July 2nd is a big day every year for MLB scouting departments, as it’s the day international prospects can first sign with MLB clubs. It will be a particularly big day for the Padres scouting department this year. As soon as A.J. Preller was hired in San Diego, it was expected the Padres would be active in the international market, and 2016 is really the first opportunity for the Preller to be a major player in the market with the Padres.
Even though he was the G.M. a year ago, the J2 signing process is complicated and a result of the rules that regulate this signing period, teams and agents are incentivized to agree to deals way before July 2nd. So when Preller was hired in 2014 he had ground to make up before the 2015 class. Additionally, big market teams like the Cubs and Dodgers were active last year. This year, however, they won’t be. And some clubs largely stay away from this market anyway due to the extreme risk associated with giving multi-million dollar signing bonuses to 16 year olds.
However, with international scouting guru A.J. Preller at the helm it was only a matter of time before San Diego made a big splash in this market, and the reduced competition this year gives the Padres a rare opportunity to sign several top players without worrying about their N.L. West rivals from up north swooping in and offering more money to their top targets. The Padres are expected to spend way more than the $3.3 million the are allotted and will be penalized for doing so. With the possibility of the current international system being replaced by an international draft when the current CBA runs out this year, this article by Kiley McDaniel explains the rationale behind the big spending strategy the Padres are implementing this year, and that several teams, including Preller’s Rangers, have implemented in recent years.
The big name the Padres are expected to land is Luis Almanzar, a five tool shortstop that is one of the very best prospects in this international signing class. If Kevin Maitan (expected Braves signee) is the top prospect in this class, Almanzar could very well be the second best player to sign on Saturday. Already a pure hitter with a good batter’s eye, his line drive swing generates hard contact and gives scouts reason to think he can develop more power as he develops. At 6’0’’ 188 pounds, Almanzar already has a mature build and may end up being a better fit defensively at second or third base. If he reaches his potential at the plate, he’ll be a middle of the order hitter and a major asset no matter his defensive position. Almanzar is expected to command a $4 million plus signing bonus, and might be the only J2 signee other than Maitan to sign for that much.
Almanzar isn’t the only SS at the top of this class the Padres are expected to sign as Gabriel Arias is also expected to sign with the Friars. Like Almanzar, Arias might also end up moving away from short and over to third given his arm strength and the fact that he is already 6’2’’ 180 and could outgrow his current position. Less five tool and more jack of all trades, Arias is well-rounded with decent swing mechanics, power potential, baseball IQ and fielding skills that give him multiple paths to a big league role.
Along with two top infielders, the Padres are expected to sign top outfielder Jeison Rosario. He’s similarly well-balanced as Arias, and could end up sticking in CF but has an arm strong enough for a corner outfield spot. After taking three pitchers in the first round of the MLB draft, the Padres are adding three top hitting prospects to further replenish their farm.
Justin Lopez, a defense first shortstop and Alison Quintero, a defense first catcher, are also expected to sign with the Padres, as well as versatile outfielder Tirso Ornelas, and speedster Jordy Barley. Several other lower tier prospects are also expected to sign with the Padres as well. Top Cubans Adrian Morejon and Jorge Ona are also targets for the Padres, but neither are free agents yet and won’t be J2 signees.
Whether these players reach their potential or not won’t be determined for several years. What is certain, is that A.J. Preller always had a plan for rebuilding the farm system that he pillaged in an attempt to make the big league club into a contender. And hopefully a return to his latin roots will lead to better results for the “Rockstar GM”.