Monday marks a date circled in invisible ink on the baseball calendar.
The international amateur signing period opens each July 2, and while it lacks the spotlight that follows baseball’s winter meetings or even the domestic amateur draft, each signing period carries potentially franchise-altering significance. Certainly, the international talent amassed by the Red Sox under assistant general manager Eddie Romero (who has been in charge of international amateur signings since November 2011) has had an enormous impact on the organization.
In 2012, the Sox added shortstop Javier Guerra out of Panama. He and 2011 international signee Manuel Margot became the key pieces sent to San Diego in the deal to land Craig Kimbrel in 2015. Later that summer, the Sox added twins Luis Alexander Basabe and Luis Alejandro Basabe, both of whom became important trade chips in their own right (outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe as part of the Chris Sale deal, infielder Luis Alejandro Basabe as part of the Brad Ziegler package).
In 2013, the Sox signed Rafael Devers, who seems a likely lineup cornerstone for years. The 2014-15 signing period brought Anderson Espinoza (dealt to the Padres for Drew Pomeranz) and later Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Sale deal, as well as a deal for less than $10,000 to acquire righthander Victor Diaz, whose rapid emergence as a bullpen arm positioned him to become the fourth piece in the Sale trade.
In relative terms, some of those players were considered prominent international prospects at the time they signed. Yet among them, only Moncada’s addition (through a record-setting $31.5 million bonus) reached the point of public awareness.
Prominence has little to do with significance. The opportunity to add several players with future big league value — whether for the Sox or someone else — serves as a critical undertaking for an organization that has seen trades and prospect graduations to the big leagues thin its ranks in recent years.
In particular, because the international market has a roughly level playing field for all teams — rather than a specific order that is determined by the previous year’s records — it permits the Sox to access a profile of player that they might not frequently encounter in the draft.
For a team like the Red Sox that expects to pick late in the amateur draft, high-ceiling players at premium, up-the-middle positions are rarely available. Internationally, the Sox often have greater access to such a pool of players. Under Romero, the team has made little secret of its interest in adding precisely that kind of player.
“I tend to love players that play in the middle of the field,” Romero said. “Those are the athletes.”
Last year, for instance, the Red Sox signed two players out of Venezuela for $1.5 million each whom they scouted at shortstop: Antoni Flores and Danny Diaz. While both have played solely in the Dominican Summer League to this point, they’ve both already shown tools that place them in the upper echelons of Red Sox position prospects.
Flores burst out of the gates, hitting .347/.439/.510 in 13 games, showing both the pitch and strike-zone recognition that drew the Sox to him along with the defensive tools that made him a compelling prospect at a critical position.
“Offensively, he’s advanced. He had a great feel [during the scouting process] for the zone, great feel for hitting. It’s advanced. He knew what to do. He had a good approach with two strikes. He used the whole field. . . . He has the frame to put on some weight, too,” Romero said. “Defensively, he’s worked a lot on his footwork. He’s got sure hands. We think there’s a pretty good chance that he stays at short, even with added size.”
Flores has been in Fort Myers since last week. He’s been resting with some general soreness, but when he’s ready to resume playing, there is a possibility that he could do so in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League — an extremely advanced assignment for an international player in his first pro season.
Diaz immediately moved off of shortstop to third base after signing. Yet the Red Sox think he has the ability to be a solid defender at the position, and after growing already from his signing size of 6 feet 1 inch and 170 pounds to 6-4 and 222 pounds, he shows middle-of-the-order potential. The 17-year-old has blasted five homers in just 23 games in the DSL, a nearly unheard-of total.
“It’s exciting. I don’t think we’ve had that kind of power play so early on,” Romero said. “Reading the reports, they’ll say, ‘That ball would have been gone anywhere.’ ”
By way of comparison, Xander Bogaerts hit three homers over a full DSL season, while Devers hit three in 28 games before moving up to the Gulf Coast League.
Diaz shows clear power potential, even if he requires considerable refinement of an extremely aggressive approach that has yielded a .226/.277/.441 line with five walks and 25 strikeouts. While that isn’t unexpected, the Sox believe he has the ability to emerge as a solid hitter who can tap into his power with relative ease.
“He’s working on [his approach]. Obviously he’s shown power early, but he’s realizing it’s not easy to get to power all the time,” Romero said. “We’ve emphasized to him, ‘It’s fine to take walks. That will help you sharpen your approach and hone in on pitches. The results will speak for themselves later on.’ ”
That, at least, is the Red Sox’ hope — whether with Diaz and Flores or the next wave of international players whom the team will start signing as soon as Monday, hoping that July 2, 2018, may represent a date that played a significant role in the foundation of the 2022 or 2025 or 2028 roster.
■ High A Salem righthander Tanner Houck, after struggling for much of the first two months while trying to alter his pitch mix, has returned to throwing more two-seamers than four-seamers, with strong results. In his last three starts, Houck has allowed four earned runs in 16⅔ innings (2.16 ERA) with 14 strikeouts and eight walks. As his walks total and his 59 percent strike rate over that stretch suggest, Houck (3-9, 5.16) is still working to reestablish his control, but a positive trend is evident.
■ Also in Salem, infielder Santiago Espinal has a 15-game hitting streak. The 23-year-old has a .314/.364/.478 line for the season, and he’s shown enough progress both in the field and at the plate to look like a potential big league utility option. Espinal was traded Thursday night to the Blue Jays for veteran Steve Pearce.
■ In Pawtucket, veteran Adam Lind still looks like a player with the ability to contribute as a lefthanded bat. Over his last seven games, the 34-year-old is hitting .375/.467/.750 with 3 homers, 5 walks, and 3 strikeouts. However, he has a July 1 opt-out looming, and with no obvious spot on the big league roster, there seems a good chance that Lind may look for an opportunity elsewhere.
■ Entering Thursday, Josh Ockimey was just 1 for 22 with nine strikeouts over his last seven games with Double A Portland, though it is worth noting that he’d drawn 10 walks over that stretch. For the year, the 22-year-old is hitting .257/.382/.471 with 11 homers in 61 games — including a .302/.446/.558 line against righties.
■ Double A lefty Kyle Hart, a sleeper prospect who has made a case that he could emerge as a source of rotation depth, has been roughed up in two straight outings. The 25-year-old has allowed 16 runs (13 earned) in his last 10⅓ innings, yielding more homers (four) than he’d allowed in his first 11 starts (two). His ERA has climbed from 2.51 to 3.72.
■ Outfielder Kyri Washington underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old has raw power that ranks near the high end of the system. He hit .250/.361/.470 in 25 games with Salem this year.
■ The 80-game suspension of corner infielder Michael Chavis is scheduled to end in the coming days. He will join the Lowell Spinners before progressing to Portland.
■ First-rounder Triston Casas, who suffered an injury to his right thumb Monday while attempting to make a diving play at third base, was brought to Boston for evaluation. As of Thursday afternoon, the team did not have an update on his status.