Previewing the Giants 2020/21 International Class

We have talent incoming!

Photo Credit: Diego Velasquez Instagram

We’re just two days away from signing announcements for what will always be known as the 2020/21 J2 class, despite the fact that none of the signings will actually take place in 2020 (or on “J2”). That small technicality aside, it’s finally time to welcome some new Giants into the org (ceremonially that is, several of them have been working out at the facilities for some time now as we can see from the occasional Instagram post).

Friday will, of course, mark just the beginning of this year’s international signing class — signings can continue throughout the year until December 15 (at least as of now; how they’ll handle next year’s class is still to be determined at this point). But the lion’s share of money will likely be officially spent in the coming days. For this year, the Giants’ international spending pool will be $5,348,100. In 2018, the Giants jump-started their system by spending almost $4.5 million on three players (Marco Luciano, Jairo Pomares, Luis Matos), while also getting some solid value on lower dollar signings like Victor Bericoto and Rayner Santana. However, in the two years since, they’ve taken an approach of spreading their bonus pool around more evenly, casting a wider net looking for talent. The Giants will likely give out either one or no seven-figure bonus this year, but instead will sprinkle six-figure signings around a group of 13 or 14 players. There will also likely be a long list of players signed at five-figure bonuses. The Giants ended up signing more than 50 players in their 2019 class, but remember that bonuses at $10,000 or lower don’t count against the bonus pool and many of those players are signed so as to fill out the complex level teams.

Good friend GPT breaks down the numbers behind the spending:

I’ll have more to say about their use of the bonus pool on Friday, but for now, I want to remind you of what Ben Badler had to say to me about year-to-year spending in the international market.

I think it just sort of depends on the class and what’s available at the time….When you’re looking at players who are 14, even 13 years old a lot of times now, there’s only so many players who can really really jump out to you at that age [to make you think] “oh wow we’ve got to give this guy $3-4 million” at that age…There’s just not that many kids that look like that…I’d love to be able to say that it’s easy to tell the difference between a guy that signs for $800k and a guy who signs for $200k but a lot of times, especially when you’re making commitments or decisions on players when they’re 14 or 15 years old, you’re just not firing with a whole ton of accuracy at that point.

I’d actually recommend going back and listening to that entire podcast, as Ben had a lot of insights into the Giants international program, including their incoming class of talent. I’m also going to be leaning on Ben’s reporting — and his video — for this signing class since he’s the acknowledged industry leader.

The Giants top signing is expected to be Diego Velasquez, whom we all know as the creator of the most magnificent painting in European history, Las Meninas…

…hang on! I’m now being told that’s not correct and Velasquez is, in fact, a shortstop out of Venezuela! Wow, I’m gonna have to look into the credentials for my research staff….Well, come for the prospect writeups, stay for the corny 17th century art jokes, that’s certainly a viable ethos to live by.

Anyhoo, this is the second year in a row that the Giants’ top signing has been a shortstop out of Venezuela, but don’t conflate Velasquez and Aeverson Arteaga in your head too tightly. They are different types of players. Arteaga has tremendous first step quickness and plus speed, almost like a basketball guard. Velasquez is a good athlete with a strong arm, who currently projects to stick at SS. but he’s also grown significantly in the period since the Giants originally became connected with him. From Badler, again:

…from when he was 14 or 15 to where he is now — he’s someone who has grown significantly taller and gotten stronger. He’s still pretty wiry. But he’s somebody who just physically developed in definitely a good way over the last year or two. The physicality is just trending up with him.

Velasquez is a switch-hitter who is starting to show the strength to impact the ball, particularly from the left-hand side, though he’s still a contact-oriented swinger at this point. Still, upward trending physicality is definitely what you want to see in a 16 year old.

GPT above notes that Velasquez is ranked 22nd in his class by MLB’s Jesse Sanchez, but 46 by Baseball America — but this comes with the caveat that Baseball America no longer attempts to rank talent in international classes because of the vagaries of the way the market develops (with players frequently disappearing from view for more than a year between 15-16 once they’ve connected with a team). Rather, BA ranks the class in order of expected signing bonuses based on their reporting.

Velasquez is something of a baseball rat — his father has been a long-time trainer in Venezuela, so Diego has grown up around the game. Velasquez trained with long-time major-leaguer Ronny Cedeño, who ended his U.S. career in the Giants’ system with the Sacramento RiverCats. In a market where individual relationships really matter, that might have something to do with the Giants’ attachment to Velasquez.

After Velasquez, the Giants’ top signing is expected to be Dominican shortstop Ramon Peralta — though Peralta doesn’t really profile as a shortstop. Remember, at this age everyone’s either a Catcher, Outfielder, or Shortstop. Somewhat like last year’s #2 signing, Venezuelan Anthony Rodriguez, Peralta stands out for his offensive potential and particularly his potential to develop into a power bat. He generates a lot of impact-ability from a big lower half load.

Peralta and Bryan Guzman are both expected to sign in the $500,000-$600,000 range. Guzman is currently listed as an infielder but is expected to move down the defensive spectrum, perhaps to LF. He makes use of his stocky, powerful build to generate a powerful swing from the right-hand side.

Three more Venezuelan infielders are expected to be part of the class (probably at a lower six-figure mark): Derwin Laya, Jose Astudillo, and Sam Rodriguez. Laya’s arm seems like it might be a little light for the left side of the infield, but he has shown a good right-handed stroke in games.

Astudillo is smaller and shows more of the defensive actions of a shortstop, particularly the ability to throw on the run from multiple arm angles.

Like Astudillo, Rodriguez matches strong defense and speed with some ability to hit for contact.

Among the outfielders, Dominican Carlos Rosario stands out for his loose, easy left-handed swing and good approach at the plate. He has a lanky body that has a decent chance to grow into power. As usual, left-handed swings always look prettier, so it’s easy to watch Rosario and imagine him the hitting standout of the class.

Another particularly interesting outfielder is Panamanian RF Mauricio Pierre. The Giants scored an excellent value in the 2019 class, signing Panamanian catcher Adrian Sugastey for $525,000, and Pierre is likely to command something similar. Pierre was a starter on the Panamanian 15U World Cup team that went 7-1 in 2018, ending up the Silver Medalists after losing to the United States in the Gold Medal game. One of Pierre’s teammates on that team, Reggie Preciado, was just part of the package that San Diego sent to Chicago for Yu Darvish — so these signings can pay dividends quickly when teams want to use their value that way. Playing at just 14 years old, Pierre had six hits in the tournament, including five doubles. Here he is going up against the top high school pitcher in the 2021 class, Team USA’s Andrew Painter, and putting a decent swing on 90 mph heat:

And here’s one of his doubles in the semi-finals game against Dominican Republic:

Other outfielders expected to command six-figure bonuses include Venezuelan Fabio Villadiego (who might take the “Best Name” category for the class) and Dominican Elian Sandoval.

GPT has a few lower-level signees (likely five figures) connected to the Giants as well, including Dominican CF Saul Bautista and switch-hitting catcher (which, as GPT says, is always interesting) Diego Gonzalez.

There aren’t a ton of arms connected to the Giants in this signing class, but the top bonus is expected to be Dominican right-hander Jean Caraballo, whose been up to 91-94 as a 15 year old and has the frame to potentially grow into more.

We’ll likely also see Dominican right-hander Jeremy Maldonado and Venezuelan lefty Daniel Espinoza among the signing class.

The Giants will likely have some room left for new arrivals on the market throughout 2021 (as, for instance, Cuban refugees who drop into international cycles) though probably not for any major seven-figure type of signing.

One thing that will be interesting to watch will be how the Giants integrate this class with the 2019/20 J2 class which has yet to debut due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. Because this year’s class is signing late, we won’t have the typical experience of having to wait a year to see them in action — they’ll be eligible for the 2021 season. That means that the Giants will have the 2019/20 and 2020/21 classes debuting together — and I’d imagine with relatively few exceptions they’ll all be debuting together in the Dominican Summer League. Remember that last year the Giants announced their intention to add a second DSL team, so their capacity for getting players into games should double this year. Between the DSL and AZL they’ll now have four different rosters to use to get their youngest, and rawest, players game reps. Will we see Aeverson Arteaga and Diego Velasquez sharing SS duties on one of these rosters? We shall see!

We’ll also get to see the pro debut of a youngster who signed very late in the 2019 cycle for a low bonus, but who’s had a big presence on social media over the last couple years, Javier Francisco, who trained with Fernando Tatis, Sr. I haven’t gotten any updated scouting information on Francisco that suggests he profiles beyond his bonus, but there seems to be no doubt that the kid is an extremely hard-working kid, dedicated to getting to the best version of himself. It’ll be interesting to finally get to see him in action.

For all of these young players, congratulations on signing your first deal and entering the world of professional baseball! May your passion and devotion to the game bring you gratification on a daily basis. Chase your dreams!

Another New Giant

Finally, I neglected to mention another new Giant on Monday, so let’s say hello to Carson Ragsdale, whom the Giants obtained from Philadelphia in the Sam Coonrod trade.

At 6’8”, Ragsdale gives the Giants someone who can almost talk eye to eye with Sean Hjelle! The big right-hander has a nice fastball/curve combo with good separation between the two pitches. He missed the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, but was transitioning to a starter in 2020 before the season was shut down. Before it ended, though, Ragsdale opened a LOT of eyes by dominating the #1 ranked team in the nation. Facing the University of Florida in one of his first starts, Ragsdale struck out 10 Gators! In 19 innings of pitching in 2020, Ragsdale had 37 strikeouts against just seven walks.

I mentioned this on Twitter at the time of the trade, but Ragsdale bears a lot of similarities to the Giants’ own 4th round pick, R. J. Dabovich. Both right-handers transitioned from bullpen to starters in 2020 and in their short looks before the season was cancelled impressed scouts with the quality of their stuff. The two ended up being selected within two picks of each other, and their bonuses were just $25,000 apart. Essentially picking up Ragsdale gives the organization two bites at the same apple, so to speak. Regardless, the organization certainly needs starting candidates so welcome to the fold, Carson!

Here’s one more look at that pretty bender: