Latest international class comes into focus for the White Sox

Yolbert Sánchez (Caleb Probst / FutureSox)

Adding up the career wins above replacement from your website of choice for the likes of José Abreu, Luis Robert and Fernando Tatís Jr. is one way to tout the impact of Marco Paddy, but the White Sox are hoping there’s ultimately more to that story. When the book is eventually closed on the impact of the special assistant to the general manager-international operations; what happens next may prove to be the most significant.

The eye for talent is unquestioned, but forking over the biggest signing bonuses for unicorn players like Abreu and Robert once they become available doesn’t really indicate that the international operation for the White Sox is as alive and well as it’s often perceived. In the current environment, with a landscape that is constantly changing, splurging every few years for a game-changing franchise savior just isn’t in the cards any longer.

An expected international draft will change the game even further and we’ll evaluate whether this current front office is equipped to pivot with the rest of the industry once that time actually comes. The White Sox were afforded the right to spend $5,179,700 in the international marketplace that opened this past Jan. 15. While their prominent additions were highly regarded and the plaudits were aplenty, the organization once again came up short of committing all of their already limited resource, remaining out of step with the rest of the league.

Cuban outfielder Oscar Colás and Dominican teenager Erick Hernández were considered to be the prizes of the club’s international haul this year. The 23-year-old Cuban is already playing stateside at a full season affiliate; slashing .319/.396/.426 with an 11 percent walk rate while sporting a 127 wRC+ early on with Winston-Salem. The game power hasn’t shown itself just yet, but the batting practice displays have been real and spectacular according to those who have seen him.

Hernández will debut in the Dominican Summer League later this year, but he was considered to be a top 50 prospect from the signing class. The signing was a welcomed deviation from a franchise that rarely commits seven-figure bonuses to Dominican teenagers. Fans of the player believe that the 17-year-old was one of the best pure hitters available in the signing class. The left-handed hitter projects to an outfield corner and shows a simple, contact-oriented approach with power potential expected in the future.

Those two additions cost the White Sox $3.7 million of their allocated funds available. It also left Paddy and his staff with about $1.5 million to spend in the market and those funds essentially remained unaccounted for. In his international review over at Baseball America however, Ben Badler had some details on the remainder of the club’s current signing class. Francys Romero of helped me track down some of the signing bonuses for the group.

In a follow up tweet, Romero noted that Burrowes received $75,000 while Méndez inked for $150,000. For those doing the math at home, that leaves the White Sox with just over $850,000 left in international bonus pool space. Having money in the pot isn’t the worst outcome, but at this stage, most players have agreements in place already.

According to sources, the White Sox had an agreement in place with Dominican right-hander Angel Cruz as was reported by multiple outlets back in January. However, the deal never occurred, as the teenage pitcher failed his physical with the club. It’s not known whether he reached agreement with another team during this period, but it could help to explain why the White Sox haven’t spent the remainder of their pool space yet again.

This past weekend, international scouts from the White Sox got a look at one of the biggest names still available on the market as they made the trek to Mexico City to observe the latest workout by 19-year-old Cuban righty Luis Danys Morales. Morales defected from the island last September. He hasn’t been cleared to sign by Major League Baseball at this point and likely waits until the next period opens next January due to the lack of available funds presently occupied by clubs.

While not being equipped with the same expectations as the two main signings, the “other guys” are interesting in their own right and similar to players who have had success from recent signing classes. Guillermo Rodriguez is a 5-10, 175-pound shortstop with a compact build. He’s projected to have plus defensive skills. A $400,000 bonus is generally significant on the market and he’s someone to keep an eye on this year.

José Méndez is the younger brother of former Rangers’ farmhand Yohander Méndez and he already runs his fastball up to 94 mph. The 6-1, 180-pounder shows four pitches and possesses good control. Ryan Burrowes is the latest Panamanian to join the organization and the 17-year-old was called an “intriguing sleeper” by Badler. The 6-2, 170-pound infielder was described as an “athletic, high energy shortstop with good actions, who should stick at the position”. There is physical upside to achieve here as well.

Failed physical or not, the organization needs to find a way to maximize the remaining $850,000 left in their international budget. Contending teams that draft in the twenties and receive the smallest amount of bonus pool space need to allocate resources properly and stockpile young talent. Hopefully there is a plan.

The White Sox have been known to big-game hunt and their methodology has been reliant on advanced-aged Cubans entering the marketplace. Nobody will bat an eye if Yoelqui Céspedes or Oscar Colás is contributing on a division winner over the next couple of seasons. The White Sox have struggled to find contributors from the “other guys,” at least to this point.

To Paddy’s credit, many recent signings have matriculated stateside and some of the most intriguing players are participating in the high minors. Micker Adolfo is back in Charlotte after getting some run in big league camp and being out-righted off the 40-man roster. Venezuelan catcher Carlos Pérez has performed well with the Knights as well after being signed way back in 2014. There’s 20-year-old shortstop Jose Rodriguez, who signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic back in 2018. He’s playing with the Barons in Double-A and is considered to be one of the best prospects in the system.

Joining the infielder in Birmingham are Céspedes, Yolbert Sánchez and Lenyn Sosa. The 19-year-old Cuban third baseman Bryan Ramos looks like he has arrived, joining Colás with the Dash to start the season and thriving immediately. 2017 signee Luis Mieses is playing decently in Winston-Salem too. In Kannapolis, 2019 signees Wilfred Veras (Dominican Republic), Wilber Sanchez (Venezuela) and Benyamin Bailey (Panama) are receiving playing time with the Cannon Ballers.

On the pitching side, 19-year-old Dominican Cristian Mena has made his full season debut in Low-A while 22-year-old Dominican Yoelvín Silven was recently promoted to Birmingham. After some success in the Dominican Summer League, 2021 additions Víctor Quezada, Manual Guarimán and Adrián Gil are scheduled to make stateside debuts in Arizona this summer as well.

The international process looks better than it used to and players signed by Paddy and company will be helping the big league club by playing or being spun for more talent in short order. Paddy is well regarded throughout the industry and the White Sox are happy to have him in their organization. Adding waves of talent on the international market is an essential cog in regards to team building though and the White Sox often employ a questionable strategy.

There’s very little margin for error and the international scouts are thrust in a position to be correct more often than they’re wrong. They’re squeezed in terms of both quality and quantity by the White Sox’s avoidance of the high-priced teenage marketplace, the prioritization of resources and small signing classes. The Cuban pipeline to the South Side is real and it’s a legitimate advantage, but they remain vulnerable if and when it dries up, and due to reasons well within their control.

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Can’t believe the Sox didn’t sign Conforto….uh wait..never mind.

As Cirensica

Great summary James. Paddy seems to have good eyes to assess talent, which makes it perplexing how the White Sox organization whiffed by such a wide margin when trading Tatis Jr who was merely one year away to show the world he was gonna be a star.