A couple of International Free Agent signings by the Blue Jays earlier this week bring us closer to the pandemic-delayed opening of the 2020 IFA bonanza.
The original deadline for the 2019 signing class was to have been June 15, which was pushed back until October 15th. The usual July 2nd opening of the 2020 signing season has been moved to January 15th of 2021.
On Wednesday, as the 2019 IFA class closed, Toronto signed three Dominican prospects: LHP’s Kendry Rojas and Johan Simon, and RHP Geison Urbaez. There is little information available about the trio, although Simon, who appears to be the highest-profile prospect of the three – pitched stateside in a Perfect Game showcase in the fall of 2019. His fastball was clocked at 90, which put the then-18 year old in the 93rd percentile. He’s no doubt ticked up since them. We also found some scouting notes on Simon from PG’s site:
Currently age-eligible as an international sign, Simon attacked hitters with a lively fastball at 87-90 mph. The fastball had flashes of some late run to the arm side at times, and the southpaw was able to create steep, downward plane with good extension over the front side when on time. At 6-foot-1, 160-pounds, Simón repeats his mechanics well with a clean arm path from a high three-quarters slot. Simón has developing feel to spin a slider that had late depth at times, and the mid-70s breaker complemented the fastball well throughout his three innings of work.
Here’s an update on Rojas, thanks to alert Twitter follower @FrancysRomero10:
Rojas is a converted OF who defected from Cuba two years ago. His uncle is a Cuban League veteran, while his brother is expected to be one of next year’s (that is, July/21) top signings.
Last year, the Blue Jays snagged a pair of great values in the form of RHP Sem Robberse and LHP Jiorgeny Casimiri, both from the Netherlands, just before the 2019 signing period deadline. Casimiri is attending the Florida Development Camp this month, although Robberse is not on the roster. We’ve heard Robberse may have pitched in a lower level Dutch league in order to keep in shape during the pandemic; we’ll continue to track that one down.
The Blue Jays, according to Baseball America, have just over $5.3 million in their bonus pool, and added on to that when they dealt P Justin Miller to the Reds.
As for this year’s IFA class, the top prospect connected to the Jays at this point is Dominican SS Manuel Beltre. Reports suggest that while he’s not the toolsiest player in the class, he also is rated as one of the best bats. Beltre has a compact, repeatable swing, as well as baseball instincts that are superior to most of the class. Having played in a number of stateside showcase events, his English – as well as his power – has some projection. Beltre is expected to land a signing bonus of between $2-3 million.
Toronto has also been linked to Venezuelan SS Martin Gimenez. The 16 year old already stands at 6’3″, so reports suggest a move off of the position in the future. There is plenty of power projection in his frame. His bonus should come in the $750K-1 million range.
Venezuelan CF Yhoangel Aponte is also rumoured set to sign with the Blue Jays in the New Year. Described as having excellent defensive instincts by BA, he makes line drive contact from the right side. Dominican C Jonathan Peguero will add to the stable of prospects Toronto has at that position. Both should sign somewhere in the $500-750 K range.
Blue Jays Vice President and head of international operations Andrew Tinnish has been very generous with his time in discussing these prospects over the last several Novembers. Given the changes in signing dates, we hope to catch up with him in late January.
Speaking of international ops, MLB recently gave approval for teams to go ahead with play at their Dominican complexes on October 19th. This traditionally involves a blend of practices and games with other nearby organizations. There’s a wrinkle this year, of course. 2019 signees, who did not get an opportunity to make their pro debuts this year will be included. In addition, teams were permitted in years past to bring in unsigned amateur players to camp, but they will not be allowed to do so this year. So, the above guys will not get a chance to suit up this year. These academies typically run from October to November.
We couldn’t let this moment go without a mention of our disappointment over The Athletic letting go Blue Jays writer Andrew Stoeten, a great friend of this site. No one else on the Blue Jays beat combines his knowledge of the analytical and financial sides of the game, all written with a wry sense of humour. We’ve been a follower of Stoeten since his days with the legendary Drunk Jays Fans blog. Stoeten is not a beat writer in the conventional sense, but his writing has consistently been razor-sharp and incisive. For someone who grew up with the likes of Neil McCarl, John Robertson, and Richard Griffin covering the team, Stoeten provided a fresh, new look at the game. This ever-changing shifting media landscape is hard for someone from a different generation to fathom at times, and we hope that it won’t be long before a platform that appreciates his talents scoops this literary free agent up.