Monday, October 06, 2008

Giants Bonuses Among Top 10 for International Signings

According to Baseball America data, the Giants have two of the Top 10 highest bonuses paid ever to international amateur free agents and five of them were paid in 2008 (and one in 2006, Villalona). The rest were around the turn of the millenium when I guess teams were flush with cash before the tech bubble burst:
  1. Michel Inoa (2008): RHP Athletics, age 16, Dominican Republic, $4.25 million
  2. Rafael Rodriguez (2008): OF Giants, age 16, Dominican Republic, $2.55 million
  3. Yorman Rodriguez (2008): OF Reds, age 16, Venezuela, $2.5 million
  4. Wily Mo Pena (1999): OF Yankees, age 17, Dominican Republic, $2.44 million
  5. Joel Guzman (2001): SS Dodgers, age 16, Dominican Republic, $2.255 million
  6. Byung-Hyun Kim (1999): RHP Diamondbacks, age 20, South Korea, $2.25 million
  7. Chin-Hui Tsao (1999): RHP Rockies, age 18, Taiwan, $2.2 million
  8. Angel Villalona (2006): 3B Giants, age 16, Dominican Republic, $2.1 million
  9. Tied. Juan Duran (2008): OF Reds, age 16, Dominican Republic, $2 million
    Tied. Adys Portillo (2008): RHP Padres, age 16, Venezuela, $2 million
As much as we should be buoyed by the fact that Villalona has been highly rated in most prospect rankings, and has done well in the minors thus far, the highly paid bonus babies have been pretty highly lousy busts: Wily Mo Pena, Joel Guzman, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Chin-Hui Tsao.
  • Wily Mo Pena: His talent, as well as his lack of major league success, is demonstrated by the fact that he has been with four different organizations already and probably will be with another soon while getting the highest bonus at that time, and which held as the highest until three bonuses beat him in 2008. He made the majors in 2002 by age 20 with the Reds, a year after the Yankees traded him to the Reds, after hitting 26 homers the season before in Advanced A-ball with a .794 OPS and 11 homers in 2002 but .732 OPS in AA. Frankly, he never really had much success in the minors other than in 2001 at age 19 in Advanced A-ball, and has not really played much in the minors since 2002. The Reds from 2003 to 2005, gave him a lot of chances to stick in the majors, and he actually did OK with them, compiling OPS+ of 70, 115, and 105 with them, before being traded to the Red Sox for Bronson Arroyo just before the 2006 season - the Reds did real well with him, trading Drew Henson and Michael Coleman to the Yankees for him, then getting Arroyo in return. Serves Boston right, Arroyo had just signed a cheaper contract with a home discount before getting dealt off, they could have used his pitching since then. Meanwhile, Pena posted a 110 OPS+ in 2006 but regressed badly in 2007 before rebounding when the Red Sox traded him to the Nationals, where he had a 124 OPS+. However, he regressed horribly in 2008 with a 34 OPS+, so he's probably going to be let go, though somebody will probably give him a chance, like Florida, who actually picked up Todd Linden from us and gave Dallas McPherson a chance too (people complained about not getting him, but he chose not to deal with the Giants). His main problem was his inability to hit RHP and his penchant for strikeouts, but he could mash LHP!
  • Joel Guzman: Signed by the D-gers in 2001 for the then second highest bonus, he has done little in the majors, getting a short callup with the D-gers in 2006 and Rays in 2008, showing little each time, who picked him and Sergio Pedroza up in a trade of Julio Lugo to the D-gers. Unlike Pena, Guzman has had some good years in the minors, struggling initally like Pena, but then breaking out with a great year in Advanced A and AA in 2004 at age 19. He showed it was not a fluke in 2005 at age 20 in AA, then had another good year in 2006 at age 21 in AAA while with the D-gers, though struggling once traded to the Rays. He has continued to struggle in 2007 and 2008, posting basically 700 OPS, though slugging 20 homers in 2008. Seems like the trade really messed him up, but in any case, he'll be 24 next season, don't hit for average, no walks, strikes out a lot, no speed, just swings for the fences.
  • Byung-Hyun Kim: He has been the biggest success, by far, but given how much he was given - the highest bonus given to any amateur until beat by Pena a month or two later - he is still a disappointment. He did really well early on, becoming the D-backs closer at age 21 in 2000, saving 14 games, the 19 games in 2001, then 36 games in 2002, with sterling ERAs in the 2's. However, he really felt that he was a starter, not a closer, so in 2003, they acquiesed and after 7 games, where he did OK as a starter, he was traded to Boston for the Shea Hillenbrand, where he did well in starts too, but was thrust in a closer role again. However, not sure what happened in 2004, perhaps an injury, but he didn't play much for the Red Sox, ending up getting 20 starts in the minors but doing horrible there. Then in spring training 2005, he was traded to the Rockies for the aging Charles Johnson and Chris Narveson. He pitched a lot for the Rockies, starting 49 games in 2005 and 2006, but also relieving a few games too. In 2007, he was shipped to the Marlins for Jorge Julio, then was selected off waivers by the D-backs in late 2007 before getting released again and signing with the Marlins, who also released him and he signed with the Pirates for 2008 but let go before the season started, his career over at age 29. He did not make the majors in 2008. Overall, he has been a huge success relative to the others here, but he had three good seasons, from 2001-2003, but mostly bad seasons, particularly after 2003. Perhaps his differentiator - he was known as one of the hardest throwing submarine pitchers ever - was his downfall, taking a toll on his arm and body, as he lost velocity, affecting his control as his walks went up and strkeouts went down.
  • Chin-Hui Tsao: He has had extended cups of coffee in the majors from 2003 to 2007, but nothing to write home about other than his short 10 games stint in 2004 as a reliever. He did very well in 2000 at age 19, but must have had an injury as he didn't play much in 2001, however, he appeared to recover as he did well in 2002 in both levels of A-ball, and continued to do well in 2003 at AA. However, that was his last good extended season in the minors, as he hasn't played much in the minors since, it appears he sat on the bench a lot in the majors, could have missed much of 2006 due to injury, before he became a free agent and signed first with the Dodgers in 2007, then the Royals for 2008, before getting dropped fast as he wasn't doing well. He played in the 2008 Olymjpics for Taiwan.
Obviously, the first thing to note is that Villalona is not any of these people, everybody is a different person. That said, each got a large bonus and yet did not produce much at the major league level, so before people automatically write his name into the lineup for 2011 and beyond, they should realize that he has a lot of development to go before he makes it to the majors, as prospects could do well in the minors and not make it. Same for Rafael Rodriguez.

However, Angel was only 17 and already in A-ball, none of the above did that (Pena reached the Sally League late in his age 18 season, Guzman at the start of his age 18 season, Kim was already 20 when he signed, and Tsao was already 18 when signed), and he was among the leaders in homers hit, as well as doing OK in OPS, his .747 OPS compared favorably with the league OPS of .707, though obviously at 1B, he should be a lot better as 1B need to deliver more offense (Neither Pena nor Guzman did well early on, not until they were 19).

Then again, given how poorly Giants firstbasemen have delivered for so many years, including JT Snow once Pac Bell Park (then SBC then AT&T) opened up, even a league average OPS firstbaseman would be great.

In addition, he got better as he progressed. He did not do very well his first four months in A-ball but in August, he figured things out and hit .308/.363/.529/.892 with 5 homers in 104 AB. Unfortunately, he still struck out a lot, 22 strikeouts for a 78% contact rate in August (when 85% is the minimum to be a good rate), and only walked 3 times, though getting hit 6 times. And after hitting into 5 DP in April in 80 AB, he only hit into 3 more in the next 388 AB (about 400 PA).

Last word of caution here: while Villalona made many of Baseball America's writers Top 50 list for the 2008 season, so did Joel Guzman for the 2006 season, and he was similarly ranked. Jim Callis had him 29th, Will Lingo had him 12th, and Allan Simpson had him 18th; must give John Manuel his due, he did not list Guzman in his Top 50. Potential is a large portion of this ranking, and sometimes players never reach their potential.

Angel Villalona will probably be at San Jose for 2008, his age 18 season, and could get jumped to AA if he does well there, though most probably he won't get promoted unless he is totally dominating the pitchers there. Most probably will be left there because if he does well, he would then move to AA in 2009 when he's 19, then AAA in 2010 when he's 20. If he's still rocking the pitchers, then he could get a call-up in September 2010 or even be the starting 1B or 3B for the 2011 season. Or he could get derailed, as most minor leaguers do, somewhere in AA and AAA, and flopping like his fellow high bonus babies. It will be an interesting next 2-3 seasons.

P.S. If the list was extended, the following two high bonus prospects would have showed up, Chien-Ming Wang and Miguel Cabrera, and they both were high bonuses at the time of their signing, probably in the Top 5. So not every high-priced bonus baby flops; however, a high bonus does not automatically mean success.

P.S.S. I had previously noted the Giants signing of RHP Luis Mateo - he had gotten $625,000 which was among the Top 20 bonuses paid this season - but the Giants voided his contract in August when they discovered bone chips in his elbow and thus he is a free agent once again.

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