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Nats make first significant international signing in years

Jul 2, 2015, 11:17 AM EST

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The Nationals have signed Dominican outfielder Juan Soto to a $1.5 million bonus, the organization’s first international signing of any significant consequence since the notorious Esmailyn Gonzalez fiasco nearly a decade ago.

The signing has not been formally announced yet, but it was confirmed by a club source. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez first reported the deal.

Soto, 16, is a natural right fielder with a “smooth lefty cut and projectable frame with above average power potential,” according to a Fangraphs scouting report. He was rated the 13th-best prospect in this year’s international class, according to Baseball America, 22nd by MLB.com.

The signing (which occurred on the annual July 2 date when international players become eligible) is particularly notable for the Nationals, who have completely shied away from major international signings since the Gonzalez case rocked the organization six years ago.

The Nationals signed a Dominican shortstop who claimed to be a 16-year-old named Esmailyn Gonzalez on July 2, 2006, handing him a club-record bonus of $1.4 million. Three years later, the organization learned Gonzalez had lied about his age and identity; he actually was four years older than he claimed and was named Carlos Alvarez.

That revelation, along with inquiries into allegations of part of the bonus money being skimmed by team officials, led to the firing of special assistant Jose Rijo and director of Dominican operations Jose Baez in February 2009. General manager Jim Bowden resigned three days later, ultimately paving the way for Mike Rizzo to take over the Nationals’ baseball operations department.

After being burned so publicly by the Gonzalez scandal, the Nationals stayed almost entirely out of the international market since, signing mostly less-touted prospects for far less money. Some of those players have developed into top organizational prospects, most notably infielder Wilmer Difo and right-hander Reynoldo Lopez.

Thursday’s signing of Soto to a new club record bonus suggests the franchise finally is comfortable delving back into the prominent international market.

Here is video of Soto from a recent exhibition for top Latin American prospects, posted by Fangraphs…

  1. NatsNut - Jul 2, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Harper’s 2019 replacement? 😉

    • rlndtln - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:52 PM

      If they replace Harper I go.

  2. scnatsfan - Jul 2, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    I’m shocked. Pleasantly.

  3. Ellie - Jul 2, 2015 at 11:31 AM

    As much of a fiasco as the Gonzalez deal was, would the Nats even be where they are now had Bowden stuck around and Rizzo not taken over? Would Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper been offered the bonuses they got, or would they have gone unsigned like Aaron Crow and held out for another year? Would Jayson Werth and Max Scherzer have come to the Nationals with their huge contracts? Would the Nats have traded for Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez? Would they have drafted Anthony Rendon or been scared off by his injury history? Or been similarly concerned about Lucas Giolito’s likely need for Tommy John surgery when he was drafted?

    It’s always amazing how many things have to fall into place for a team to be successful or fail, but if we want to look on the bright side, the Nationals’ organisational ineptitude as evidenced by the Gonzalez disaster eventually led to the growing success of the team beginning with the near .500 2011 season, and their likely continued success in future seasons.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 2, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    I don’t know this player but like the move to get a player that will fit right in as a Top Prospect

  5. alexva6 - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    what portion of our international signing pool does this use up?

    • Danny - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:11 PM

      We still have about $300,000 maybe 4.

  6. Steady Eddie - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    Take a look at that video — a nice quiet swing for a 16-year old. Either someone has already taught him well or he’s taken a good model. Hopefully speaks well for coachability.

    • NatsLady - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:31 PM

      I was thinking that’s a nice swing. Too bad you only get to see that little snippet.

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:11 PM

    Any event that helped propel Bowden out of town deserves to be memorialized on a plaque at Nationals Park.

    The Nats’ forbearance from international signings has not been a bad thing, either. Maya showed they were woefully ill-equipped to evaluate international talent. Cuban players signed by other teams have underperformed their paychecks (or have been pains in the posterior, e.g., Puig) as often as they have justified their contracts. What’s the point of spending $50+MM for a spot on your AAA roster? In the meantime, the Nats’ deliberate learning process is beginning to pay dividends — Difo, Lopez and a bunch of other promising players at Potomac and Hagerstown — and they have cherry-picked international players who validated themselves in other organizations (Escobar, Rivero).

    I hope this kid lives up to his potential. Signing players at age 16 is a crap shoot in any sport. I’d really like to see an international draft to bring some rationality to the $$. It would hurt quite a few players but would, overall, encourage teams to pay more significant bonuses than many players currently receive (a bunk in an academy and three squares a day).

  8. jd - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    No one really knows how a 16 year old will turn out but it’s high time the Nats started developing some position players especially outfielders.

    • NatsLady - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:34 PM

      Well, it’s not for lack of trying. Gave two away (Souza Jr and Billy Burns) and seem to have had rotten luck with Brian Goodwin. So Rizzo drafted a college outfielder, a HS outfielder, and signed an international outfielder. I think he’s in sync with your thinking. 😉

  9. nats128 - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    I dont know much about international signings but that seems like a ton of money to invest in a 16 year old

    • jd - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:37 PM

      Nats128,

      That’s chump change in today’s sports landscape. The only way you get any kind of prospect is to over pay. The Dodgers paid $16 mil for their top international signee.

  10. natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 2, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    “After being burned so publicly by the Gonzalez scandal, the Nationals stayed almost entirely out of the international market since, signing mostly less-touted prospects for far less money.”

    Two words: Yunesky Maya.

  11. Drew - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:14 PM

    Rizzo deserves a lot of credit for his resourcefulness. As the Nats have become a top-flight franchise since 2012 their draft position has dropped accordingly.

    Rizzo has adapted well, replenishing the Nats’ young talent through trades and international signings.

    Of the Nats’ top 20 prospects on their minor league page, the team acquired 11 – more than half – through trades and international signings outside the draft.

    The 11 are: Cole, Turner, Lopez, Ross, Difo, Severino, Rodriguez, Robles, Rivero, Vettleson and Bautista.

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:23 PM

      Except that Cole originally started his pro career as a Nats draft pick.

      • Drew - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:26 PM

        He only returned to the Nats via the trade.

  12. Doc - Jul 2, 2015 at 1:16 PM

    Don’t know a lot of LH swinging 16 yr. olds, but that swing looks pretty good. Like the signing of more position players vs. pitchers..

    Look at what the Cubbies are reaping in their farm system

    • adcwonk - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:28 PM

      Indeed. Young hitters have a much higher probability of success than young pitchers. (Let me rephrase: if you look at, say, teenagers who are drafted in the first round, you find that a greater percentage of position players made it to the majors than pitchers)

      • Doc - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:57 PM

        Corredtomundo, dc!

        Draft position players; trade for pitchers! Arms you can never count on—just ask the guys that scouted Purke!

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:19 PM

        I agree with wonk about the general probabilities–but I think the point you’re making is about high school (or high school aged) pitchers specifically, no?

        Doc seems to be expanding the rule and making it an absolute, which I think Rizzo, to his credit, has not done.

        Case in point: see Giolito, Lucas.

      • adcwonk - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:53 PM

        Right — I’m just saying that the smart thing to do is to be extra/very careful when spending money on a young pitcher, no matter where he comes from.

  13. nats106 - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    In other news, Jose Fernandez looked solid in his first MLB game back from Tommy John Surgery. I still stand by my belief that the Marlins will end up contending, despite their owner.

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:01 PM

      The Marlins will need to make up ground quickly, otherwise they will be sellers at the trade deadline.

      • nats106 - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:05 PM

        OK except for that possibility. This guy is the Dan Snyder of baseball…..

  14. micksback1 - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    I love it!

  15. Danny - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:57 PM

    Mets down 4-1

    • natsfan1a - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:18 PM

      Go, Cubs, go!

  16. micksback1 - Jul 2, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    Rizzo is pro active and that is why he is maybe one of the top 3 GM’s in all of sports.

    • NatsLady - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:08 PM

      He never gets mentioned. I think it’s because he doesn’t wear a suit and isn’t smooth and college-educated.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:58 PM

        Suits and degrees? Sure, the braniacs are now part of the new age of analytical smarty-pants but I think most of them dress like Rizzo. It’s a results business. As soon as Rizzo wins a World Series he will vault over others. He has Executive of the Year hardware already and needs a ring IMO to move up to Sabean, Epstein and Mozeliak levels. Sabean went to Eckerd (?) College, Epstein went to Yale, and Mozeliak went to University of Colorado. Epstein is probably the most cerebral Prez/GM/Executive in all of sports.

        The funny thing is how it’s a what have you done for me lately biz. Look at Jeff Luhnow. They were ready to run him out of town last year after the debacle with his #1 overall pick. Turns out Luhnow isn’t the village idiot. He was right about the pick and didn’t succumb to the pressure put on him by the agent and the media. Let’s see how they overcome their most serious injury of the season with Springer’s wrist. I also want to see if he gets a true #3 pitcher before the trade deadline. If the Astros pull this off and make the postseason, this is one of the most dramatic turnarounds in sports.

  17. NatsLady - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    Sound familiar? Wait, it’s the Mets.
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB12349934199692733538104581083923419938318

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:00 PM

      Wow, thought I was reading about Jayson Werth there instead of the Mets.

  18. thewerthwhisperer - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:19 PM

    Would someone please offer a quick explanation of why some NL teams are batting their pitcher in the 8 spot? How does that help exactly? (Unless of course you’re the Mets, and Matz is pitching, in which case he bats in the middle of the order. :>)

    • langleyclub - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:38 PM

      The theory is that it makes more likely for runners to be on base when your 1-2-3 hitters are batting. As your #9 hitter is closer to those top of the lineup hitters than the #8 hitter. Even with that explanation, I think it’s stupid.

      • drazthegr8 - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:12 PM

        I think it’s smart if you have the right guys.

        My understanding is the 7 hitter should be a OBP/speedy guy who can get bunted over by the pitcher at #8 and then you put an RBI type guy at 9 to drive him in.

        Also, you are also inclined to pinch hit for your pitcher after 2 ABs or late in a tight game, so you’re likely bringing in a good batter in important situations anyway.

    • chiefwj - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:39 PM

      There have been several reasons given, not necessarily mutually exclusive:

      1) You have a hitter who would be a leadoff hitter except for bad OBP (singles hitter, good speed, but bad strike-zone judgment), who would hit 9th in the other league: Case in point–Billy Hamilton

      2) LaRussa did it because he thought McGwire would have more RBI opportunities after the first AB hitting behind 3 hitters rather than a pitcher and 2 hitters. He wanted him to hit 3rd, not 4th to ensure he came up in the 1st inning.

      3) Your logical #8 hitter is so bolluxed up by hitting in front of the pitcher that he might perform better hitting ahead of the lead-off hitter. Case in point: Ian Desmond, if you were to drop him to #8.

      Baseball Prospectus did an analysis of this sometime this spring concluding (if I remember correctly) that there might be an advantage, but it would be fairly marginal.

  19. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:44 PM

    Cubs now up over the Mets at 6-1

  20. natsfan1a - Jul 2, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    That’s a final. Mets lose.

  21. texnat1 - Jul 2, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    So how does this work? Does the player stay in the Dominican until he is 18? Do the Nats ship him to an affiliate instead?

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