Yesterday, Prospect A-Z wrapped up its final week with Xander Bogaerts, a power hitting Red Sox infielder that’s one of the most promising prospects in their system. He went from the Dominican Summer League to playing in the South Atlantic League in just one year. His twin brother is also in the Red Sox organization, but he’s not nearly the prospect that Xander is. However, Jair should be able to make it over to the states to play in 2012. Today, we move onto a player that probably won’t, San Diego’s Yoan Alcantara.
Yoan Alcantara, RF, San Diego Padres (2011: Arizona Summer League)
The main story about Alcantara isn’t about his baseball ability, but let’s start with that anyway. Baseball America ranked him as the #1 prospect in the Arizona Summer League after an outstanding season that was surprising to everyone. He batted .348 with a .367 OBP and .586 SLG. Those are impressive numbers for sure, but it’s a pretty nice hitters league, and he was only 16th in OPS. However, Alcantara was two years younger than the league average, and only three players ahead of him were also under 20. He was tied for third in the league in home runs and triples.
Alcantara wasn’t seen as a big time prospect as an amateur. He signed for $135,000, just a modest bonus for Latin American players. He bulked up in the last couple years, and his power stands out as his best tool. He also has a great arm which is why he profiles best in right field. He makes consistent, hard contact with very good bat control. He really showed none of those qualities the previous season in the Dominican Summer League, but he was still solid there. He hardly walks (only four in 210 AZL at bats), but he hardly strikes out either. Pitchers could exploit that in the future, but some players are able to make it work.
That’s not the big deal about Yoan Alcantara though. Earlier this offseason, Alcantara was involved in an identity fraud scandal. An investigator for Major League Baseball was arrested for accepting a bribe to take part in the scheme to help Alcantara pass through his background check. According to Baseball America, there were questions about Alcantara’s age leading up until the time he signed, and those concerns obviously came to fruition. A scout and trainer were also involved in the scheme, but it’s unknown whether or not Alcantara will face punishment from San Diego or the league office.
The league has tried to cut down on these identity fraud cases because it’s a rampant problem tin the Latin baseball market. Since Alcantara was signed, MLB has taken over the investigations themselves instead of contracting investigators like the one involved with Alcantara. They believe this is a more effective process for making sure players are who they say they are, and the new CBA put in even more strict regulations to be sure teams aren’t getting ripped off. This process also takes longer and results in long delays, sometimes up to a year, between the two parties reaching an agreement and the league approving it.
It’s easy to see why some players would take the risk of passing themselves off as someone else. Age is everything in the international amateur market. If a player is known to be 18, he’s not going to be a hot commodity because he’s more developed and has less room for future projection. 18 year olds get signed all the time, but they’re usually not the big bonus guys. The players that get the biggest bonuses are the 16 year olds that can hit, field and run while showing promising tools. If a player impresses a team by showing great power in batting practice or great range at shortstop and they think he’s younger than he actually is, he improves his stock. It can make a big difference.
This kind of fraud can go unnoticed for years. Perhaps the most recent significant case is “Leo Nunez”, the Marlins reliever who is actually named Juan Carlos Oviedo. He’s a year older than previously believed, and it wasn’t discovered until the end of the 2011 season. That’s after over five and a half years of major league service, playing for three organizations and being involved in two trades. Not that he would need his identification confirmed for trades, but the point is he’s a fairly visible player who had been able to get away with it, not just a run of the mill guy plugging away in the minors.
Another somewhat high profile case in the majors is Santiago Casilla, one of San Francisco’s best middle relievers. He’s posted an ERA under 2.00 in consecutive years, and he’ll turn 32 in June next season. However, for the first six years of his professional career with the A’s, he was known as Jairo Garcia. In spring training before the 2006 season, Casilla admitted he had taken a new identity, and he was actually three years older than previously believed. Instead of being a nice relief prospect, he was 26 years old, but it clearly didn’t stop him from having a solid career. Who knows what will happen with Yoan Alcantara, but if he has the talent, he will get a shot if MLB doesn’t come down unbelievably hard on him, but at this point it’s clear he probably doesn’t have quite as much projection as he used to.
Come back tomorrow when Prospect A-Z finally wraps up. Will it be an enthusiastic Brewer, a Cardinal that makes a lot of contact or a player that could’ve been playing in next week’s BCS Championship?