Mets’ Recent International Free Agency Review

Andres Gimenez/Photo by Ed Delany

The largest and most important showcase of the year for 15-and-16-year-old Latin American-talent took place last month in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Teenage ballplayers from all over Latin America congregated to play competitively in front of scouts from across MLB. Without a doubt, the Mets had their own international scouting contingent present. These scouts were present to build and submit reports on these teenagers, most of whom will be eligible to sign this upcoming 2018-’19 signing period, which begins July 2.

In fact, many of these talented teenagers are already strongly linked to one or more MLB clubs. According to Baseball America, the Mets are considered the strong favorites to sign two hitters from this next young crop, catcher Francisco Alvarez, and outfielder Freddy Valdez.

While it is never too soon to look ahead and get excited about these precocious young talents, let’s look back across the last four Mets’ hauls in the international free agency (IFA) market. While studs like Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez garner national praise, a deep look into the Mets IFA classes show some other intriguing talents to also keep an eye on.

2014 Mets IFA Class

The largest signing bonus to be handed out during the 2014 class has not developed as quickly the Mets had hoped when they handed a cool $1 million to infielder Kenny Hernandez.

Though he boasted good bat speed and a balanced lefty swing when he signed at sixteen years old, Hernandez has struggled to produce at the plate during his time in MiLB. Hernandez, 19, managed to slash .208/.300/.257 last season for the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League Mets, his 18-year-old season.

Hernandez is going to have to start producing this year if he is ever going to get himself back on the map of Mets prospects to watch for. Thankfully, he’s still young enough to turn things around.

Perhaps the most exciting amateur talent signed in he ’14-’15 signing period was nabbed out of Mexico, when the Mets brought aboard 6’0 right-handed hitting catcher Juan Uriarte.

Uriarte, 20, has profiled well behind the dish, as he posses strong footwork and solid arm strength. He also broke out at the plate last year for the Kingsport Mets, slashing .305/.372/.455. Uriarte uses a compact stroke to generate gap power and has shown an acclivity to use an all-fields approach.

If Uriarte continues to excel on both sides of the ball, he could see some full season action this year for the Columbia Fireflies and you can expect his name to rocket up Mets prospect lists.

Another name of note from the Mets’ 2014 IFA class is Edgardo Fermin.  Signed for $250,000 out of Venezuela, the 6’0″ , 170-pound middle-infielder, Fermin made it to Brooklyn in 2017, after slashing .285/.360/.375 in his 19-year-old season. Fermin shows advanced ability to make solid contact, though not for much power, and profiles best at the keystone position, second base.

If Fermin can continue his solid all-fields approach, and add enough strength to profile for good gap power, he could still become a solid second base prospect for the New York Mets.

The Mets signed another Venezuelan infielder in that ’14-15 class when they gave Yoel Romero $300,000. Romero had a slow start to his career, but he broke out in 2017 as a 19-year-old for the DSL2 Mets. Romero, who split time between third base and left field, slashed .364/.439/.464 on his way to a Sterling Organizational Player of the Year Award for the DSL level.

The 6’0 right-handed hitter also swiped 17 bags on the season. Already at 20 years old for the upcoming season, Romero will have to back up his strong showing in rookie ball this summer.

For perhaps the best value in the 2014-2015 crop, the Mets signed shortstop Hansel Moreno for only $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Moreno, 21, stands at a very athletic 6’4 and boasts good actions and range at the shortstop position, where the Mets continue to give him most of his reps.

Moreno finally broke out offensively across two levels of rookie ball last year, slashing an impressive .295/.360/.432 between the Gulf Coast League Mets and the Kingsport Mets. There is still potential for more power (Moreno hit four home runs last year) if Moreno’s frame continues to fill out. If such occurs, Moreno could still profile well at the hot corner.

Another name from this class that has garnered notice is 22-year-old outfielder, Wagner Lagrange. A low-profile signing at the time out of the Dominican Republic, Lagrange slashed .330/.379/.460 across two levels of rookie ball last year. Though he was a little old for the competition, the nice mix of skills and tools here have drawn praise from scouts.

Lagrange shows excellent bat to ball skills, boasting a very low 12% career strikeout rate. He also shows good bat speed, growing power, and a strong arm to profile well in right field. Lagrange will be one to keep an eye on as he should open the 2018 season for full season low-A Columbia.

While many of the 2014 signees have only started to put it together, it’s important to remember that many developmental paths are not linear. Just because a prospect is technically old for his level, a 20-year-old can still grow significantly both physically and in skill set. Many of the young men listed above are still prime candidates to flourish in the Mets system for years to come.

Jaison Vilera/Photo by Ed Delany

2015 Mets IFA Class

Right off the top, the Mets’ 2015 IFA class has yielded a very high-probability major leaguer in shortstop Andres Gimenez. The young Venezuelan’s defensive and offensive talents have been widely praised across all outlets.

While the Mets gave Gimenez $1.2 million to sign, they actually gave slightly more to bring aboard Gregory Guerrero, when they gave the youngster $1.5 million.

Baseball America had Guerrero rated slightly higher than Gimenez during the summer of 2015 (No. 2 overall compared to No. 6). But much has changed on that outlook since, as Guerrero struggled mightily in rookie-ball last year. That being said, 2015 has actually been a diverse and fruitful year on the international front for the Mets, including their foray into Dutch country.

The Mets made news when they signed shortstop Shervyen Newton for $50,000 out of the Netherlands in 2015. His career outlook has been nothing but bright, as Newton managed a robust .877 OPS in the Dominican Summer League at the tender, young age of 18. The 6’4″ shortstop probably will grow off the position, but the youngster clearly has the frame and skills to project upon.

Other still-teenagers that have performed well across rookie-ball from the Mets 2015 haul include right-hander Jaison Vilera out of Venezuela, who gave up only 43 hits in 62 Gulf Coast League-innings last year. He had a 1.88 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in that span and was named a GCL All-Star.

Andres Regnault showed some on-base ability as an 18-year-old in the DSL last year, as the catcher hit .270/.359/.383.

While only throwing out 25% of base-stealers in his young career, Regnault has the frame to catch (5’11”, 200-pounds), and catchers notoriously take a very long developmental path. It should at least be interesting to see if Regnault stays at backstop and if he has any further success at the plate as he moves upwards.

2016 Mets IFA Class

So while 2015 brought us our most exciting international prospect since Amed Rosario, 2016 has thus far failed to yield any obvious stud prospects. That might easily change, however, as this class is still full of 17-and-18-year-olds, some of whom already have found success in professional ball.

The largest bonus of the entire period that the Mets gave out was $300,000. It was bestowed upon shortstop Sebastian Espino. The 17-year-old Dominican managed a solid .772 OPS in the DSL last year while showing off plus defensive skills at shortstop, including soft hands and good actions.

While his 6’2″, 176-pound frame has nearly all-but-filled out, there is a good chance Espino can stay at shortstop as he progresses through the Mets farm system. Espino can make a further make a name for himself by repeating his strong performance stateside this year.

Check out these other 2016 Mets-signee stat lines from the Dominican Summer League last year:

  • Jose Peroza – ($280,000 signing bonus) 17-year-old third-baseman, projects for plus, raw pop: .300/.349/.437
  • Luis Santana – ($200,000 signing bonus)  18-year-old, 5’8″ second-baseman: .325/.430/.481 with 34/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio
  • Wilfred Astudillo – ($150,000 signing bonus) 17 year-old, 5’11” switch-hitting catcher: .291/.350/.368

Throw in the Michael Otanez, who’s a big, 6’3″, 215-pound 20-year-old whose fastball sat in the mid-90’s, pre-Tommy John surgery, signing for only $35,000 and you have a solid if not an unspectacular early return on the 2016 class.

Ronny Mauricio/Photo by Ed Delany

2017 Mets IFA Class

If you believe early scouting reports (which you have no reason not to since nobody in the US has seen this kid play yet), there is some serious reason to get pumped up for Ronny Mauricio, the Mets top signee from last year’s IFA class.

The Mets were thrilled to sign Mauricio (Baseball America’s No. 3 overall international free agent last summer) for $2.1 million last July. All reports indicate a true defensive shortstop who switch-hits and has the chance to hit for average and power.

Indeed, the Mets went pretty big last July and also handed out some other noteworthy contracts to Latin American teenagers. They gave $1.5 million to Adrian Hernandez and $500K to Stanly Consuegra, a couple of toolsy 16-year-old outfielders.

Meanwhile, under the radar, the Mets signed right-hander, David Marcano, who had to wait until he turned sixteen last August to sign with the Mets. Watch his name when the DSL gets underway this summer, as it has been reported that Marcano already boasts a low-to-mid 90s fastball, an already solid curveball, and a good feel for his changeup.

While the 2017 class hasn’t played yet, the early scouting returns and even financial expenditures in the market are enough to make Mets fans salivate. They signed four of Baseball America’s top-fifty prospects for the signing period.

Summary

As we embark on a new 2018 minor league season, Mets fans will get to see some of the promising fruits of the 2014 IFA Class reach full season ball.  Along with a still very young and promising 2016 crop of talent, and a few bright spots to go along with rising star Andres Gimenez from the 2015 crop, it will again be exciting to see what young talent the Mets mine out of Latin America, starting July 2, 2018, when the fun begins anew.