Last week, the Oakland Athletics announced the signing of 17 amateur international free agents. The class included players from seven different countries, making it one of the most diverse international classes in A’s history.
The A’s entered this international signing period with a bonus pool of more than $5 million, but because the A’s exceeded their signing pool last year, Oakland was limited to a $300,000 cap on a bonus for any one player. With such a large pool and a relatively small per player bonus cap, the A’s will likely continue to add to their list of international signings over the next year.
I caught up with Dan Feinstein, Oakland A’s Assistant General Manager – Pro Scouting and Player Personnel, to learn more about the newest members of the Oakland A’s organization.
OaklandClubhouse: I was wondering if the organization took a different approach to scouting the international market this year because you had such a large pool and a cap on the per-player bonus allotment?
Dan Feinstein: I think that is absolutely the case. Knowing that well over a year in advance of the start of this pool period, we were able to adjust somewhat and really widen our net and dig a lot deeper into the talent pool than we probably had to the year before because the premium guys were, for the most part, off-limits to us based on our limitations.
OC: The organization signed a player from Curacao and a player from the Bahamas this year. Those are areas that have produced big league talent in other organizations but I don’t recall the A’s being too active there in terms of international signings. Were those two areas spots the organization has been building up for awhile or did you get to explore them this year for the first time because of the different approach?
DF: It wasn’t the first time we’d been there. Our scout in Panama, Juan Mosquera, covers Curacao several times a year and they have showcases there just as they do everywhere else. In [signee] Givaine Basilia’s case, he’s an athletic shortstop who we project defensively certainly. The bat is the biggest question on most of these guys, but he can really play shortstop. He’s actually the cousin of Jonathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles. We had seen him extensively and we go to Curacao every year.
The Bahamas was a little new for us. We actually saw [signee] Davonn Mackey – he was actually living in Florida at the time and we saw him workout in Florida. We ended up sending him down to our Dominican Complex for about a week for our staff down there to get to know him. He’s interesting, Mackey. He’s raw, he’s inexperienced, but he has some interesting tools.
OC: You mentioned Panama and the organization signed Joshwan Wright from there. What kind of player is he?
DF: He’s a baseball rat type guy. He was the starting second baseman on their 15 and under national team that we saw in the Pan-American Championship last year in Panama. They were actually hosting it. He caught our eye in July 2016, so we have been following him for quite some time, as well. He’s an undersized second baseman who can really play baseball.
OC: Was the Pan-American games a place where you guys were able to find a lot of these players? Were there any other signings that came out of that tournament?
DF: He’s the only one we ended up with. We pursued several others this July 2nd that we weren’t able to come to an agreement with.
OC: Most talented young position players are listed as shortstops or centerfielders at some point in their careers. Five of the players on the list were announced as shortstops. Are there any that you think really project to stick defensively at shortstop?
DF: Yeah, there’s a couple. Jhoan Paulino is probably our most projectable all-around player from this class. Really high-waisted, athletic shortstop. We’ve seen him consistently perform in live hitting scenarios, so he’s probably our most projectable, highest skill-wise of the shortstops.
OC: Hansen Lopez, a catcher, was signed out of Mexico. Did you see him face advanced competition a decent amount?
DF: We saw him a couple of times. Steve Sharpe [former A’s minor leaguer and current pro scout] has really advanced our process in Mexico. At this point, we are pretty heavily involved in scouting Mexico and we think that can be a productive avenue for us going forward. Hansen was a guy that Steve identified early on at a showcase. He’s a catch-and-throw, athletic catcher and is just the first of many guys that we hope to get out of Mexico.
OC: Besides Basilia, were there any “bloodlines” signees among this group?
DF: That is the only one, as far as I know.
OC: There are three pitchers on this list: Gabriel Delgado, Carlos Leandro and Edwin Rojas. What kind of pitchers are they?
DF: Two are righty, one is lefty. Leandro is the lefty. They are all kids with good bodies and good deliveries, first and foremost. Those are the types of pitchers that we look for in Latin America – good bodies with good deliveries, fast arms, good athletes. We aren’t really scouting the radar gun at that age because most of these guys end up throwing a lot harder when they are 21 than they are when they are 15 or 16. They all fit that good delivery, feel for off-speed, and have pretty quick arms.
OC: You mentioned the hitting for position players comes second at this stage oftentimes. There were a few outfielders listed in the group. For those guys, are any of them more advanced with the bat at this point?
DF: We mentioned it in the press release, but the diversity of this class stands out, not only in terms of the countries they are from but the positions they stand on in the field. Sometimes we have gone strictly after the really athletic, middle-of-the-diamond player. This year, we branched out a little bit and think we got some plus power potential corner outfielders.
Between Jose Bonilla, Kelvin Garcia and Albert Avila, these guys can all hit. We’ve seen them hit with power in games, which is important for us, not just in a showcase setting. They have really stood out when we have seen them against live pitching. All three of those guys, we saw them do that over and over during the process.
OC: In terms of Venezuela, has there been a change in scouting these guys given the political situation going on in the country?
DF: It’s extremely difficult and it’s most difficult for our personnel on the ground in Venezuela because not only are they trying to do their jobs as best they can, but they are also trying just to survive. Sometimes that is a full-time job in itself. That is really our priority and their’s, just making sure that they are able to keep their families safe and have enough food and safe housing and all of that. Baseball aside, the environment itself is very difficult.
They still get out and they see lots of players. The ones that they identify, we are able to bring those kids over either to the Dominican or to Panama. We fly them over for our other personnel to cross-check, because it is difficult for our people to get to Venezuela. It’s difficult for me to get there. It’s difficult for Ray [Raymond Abreu, the A’s Director of Latin American Operations] to get there. We are still able to see those kids as much as we’d like to, but it is a little more of a challenge.
OC: The press release highlighted some of the A’s international signings over the past year that are among the team’s top prospects. There have also been a number of former international signings that are having strong seasons in full-season ball, as well, Luis Barrera and Eric Marinez to name two. Are you feeling good about how the A’s international program has grown over the past few years in terms of the talent it is producing?
DF: Yeah. I don’t want to speak for our Player Development people or for Keith [Lieppman, A’s Director of Player Development], but I think we are all really happy with the direction that that program is going. We have interspersed at the different levels players from that program.
You mentioned Barrera, who is having a great year in the Midwest League, and Miguel Luis Romero, one of our Cuban pitchers, is pitching well in Beloit. Norge Ruiz is off to a good start in Stockton. We have a really hard-throwing guy in Vermont who has taken some time to find his command, but he is touching 100 in Wandisson Charles. We’ve got a lot of really good guys coming out of that program, and that doesn’t even touch on the guys that we are challenging at a young age in the AZL and Vermont.
OC: Abdiel Mendoza [18-year-old right-hander in Vermont] and Oscar Tovar [19-year-old in Vermont] have been impressive at a young age.
DF: Definitely. We were really excited to see Mendoza’s start the other day when he threw seven shutout innings. In talking about these pitchers that we just signed out of Venezuela, he was a good body, good delivery, fast arm kid out of Panama that we signed two years ago. We’ve seen his velo spike to where we think it is going to go.
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