There’s truly no other time where watching videos of 16 year old kids is more appropriate. In fact to call J-2 signing enthusiasts the pedophiles of the prospect world wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. Each year around this time we discuss dozens of Latin players between the ages of 16-20, from a variety of countries. The rules are a bit confusing to the average baseball fan. So I’ll break them down a bit and explain the differences between signing a player like Kevin Maitan, and signing Yulieski Gourriel. I’ll also list some of the names to be aware of, and give you a brief description of what I know about each. Most of these guys are 5+ years away from making an impact, and some might even be a year away from stepping foot on a pro ball field. This is best exemplified by players from last season’s J-2 period, like Eddy Julio Martinez and Yadier Alvarez. So these are names to be aware of, but I’d; A. Temper expectations, particularly in the short term and B. Discount their value accordingly in Dynasty first year player drafts, when ranking them against more polished college and prep players. In other words, always check ID.
The J-2 vs Cuban Rules
This is an element of the July 2nd international signings period that causes a great deal of confusion for those looking to follow along, but not well versed in the ins and outs of the period. First and foremost there’s a significant difference between players like Kevin Maitan and more established Cuban players like the Gourriel’s. Players like Maitan, or even a younger Cuban prospect like Lazarito Armenteros are subject to restrictions regarding when they can sign a professional contract. True international amateurs like these are allowed to sign after July 2nd until the following June, with the only stipulation being that they are 17, or turn 17, before the end of the first year of said contract. Teams are more restricted in terms of their bonus pools on these players, where there’s a limited amount of resources each team is allotted over the course of several years. For example the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees, all have a very limited pool this year after being heavy players in recent year’s J-2s.
As for established professional Cuban players the rules are much more straightforward. Players like Yulieski Gourriel, who are 23 years of age or older, and with more than 5 years of experience in the Serie Nacional (Cuban League) are eligible to sign with any team with zero restrictions on contract amount, and teams signing these players are not limited by any sort of bonus pool. The only stipulation is that these players have established residency in a country besides the US and Cuba, and upon establishing said residency will be declared free agents.
For our purposes, today I’m just going to look at the players subject to the international bonus pool. We’ll do a follow up on the non-pool Cubans as they sign.
Kevin Maitan, SS/3B Venezuela: At this point we should all be pretty well versed in who Maitan is. A 16 year old Venezuelan infielder, with plus plus power, and hit tool. Has drawn comps to Miggy and Chipper Jones, believed to be headed to Atlanta. I wrote my fantasy about him here.
Vladimir Gutierrez, RHP Cuba: Am I the only one still amused by Cubans with Slavic first names? Anyone? Anyone?….Nothing! Okay moving on, Gutierrez is considered by many to be the best arm in this international class. He mixes three pitches, that include a plus plus fastball, a plus hook, and an average change. Many consider Gutierrez to be a superior prospect to last year’s top arm Yadier Alvarez.
Luis Almanzar, SS Dominican Republic: Almost universally viewed as the top Dominican player in this J-2 crop, Almanzar is a power hitting middle infielder with an excellent set of tools. Many evaluators rate both his power and hit tool at 60 on the 80 scale. Little aside on the 80 scale, no one almost ever gets an 80. He’s only 16, but he’s a true potential 5 tool shortstop.
Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros, OF Cuba: The buzziest name of this class might not be the well-known Maitan but actually Lazarito. There’s been a lot of weird happenings in the background with agent switches, death threats, and other non-sense. I won’t discuss that here, you have google for that. What I will discuss is his supposed skill set. I say supposed because unlike American Prep prospects a majority of the evaluations are coming from workouts and such. There’s some debate as to what tools he possesses, but there’s no doubt about his speed, athleticism, and raw power. As for his hit tool and ability to stick in the middle of the field, time will tell.
Gabriel Arias, SS Venezuela: The other top prospect from Venezuela is a natural ball player with good instincts at the plate with an advanced approach. At the moment he possesses gap power but scouts think he could eventually mature into an above average power hitter. His speed is sub-par, which could be the reason many view him as a future 3rd baseman, and not a shortstop, his listed position.
Freudis Nova, SS Dominican Republic: One of the top offensive players in this year’s class, Nova has drawn comps to Hanley Ramirez, and it makes sense, on paper at least. He’s an athletic shortstop with the ability to play multiple positions on the field, but the Hanley comps really come from his power/speed mix. Scouts grade both tools at a 60, making him one of the more intriguing options for Dynasty players. Can’t wait for the SuperNova titles from Grey in 2022.
Victor Garcia, OF Venezuela: The highest rated power grade in the class belongs to Garcia and it’s easy to see why. We’re talking 70 grade power, and just huge potential if he can figure out the most important parts of hitting, pitch recognition and approach. At the moment he’s rumored to be the top target of the Cardinals. All of Garcia’s other tools are raw or sub-par, particularly his 20 grade speed….seesh.
Randy Arozarena, OF/2B Cuba: The 21 year old switch-hitting Cuban possesses one of the most complete skill sets in the pool, grading out between 55-60 on all five tools. There are reports that describe Arozarena as one of the more polished players available, and others that describe his fielding as raw. The most encouraging news for us fantasy focused prospectors is no one questions the bat. Shows a good mix of power/speed/approach, if he can stick at 2nd he could be a potential all-star at a historically thin position.
Yasel Antuna, SS Dominican Republic: Many scouts consider Antuna to be the second best player from the DR in this class, a few even rank him ahead of Almanzar. He’s another player with 5 tool potential, and is expected to stick in the middle of the infield. While Almanzar’s power plays up more, Antuna possesses more speed. That’s not to say he’s any sort of slouch with the bat, because make no mistake, he is not. Many view him as the second best switch-hitter behind Maitan. His approach at the plate and ability to recognize pitches also draw rave reviews.
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