Top Venezuelan Prospects - American League

Venezuela has not kept up with the Dominican Republic in the last couple years with the number of premium prospects coming out of the country. Cuba was at the point of surpassing them, but the United States placing further restrictions on travel from Cuba made it more difficult for Cuban ball players to emigrate. With the perceived dangers out of Venezuela the scouting has been reduced and teams move their Venezuelan prospects to Dominican facilities to work out.

In the American League some prospects from last year’s list have dropped. Luis Rengifo and Luis Arraez are two players who graduated to the major leagues. Rengifo, the number seven prospect last year will probably end up in a utility role while Arraez, who fell a spot behind him will have a couple years as a starter. His lack of power will require him to continue to hit for average if he hopes to keep his starting role. One player was traded to the National League.

Below are the top ten prospects out of Venezuela from the American League. No real superstars from this bunch, but some solid major league possibilities. A bucket load of shortstops on this list, many of whom will have to turn to third or second base.

1. Aaron Bracho 2B (Indians) - The Indians spent $1.5 million to sign him in 2017. Aaron does not have one outstanding tool, but also has no weak points to his game. He missed the 2018 season because of an arm injury so he didn’t even make the top ten list last year. Now he is number one in what is not an illuminating group. Last year he hit .281 with a .570 slugging percentage. His 28/29 walk to whiff ratio for a .402 OBA was impressive. The tools are there for him to be an average shortstop but the Indians had him playing second base last year to get his bat in the lineup. Currently his power is more oriented towards the gap but as he matures he should consistently hit in the double digit homerun area. If the season ever starts he could begin it in Low A, but at 19 years old he has plenty of time to develop.

2. Brayan Rocchio SS (Indians) - Another 2017 signing, but at $125,000 the Indians may have gotten a better bargain. His defensive tools for playing shortstop are better than Bracho, with the arm a little above average and his legs carrying faster speed, which results in better range. What Brayan lacks is power. Last year was his second season in short season ball after having success in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Rookie League in 2018, hitting .335 at the two levels. Last year was not as strong in the New York Penn League, with his average dropping to .250 and his slugging at .373. He is noted for his high baseball IQ which has given him the nickname professor. He is a little ahead of Bracho on the depth chart, but they should be the infield combo at Low A next year.

3. Maximo Acosta SS (Rangers) - Maximo is the third new player on this list. The Rangers signed him in 2019 for $1.65 million. He has yet to play in the minor leagues, but his tools are strong enough to carry a lot of buzz. The defensive tools, including strong arm and decent range are there for him to play shortstop. The bat is also strong and should hit for a high average and develop some easy double digit homerun power. The 2020 season will be an indication of whether all of that is true. Kevin Maitan also had all those accolades and as his tools failed to progress he dropped off the list. The 2020 season will be a critical one. He could start it in the Dominican League or stateside in the Rookie League. He will be 17 years of age, young to be playing stateside.

4. Darwinzon Hernandez LHP (Red Sox) - Back in 2013 the Red Sox signed Darwinzon for just $7,500. Six years later he made his Red Sox debut, pitching mainly in the bullpen with 28 relief appearances and one start. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and has a little more zip to it when in the bullpen. He was a starter in the minor leagues, but a lack of command and inconsistent secondary pitches make the bullpen the best fit for him. He gets a lot of whiffs, averaging 16.9 strikeouts per 9 innings in his 29 major league appearances, but he also walked 26 batters in just 30 innings. The inability to throw strikes will lead to greater pitch counts and shorter innings, so the bullpen will be best. He should start the 2020 season in the Red Sox bullpen but that will depend on his second spring whenever the baseball season starts again. Last year Darwinzon was sixth on this list. He becomes the first player from last year to make this year’s list, though the number one player Brusdar Graterol was traded to the National League.

5. Oswaldo Peraza SS (Yankees) - The fourth middle infielder to make this list and the third shorstop. Oswaldo was signed by the Yankees for $175,000 in 2016 when they were restricted to signing players for $300,000 or less. The tool set is there for him to be an above average defensive shortstop with a strong arm and good range. He makes solid contact with the bat, though his ability to hit for power is below average. Last year he hit .263 with a .340 slugging, but he did make his debut in Low A, hitting .273 with a 16/28 walk to whiff ratio. Oswaldo has the speed to steal bases, swiping 23 last year, 18 of them in Low A. He is still a teenager and won’t turn 20 until June. Expect him to have another go at Low A with an early promotion to High A if he does well.

6. Franklin Perez RHP (Tigers) - Franklin was number two on this list last year. The Astros signed him for $1 million back in 2014 and he worked his way up to being their top prospect. They traded him to Detroit as the key player in the Justin Verlander trade in 2017. Injuries have only allowed Franklin to work 27 innings in nine starts the last couple years. It may be best to see how he handles the bullpen. When healthy Franklin can get his fastball into the mid-90s, but shoulder issues have put those velocities in question. His secondary pitches also had the potential to be above average pitches, with his changeup being his top pitch. Last year he only had two starts in High A. The 2020 season will be key. At 22 years of age his prospect clock is ticking. The Tigers have to hope to get him some AA time before the season ends so he can be ready for his major league debut sometime in 2021.

7. Luisangel Acuna SS (Rangers) - Luisangel is the brother of Ronald. Those are some big shoes to fill. He would like to have bigger shoes as he stands only 5′8″ to 5′9″. His brother can tell Luisangel the story of how a team told him to go home because he was too small to play baseball. Ronald grew to a nice 6′0″. Luisangel signed for a bigger bonus that his brother, his $425,000 more than $300,000 greater than his older brother. He also plays a different position, though he has the speed and the arm to play centerfield. He lacks the power of his brother, but at 17 he could still grow. Last year in the Dominican Summer League he raked for a .342 average, stealing 17 bases and producing an impressive 34/26 walk to whiff ratio. The 2020 season should see him in the short season leagues where the pitching will be much better.

8. Gabriel Rodriguez SS (Indians) - This is the third Indian middle infielder on this list. The Indians rolled out $2.1 million for Gabriel in 2018. He made his debut last year in the Dominican Summer League and was later promoted to the Rookie League for 18 games, where he only hit .218. He doesn’t carry any one outstanding tool, but tends to be above average in all phases. At 6′2″ the power could develop as he matures. This could slow him down defensively and force a move to third. The 2020 season should see another year in Rookie ball with a promotion to Low A towards the end of the year.

9. Arol Vera SS (Angels) - The seventh middle infielder among this group. A lot of unknowns about him since he signed in 2019 and didn’t play any minor league ball. Since the Angels paid $2 million to sign him the skills have got to be there. Currently he is an average runner, which could get worse as he matures, so a move to third base is probable. The power is there for him to make the move. The Angels like his intangibles. Arol could start the season in Rookie ball in 2020.

10. Everson Pereira OF (Yankees) - The tenth spot is what he occupied last year. A disappointing season (.171) and injuries (hamstring and ankle) limited him to 18 games. He was not on this list until Brusdar Graterol got traded from the American League to the National. The Yankees opened up their pocketbook to pay Everson $1.5 million in 2017. The tools are all there, with power, speed, arm and the ability to hit for average. He will still be a teenager for the entire 2020 season so another start in Rookie ball with a promotion to Low A before the season ends would be good for him.

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