|Naswell Paulino - Twitter photo|
Play in the Dominican Summer League opened this past weekend, with the DSL Red Sox paying tribute to native son David Ortiz at their home opener against the DSL Royals. The DSL Blue Jays topped the Orioles' entry 2-0 in their opener.
The 40-team league (several MLB teams have more than one entry) play a 72 game schedule, which translates to 6 games per week, wrapping up with a brief playoff among the division winners in late August. Games start at 10:30 in the morning to avoid the worst of the afternoon Caribbean heat.
The Blue Jays entry plays out of their Boca Chica complex, just outside of Santo Domingo. The majority of the players in this league are between the ages of 16 and 18 - most were signed sometime on or after July 2nd of last year. Of the 40 or so players the team will likely use this year, only about a quarter will go on to stateside play in the Gulf Coast League. High profile international signings usually skip the DSL for the more advanced competition in the U.S. - Roberto Osuna, Franklin Barreto, and Vladimir Guerrero all started their pro careers stateside. Still, it's an important step in the development of international prospects. Learning about proper nutrition and training, as well as English classes, are part of each player's baseball education.
Due to bonus pool limits imposed as a result of the over-slot signing of Guerrero in 2015, the Blue Jays do not have a lot of highly regarded IFAs making their debuts in the DSL this year. Top 2016 signing Joseph Reyes will begin his career in the GCL, as will RHP Rothier Hernandez. But there will be some talent on the Blue Jays' DSL entry: players that had flown under the prospect radar due to age, poor workouts, etc., and there are the usual high-tools but (so far) under-performing prospects. Among the players to watch if you're a daily box score puruser are:
1. Venezuelan SS Hugo Cardona. Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, whose portfolio includes overseeing international scouting and development, labels Cardona's speed "plus," and his arm "plus-plus." His glove is well ahead of his bat at this point, but if his bat does develop, he could profile as a to of the order hitter.
2. Venezuelan RHP Elixon Caballero, a Marcus Stroman-sized Pitcher who added 4-5 mph to his fastball after signing, and now sits in the mid-90s. Tinnish is impressed by his athleticsm and smooth delivery.
3. LHP Naswell Paulino, a converted OF, who has made great progress is a short period of time.
Two players not currently on the DSL Jays roster who Tinnish also mentioned last fall include Mexican RHP Felix Castaneda, who has an advanced feel for pitching and an effective change-up, and RHP Eliezer Medrano, who like Caballero experience a bump in velo after signing.
Given the lengthy developmental timetable and the distance of the DSL from MLB, what are the chances we see any of these names on our TVs or devices anytime soon? The range is from slim to none, with a heavy leaning toward the latter. A study of the 2012 DSL Jays roster notes that only one player from that roster (Miguel Castro) has reached the majors, one is at AA (Jose Fernandez), with the rest who have moved on (such as Juan Kelly, Angel Perdomo, Osman Gutierrez, Jesus Tinoco) still in A ball.
As if on cue, Paulino was dazzling in his DSL debut today, striking out 5 in 2 and a third innings, as the DSL Jays shut out the Orioles for the second game in a row.