players are even more affected by this uncertainty.

“For me, I’m really worried about that, because they have to adapt to the culture in the States,” DiPuglia explained. “And the only way to adapt to the culture in the States is playing in it. If you’re not able to leave your island, it’s really difficult.”

A lottery ticket

The Nationals’ international signing class had five players from the Dominican Republic, four from Venezuela and one from Aruba. The lone Aruban — right-handed pitcher Jefrem Leon — is 18 and signed for $10,000.

“I mean, it’s like Alabama scouting in Wyoming or Idaho. You got to take a chance,” DiPuglia said. “This kid is tall; he’s got a loose arm. The only problem with kids there is when they go home they don’t have the competition. You go to the Dominican and you hit .220; it’s kind of hard to survive in your neighborhood when a bunch of other guys are hitting .280, .290, .300, and they are ribbing you the whole way.

“But this is a low risk for us, and we’ll see what happens. Like I always say, we try to do the best we can in the Dominican and Venezuela, and then anything else is gravy.”

When DiPuglia was with the Red Sox, he signed shortstop Xander Bogaerts out of Oranjestad, Aruba. The 28-year-old is now a two-time all-star and one of the premier hitters at his position. That’s not to say Leon is destined for the same success. It’s just a reason to believe in looking where others often don’t.