The Padres international splurge in 2016 bolstered the farm system in one fell swoop. But it is a strategy that really can only be done once, as teams that exceed their international bonus pools are penalized for two seasons afterwards. After this signing period closes in June, the Padres will only be allowed to sign players up to a maximum bonus of $300K. This takes them out of the running for the top caliber international players from 2018 to 2020. Now, this doesn’t mean AJ Preller can’t sign anyone. The Padres will have a new bonus pool of $5.25M, and would be able to sign as many $300K or less players as he can fit under that amount. So loading up on unknown and lower caliber international players then, right? Not as exciting as the summer of Ona, Morejon, Alvarez, etc. But wait! Sac Bunt Dustin over at Padres Public wrote a great post about THE LOOPHOLE! Here’s the gist of it, courtesy of a Madfriars Reddit comment:
This loophole allowing the Padres to pay up to $1.2M to Mexican club players in a development program opens up possibilities. The question then is are there players in Mexico that fall within this loophole’s guidelines that are worth pursuing or that would merit a bonus that large. The answer? Yes!
First, some background on the topic of signing developmental Mexican players. It’s not a free for all for teenage players like it is in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. Players sign into developmental program at an early age and then attend academies funded by the Mexican League parent teams. Additionally, there are non-structural issues preventing a large portion of the talent base from signing with Major League Teams. According to Remezcla, “prospects have always been discouraged from joining MLB organizations, with threats that they would be ‘blackballed’ from playing in Mexico later on in their careers.” There is one exception to this: the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, owned by Padres minority owner Alfredo Harp Helu, have been willing to offer their players as a marketing move. In fact, Helu has held showcases for Mexican developmental players, including one last season that Padres signee and former Diablos Rojo developmental player Tirso Ornelas participated in. The catch is that the ONLY players participating in the showcase are Diablos Rojos properties due to the aforementioned issues of other clubs not willing to offer their assets. In the end, with Mexican League teams considered to be on par with AAA teams, that means the Padres would have access to the developmental properties of a single AAA caliber team. Luckily for the Padres, there are multiple targets for the next J2 signing period under the Diablos Rojos umbrella!
Luis Roberto Verdugo
Verdugo is a 16 year old left handed shortstop whom a year ago was hitting 90 mph with his fastball. Native to Sinaloa, his family lives near Ensenada. Verdugo is on MLB’s Top 30 International Pipeline, coming in at number 30. MLB Pipeline mentioned that he is a great fielder with a 60 arm, but has work to do on his hit tool. But here’s the kicker. Prepare for erections. Here’s a quote from Puro Beisbol:
“Never in history had I seen a Mexican short stop with the conditions of this boy,” a well-known scout told me on the phone.
“Is he better than Luis Urias?” I asked in reference to the Sonoran Padres prospect.
“Without a doubt. And any other Mexican of that age who has stepped on a diamond.”
Or what about this from the same source:
“It is a small class with a lot of potential and he’s a good hitter,” said another scout of the Mexican League. “Next year  he will make a lot of noise because he will be eligible for Major League signing on July 2. He is the best infielder born in Mexico that I have seen.”
At #30 in the Pipeline rankings, he falls right into the wheelhouse of a $1.2M signing based off of last year’s signings. Here’s the problem. Pipeline says the Cubs are the favorites to sign him. Local to Northern Baja, Verdugo is the kind of player you could see AJ going hard after.
Omar Alejandro de Leon
Omar Alejandro de Leon is a 17 year old left handed pitcher with a body type compared to Jorge de la Rosa. Unfortunately, there’s not much more information on him other than in a single post on Remezcla that highlighted him as a standout during last year’s showcase.
Mendoza is a right handed pitcher considered to be the best Mexican J2 prospect for this upcoming period. Mendoza ranks #27 on MLB Pipeline’s top 30. His fastball is topping out at 92 mph, but is sitting around 88 mph, so a fireballer he’s not. At least not yet. He’s got a mature change up and curveball to complement the so-so fastball. He’s got repeatable mechanics, and is seen as a possible middle of the rotation starter. Again, not a super exciting prospect, but in this signing bonus range, he’s about what you’re going to get. The Rangers are rumored to be in the lead to sign him.
The last one is a little off the wall. He’s [I think] eligible for THE LOOPHOLE because he’s playing for the actual Mexico City Diablo Rojos, but he is under 25 so falls under the J2 rules. And his brother is already a star in the system. His name is:
…and he plays shortstop. He’s also Luis Urias’ older brother. Ramon is already in his fifth year with the big club in Mexico City, meaning he made the team as a 17 year old. Ramon is now 22 and it appears that his body has developed to the point that he’s averaging a home run every 20 at bats this season and is OPSing 1.024, all while holding down the shortstop position. He appears to have been injured last season but still OPS’d over .800, and the previous season in 2015, he played the full season and OPS’d .907. It appears that hitting runs in the Urias family. The last three seasons he’s OBP’d over .400, showing he not only can hit, he can take a walk. Urias is producing at a high level, and with five years of seasoning at a team that is essentially at a AAA level, he may be a good stopgap until his little brother can take over the position, or they could even form a future brotherly double play combination. It’s out of left field, but what do the Padres have to lose?