Saturday marked a “circle the day” moment in the baseball calendar, the opening of the international amateur signing period in which teams can start adding new talent from around the world.
For the Red Sox, the opening of the signing period featured a number of athletic, up-the-middle players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
At 6 feet 2 inches and around 190 pounds, shortstop Freili Encarnacion, who turns 17 this month, stands out for his size and righthanded power.
“He has plus bat speed and can drive the ball to all gaps,” said Eddie Romero, a Red Sox assistant general manager. “There’s legitimate juice to his game.”
For now, Encarnacion, whose signing was recommended by scout Jonathan Cruz, shows the actions of a shortstop and he’s improved defensively through the scouting process, though given his size, there’s a chance he ends up at another position. According to MLB Pipeline, the Sox signed Encarnacion for $1.2 million.
Fraymi de Leon, 17, is a defensively gifted, switch-hitting shortstop who also hails from the Dominican.
“The biggest asset here is the defensive ability,” said Romero. “We have a lot of confidence that he’ll stick at shortstop.”
At 5-10 and roughly 160 pounds, de Leon, who was recommended by scout Manny Nanita, and according to MLB Pipeline, signed for $1.1 million, is still developing physically. He shows feel for the strike zone and bat-to-ball skills that allow him to make steady contact, with the Sox hopeful that strength gains could add power down the road.
The Red Sox have plenty of familiarity with Venezuelan catcher Johanfran Garcia, the younger brother of 19-year-old Sox outfield prospect Jhostynxon Garcia. Johanfran Garcia, whose signing was recommended by scout Angel Escobar, is a solid 6-foot, 195-pound catcher who has a strong arm and what the Sox believe is the agility to stay behind the plate. He features impressive raw power and a passion for hitting, including his enthusiasm for battling with two strikes. MLB Pipeline reported that Garcia signed for roughly $650,000.
“He kind of commands everything. He helps pitchers. He’s a smart kid, and he’s been exposed to pro ball through his brother,” said Romero. “So hopefully he’s the next in the line of quality Venezuelan catchers.”
Yosander Asencio is probably the best pure athlete among the players signed by the Sox on Saturday. At 5-11 and 160 pounds, Asencio, whose signing was recommended by Matias Laureano, is extremely fast.
“He can fly,” said Romero.
A natural righthanded hitter, Asencio recently started switch-hitting. Though he’s spent most of his time at shortstop, the Sox will also have him play center field, trusting that his speed and confidence will allow him to develop.
The Sox also signed righthanded pitcher Willian Colmenares from Venezuela. Colmenares, who turns 17 in February and was recommended by scout Ernesto Gómez, is already 6-1 and 170 pounds. The Sox were drawn to the clean line of his delivery, loose arm, three-pitch mix anchored by a fastball that currently sits in the 89-91-mile per hour range, and command.
“He has every characteristic of a starting pitcher,” said Romero.
Major League Baseball caps what teams can spend on international amateurs in every signing cycle. The Red Sox have an international amateur bonus pool of just under $5.2 million.
Typically, many players who sign as 16- and 17-year-old international amateurs stall out in the lower minors. Those who develop and advance require several years to make it through the many levels of minor league baseball. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, after signing at age 16, made it to the big leagues at 20, but a more typical path for those who do make it to the big leagues would require additional years.
That said, while it will take years to find out how players signed on Saturday will develop, all enter pro ball with a considerable sense of possibility for their own futures and that of their organization.
This story will be updated.