Thursday marks the opening of the signing window for international free agents, and the Dodgers are considered to be the busiest team and biggest spender. Typically, evaluating the potential young talents that the Dodgers are expected to sign during the July 2 period is almost impossible given the age of the players (typically 16) and the lack of exposure these players have had, if any, stateside.
This season, however, is unique in that three of the four closest linked players to the Dodgers have had some degree of playing experience or showcased their talents in the America, and two have already reached 18 years of age. For additional analysis on these players, I encourage you to read the reports by Kiley McDaniel (Fangraphs), and Ben Badler (Baseball America $), but below, we'll parse through the videos and profiles to to get a better idea of what type of talent the Dodgers are about to inject into the farm system.
When I ultimately rank the prospects again in the off-season rankings, I doubt Fox will be the highest ranked international signee, but I believe he's the most important player to lock down in this window. Fox has probably received the most exposure of players on this list because he was an American draftee until a few months ago, when he was reclassified as an international free agent by returning to the Bahamas.
This makes Fox unique in that we have the same comparison tools to use for Fox that we do with other high school players from this class to paint a better picture of his present tools and eventual upside. Had Fox entered the draft, he would have been in my 50 grade tier, essentially making him a second-round talent. As an 18-year-old prospect, however, he's ready to come back stateside, and depending on how quickly he signs, should be able to play with the Arizona League affiliate.
Fox offers the Dodgers something they presently lack outside of Triple-A in the organization, a bonafide shortstop prospect. Fox has solid infield actions and a frame with enough projection to grow into enough strength that he shouldn't have the bat blown out of his hands and make him more capable of completing all the throws demanded of him at the position.
While he's not a slap hitter, and has the mechanics to make solid contact to the gaps, Fox is a below average power prospect that will have to rely on his speed for production. a switch hitter, Fox shows more bat speed and chance for loft from the left side, though his feel for hit will play in either box. An easy plus runner, Fox turned in a 6.41 sixty time at last year's Perfect Game National.
Fox is a very similar talent to Dee Gordon at this stage of his career, and might ultimately have the same value to the team. I might give Fox the defensive edge at this point, though he still requires some physical maturity before we can label him a surefire shortstop. In an organization lacking in up the middle prospects, Fox represents a significant opportunity to fill a gap with a minor league ready prospect in the International signing period.
Pretty much everything we know about Alvarez comes from a 1:13 video posted by McDaniel on YouTube. While evaluators have seen more of him than that, it isn't a significant amount more, as Alvarez is as inexperienced and underexposed as a 19 year old prospect can be.
Why the Dodgers ultimately break the bank on him comes down to his ability to do one thing: throw the ball extremely well with a natural arm action. It's a "mold of clay" scenario, but an elite mold of clay. You can read this article from Ben Badler for a better picture, but Alvarez has plenty of foibles for an expensive price tag.
The biggest knock outside of experience is Alvarez lack of command, which is hard for us to decipher in a minutes worth of video. What we can see is a young talent with a smooth delivery and feel for spin on the slider. If I'm looking at the video as if he were a high school talent (more on this in a moment), I'd note the long arm action and the chance he may ultimately find a home in the bullpen, but has the makings of an elite arm with a putaway slider and plus to plus plus fastball.
The problem is Alvarez can go several directions with his talent. His stuff could all tick down a notch under a starter's workload, as evaluators haven't been able to look at him in consistent game circumstances. He could continue to physically mature hold his velocity through starts, and become an elite No. 2, potential ace, with three above average to double plus pitches.
With Fox, we can relate him to this year's high school draft crop. While we could be tempted to do the same with Alvarez, he is entering a pro organization at the ago of a junior college prospect with not near the track record. The tool set isn't altogether something we haven't seen before from a prep prospect, and perhaps a decent comparison in the prep game might be Robert Stephenson in terms of frame and stuff, but we just don't have enough to go on.
This is a long winded way of saying that just because Alvarez will be signing a pool breaking deal doesn't necessarily mean he will instantly be a top tier prospect. From what I have seen and read, I'd put him just outside, at the top of tier two. His tool set isn't dissimilar to Grant Holmes, and he might be more projectable, but we have a long history of Holmes producing against top talent at a high level, and that's an extremely important distinction.
I try not to get too involved in analyzing traditional prospect in the July 2 window because I don't have enough of a mental memory bank of 16-year-old players to compare their precocious skills and numerous faults needing fixing before coming stateside. Recently, some of the top talents have come over to participate in the Under Armour game festivities, often looking overmatched against older, more polished American prep stars, but nonetheless offering us a better showcase of their tools.
Heredia came stateside and started developing his reputation as one of the better raw power prospects in this class with a grand showing in workouts that you can see in the video. What you also can see is a batting practice swing unusable in game situations without elite pitch recognition (something he's said to struggle with), thanks to a heavy load and high leg kick. When you watch in game swings, his load is much more tempered, but his in game swing is presently geared for contact over loft.
Such a concern isn't uncommon in prospects this young, as he still needs more game experience to realize what pitches he can turn on and what he can do with breaking balls. At this stage, you can argue that showing the raw power in batting practice is as important to what he does in games, as it lets developers know what they have to work with, and with Heredia, it's big potential.
Heredia's build is probably the second biggest talking point. He's listed 6'0 215 lbs. and for a 16 year old, is quite barrel-chesty. I think you can argue both sides of the coin here, given the pro that he could continue developing into a muscled specimen, and the con that he could continue to fill out and slide down the defensive spectrum. Presently, though, he looks like an above average overall athlete that should enter the system as a centerfielder with the likelihood of a move to a corner down the road.
From a prospect standpoint, I generally avoid ranking July 2nd signees until they have begun playing ball stateside, and Heredia may or may not become an exception. He's a late teen early 20's type prospect on talent, likely six years away from making it to the major leagues, if he does. If I leave him unranked, don't worry, he'll have plenty of time to make the rankings down the road.
The last name to know in the signing window* - and the Dodgers will sign more than these four players - but Brito is the last name in most rankings for whom any information or video is available.
*technically, Eddy Julio Martinez might be the biggest name to know that wasn't covered, but I have nothing to offer on him
Brito's calling card is his defense, and what little I've seen suggests he has the necessary infield actions, hands, and arm to play shortstop, and his overall body control looks impressive. He's not the athlete Fox is on the surface, but looks a little more natural at the position.
Fox has a jump on Brito at the plate, where Brito doesn't show much in terms of bat speed or power on film, and reports aren't as glowing on his offensive potential either. He does have more projection than Fox in his frame, and is almost two years younger and could stand to improve much with the Dodgers' development team.
Like Heredia, it's highly doubtful that Brito will factor into the next prospect rankings, but is instead a name to file away for later. His glove could take him quite far, but the bat might cap his ultimate ceiling. Regardless, we are likely two years away from having a better idea of just how much offensive potential we are working with in Brito.