His recent injury aside, Alex Colome has been a lone highlight in the Rays' efforts to sign talent in Latin America. In the big picture, he's buried under a pile of gaffes and bad puns. In the Rays era of the franchise, only two international free agents the Rays have signed have gone on to play for them: Colome and Juan Salas. For a while, the franchise didn't make much of an effort to find Latin American talent, but that has changed.
The bigger budgets haven't produced better results yet though. Aside from Colome, only three international free agents that were signed by the Rays were in our pre-season top 30 prospect list: pitchers Enny Romero and Felipe Rivero and catcher Oscar Hernandez. They could certainly change the club's fortunes, but struggles from some high profile players remain. Outfielder Yoel Araujo signed for $800,000 in the 2010 signing period, a franchise record for a Dominican prospect. His progress has been slow, and his current season with Princeton so far has been a disaster. There's still hope for him, but there isn't for Cesar Perez. Signed for $1,000,000 in 2009, the corner infielder flopped in three seasons with the Gulf Coast League Rays and was released with a career .430 OPS. Who are some of the players in the organization's Dominican and Venezuelan Summer League affiliates that could improve their track record internationally?
C David Rodriguez, VSL
Two years ago, Oscar Hernandez made headlines thanks to his absurd VSL performance with 21 home runs in 69 games and a 1.236 OPS. This year, Rodriguez has been Oscar-lite, leading the league with 11 home runs in 53 games and ranking second with a .987 OPS. Behind Castillo and Mujica, he was the team's third biggest international signing last year and looks to be off to a great start, albeit on a field very favorable toward hitters. He has a good all-around skillset and should be GCL bound (at the very least) next year.
Other big 2012 signings
C Eric Maria, DSL
The Rays have signed Maria twice now; the first time, it wasn't approved because it was determined he was using a fake identity. Once his yearlong suspension concluded, the Rays signed him to the same amount, and so far, he's played like someone who needed to falsify his identity to garner interest. In 173 plate appearances spread out over the last two years in the DSL, Maria has a .506 OPS. He has excelled in gunning down baserunners though, and that's not a surprise considering the scouting reports indicated he's an all-defense player who may never hit.
RHP Deivy Mendez, DSL
The 17 year old righty hasn't been particularly impressive in his professional debut season. In 18.2 innings, he has a strikeout rate of 11.9% and a walk rate of 8.3%. Like a ton of Dominican prospects, he's incredibly raw, and it's certainly possible that his stuff just hasn't taken a step forward yet. For most pitchers on these summer league rosters, it never will, but they can always hope.
CF Angel Moreno, DSL
At just 16 years old, Moreno is one of the league's youngest players and has also been one of the league's better hitters. His .871 OPS was second on the team among qualifiers, only behind Enmanuel Paulino who has been splitting time between the GCL Rays and Charlotte. He's batting .317, and his plate approach has been decent with a 5.3 BB% and 13.2 K%. He's just an average runner, but apparently he plays a good center field. Moreno is certainly an under the radar name to keep an eye on.
LHP Frehumar Rivas, VSL
Rivas has only thrown 6.1 career innings, and they have been poor. He's walked 14 batters and struck out only one. It's not shocking though because throwing strikes was said to be a problem for him, so in addition to his stuff being more projection than reality at this point, he's not able to find the strike zone.
Big 2011 signings
C Kevin Barrios, VSL
Barrios is repeating the VSL after a rough 2012 season, but because Rodriguez is the priority for the Rays behind the plate, he's now playing only first base. He's not much of an athlete and probably wouldn't fit in the outfield. He has 23 extra base hits, including nine home runs, in 53 games, but his plate approach needs a ton of work. He's batting just .264 with an OBP of .298.
RHP Jorman Duarte, VSL
Duarte signed for the Rays' biggest bonus during the 2011 signing period at $225,000, just ahead German Marquez who's now starting for Princeton. Duarte is in the VSL again though and isn't having a problem throwing strikes. He has just eight walks in 48.2 innings, but his 60 hits allowed indicate he's not necessarily throwing quality strikes. At 6'3 and 190 pounds, he likely has the frame to get stronger and add velocity to his mid-to-high 80's fastball. He also hasn't struck out many batters, so he still requires a lot of projection at this point.
LHP Benjamin Molina, VSL
With Jose Molina pitching for Bowling Green, the Rays are now two-thirds of the way to duplicating the Molina brothers but on the mound. For the second straight year, he's having a good season in the VSL. In 45 innings, he's struck out 19.8% of opponents and walked 5.0%. The strikeout rate has shown nice improvement, and the walk rate is almost unchanged. At just 6'0 and 144 pounds, he's probably going to have to do some growing to advance more in professional ball.
RHP Abrahan Rodriguez, VSL?
I use a question mark because he's listed as active on the roster, doesn't appear to have been suspended, doesn't appear to be injured and doesn't appear to have been cut, but he hasn't pitched in 2013. He did pitch in 2012 though, and like Duarte, threw a lot of strikes but didn't miss many bats. In 48.1 innings, his walk rate was decent at 5.8%, but he also only struck out 10.2% of batters. His fastball was in the high-80's when he signed, and his secondary pitches had to develop.